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The Job Interview –Questions to Ask and Avoid

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The Job InterviewWhen conducting employment interviews, having a well developed job description and knowing in advance what questions you can and cannot ask will enable you to gather the information you need to make a well-informed hiring decision while protecting the human rights of individuals.

The purpose of a job interview is to meet job candidates as well as validate and perhaps seek additional information to what is provided within their resume in order to determine whether or not they are qualified and would be a fit for the position and the organization.

In Canada, provincial and federal human rights legislation protects individuals from discrimination and harassment. It is important to note that specific legislation does vary by province, so be sure to refer to legislation that applies to your location. In BC, the British Columbia Human Rights Code ensures equal access to employment opportunities and fair treatment within the workplace by protecting individuals against discrimination based on:
Race                                         Place of origin
Ancestry                                    Colour
Marital Status                            Family Status
Sex                                            Sexual Orientation
Physical or Mental Disability     Age (19 years & over)
Political Belief                            Religion
Criminal Conviction

In order to comply with this legislation, employers must ensure that employment decisions – who gets hired and who doesn’t – are based firmly on job related criteria and not discriminatory considerations.

So what does this have to do with employment interviews, you ask? Plenty! As interview questions are typically the primary means through which information is gathered in order to make hiring decisions, it is important to ensure that they focus on specific criteria required of the position and avoid the prohibited areas.

Questions to AVOID

Avoid asking any questions related to the protected areas (listed above) including, but not limited to:

  • How old are you?
  • Are you married?
  • How many children do you have?
  • What country are you from? Are you new to Canada?
  • Have you ever received Workers Compensation benefits?

While I have witnessed some managers ask candidates whether or not they have children or where they are from purely in attempts to make light conversation prior to the interview, I strongly discourage this practice and recommend avoiding such questions all together. Remember, for the eager job candidate the interview starts the moment you greet them.

Questions to ASK

In some cases, the responsibilities and/or nature of the job may require that a candidate be of a certain age or require a lot of travel or flexible availability to work shift work. In these cases, employers are permitted to ask questions related to these areas however must still be careful in doing so. Here are a few examples:

If you were hiring for a Lounge Server position that is responsible for the service if alcohol. You may NOT ask the candidate his/her age however you CAN ask if they are of legal age in BC to serve alcohol.

If you were hiring for a Sales Manager position that required an extensive amount of travel and time away from home, you CAN ask whether or not they would be able to travel or work shift work however you may NOT ask any questions related to marital or family status (ie. whether or not they are married, have children or childcare arrangements, etc.)

While it is not unheard of for managers to have their favourite or preferred interview questions (ones that they have used previously and found to be effective), ideally a standard set of interview questions should be used for each position in the company. This will ensure fair and equal consideration for all candidates. Also, be sure to:

  • Ask questions specifically related to the candidate’s knowledge,  education  and/or experience as it relates to the job they are applying for.
  • Ask open-ended questions that will encourage candidates to answer with more than just a yes or no response.
  • Ask the candidate to tell you what they already know about the job and company.
  • Ask questions that require candidates to provide examples of their own past experiences and behaviours (these are known as Behavioural interview questions).

10 Interview Questions that Employers Can (and should) Ask:

1)   What skills and qualifications would you bring to this job?
2)   Tell me about a time when you… (choose an appropriate scenario that applies to the position)
…had to deal with an angry customer
…were required to reprioritize your work, based on a last minute request
…had to think outside-of-the-box in order to solve a problem
…had to make an unpopular decision
…took initiative to accomplish a project at work
– Were you successful? How do you know?
3)   Is there anything preventing you from meeting the commitments and/or requirements of this job?
4)   Why did you apply for this job?
5)   Why do you want to work for XYZ company?
6)   What do you know about the XYZ position?
7)   If I were to contact one of your references, what would they say is your greatest strength? Challenge/weakness?
8)   What are your career goals in the next 1-2 years? 4-5 years?
9)   What do/did you enjoy most about your previous/current job?
10) What do/did you enjoy least about your previous/current job?

Proactively knowing what you can and cannot ask in a job interview and then developing/using standardized interview questions will enable you to protect the rights of candidates and make sound hiring decision based on equal consideration for all candidates.

For more information about the BC Human Rights Code, please visit the BC Ministry of Attorney General’s website http://www.ag.gov.bc.ca/human-rights-protection/index.htm.
Fact Sheet:
http://www.ag.gov.bc.ca/human-rights-protection/pdfs/EmployerInfo.pdf

This information is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific human resources, business or legal advice. Readers should not rely solely on this information without seeking the direct advice of a Human Resources or legal professional.

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