Test your knowledge of professional interviewing guidelines

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Have you ever been asked to sit in on a job interviewing process? What you don't know, can hurt you.Quite often, if you work at an organization long enough, then you start getting looped in on visits with potential employees and asked to participate in interviewing them. While this is particularly true when the prospective employee is interviewing for a position in your department, it can happen with any opening where HR — or those in another department — need another warm body to sit in on the process.

The problem with this is that you’ve spent years learning how to code and how to get optimum performance out of network servers. On the other hand, however, you’ve likely not had training on the legal issues associated with sitting on one side of a desk and grilling every candidate who tells you they are a people person, as well as how working for your company has been their dream since they were five years old.

Lacking such training, it is quite easy to unintentionally ask a question that is unlawful in such a situation. To say that the figurative ice you are standing on in these settings is thin fails to do justice to just how hazardous the situation is. Whether you are a Director of IT or a junior network admin, it is your responsibility to know what you can and cannot ask in these settings — and the law does not look kindly upon ignorance.

(One word of rock-solid advice here: Preceding any sentence with, “We probably shouldn’t ask this but …” is a surefire sign that ice below you just cracked.)

What follows is a self-test of 25 questions on what you can and cannot ask in an interview situation. This is not intended as legal advice, but is, rather, a layman’s interpretation of guidelines established by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and several years’ experience sitting in the interview room.

It is highly recommended that before you start interviewing job applicants, you seek advice from your own legal counsel and Human Resources department. You should also plan to spend some time visiting the EEOC website.

The answers appear at the end of the questions. Good luck!

1. During the interview, the person sitting across the table from you seems very familiar and you’re sure you’ve seen them before. On the other hand, you don’t recognize the name on the résumé handed to you shortly before you walked into the room. To help jog your memory, you politely ask, “You look familiar; what was your maiden name?”
A. This question is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This question should not be asked during the job interview.

2. Having just been told by your supervisor that you would be interviewing someone already waiting in the conference room, you have no time to read their read through the 20-page packet on the person that was just thrust in your hand. Instead, you look at the applicant and say, “Tell me about yourself.”
A. This is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This should not be asked during the job interview.

3. It is no secret that the company needs to hire a salesman willing to be stationed in Peru and diversity is a qualification that is highly valued. Avoiding any discussion of citizenship or other dangerous ground, you directly ask the candidate, “Where were you born?”
A. This question is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This question should not be asked during the job interview.

4. You need to hire someone who can run cabling during both new installations and upgrades. This means that, among other things, they have to be able to put boxes of bulk cabling in the ceiling and run it for considerable distances. Hoping to evaluate the strength of the diminutive candidate before you, you ask, “Can you lift a 75-pound box above your head?”
A. This question is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This question should not be asked during the job interview.

5. Glancing at the résumé of the applicant, you notice that they have worked at quite a few notable companies and you wonder why they would be considering coming to work at your not-so-well-known organization. To dig at it a bit, you ask, “What made you decide to leave Microsoft?”
A. This question is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This question should not be asked during the job interview.

6. Still needing to hire that salesman who is willing to be stationed in Peru and seeing the work history on the résumé of the candidate sitting in front of you, you ask the candidate, “Back when you worked at Microsoft, did you ever spend any time in Cusco?”
A. This question is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This question should not be asked during the job interview.

Have you ever been asked to sit in on a job interviewing process? What you don't know, can hurt you.7. In your experience, the job you are interviewing applicants for is just a rung on the ladder placed at a remote outpost — anyone who is good at it gets promoted to corporate within a year and has to move from Indiana to Colorado.
You are upfront and honest with all candidates about this and ask each of them, “Do you own or rent?” You know that if they rent they will be able to relocated easier when the time comes.
A. This question is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This question should not be asked during the job interview.

8. The last network administrator recently passed away and no one knew much about him — whether he had friends, family, hobbies, etc. To make life easier going forward, you are now asking during the interview, “What is the name of a relative we should contact if you have a problem at work?”
A. This question is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This question should not be asked during the job interview.

9. The call center you work at never sleeps: It is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The last thing you need is to hire someone who can’t work when needed, so you ask the applicant, “Can you work on Sundays?”
A. This question is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This question should not be asked during the job interview.

10. You have an inherent belief that people who are good with money make good programmers and so you ask every candidate you interview, “Credit scores range from 300 to 850. What is yours?”
A. This question is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This question should not be asked during the job interview.

11. The woman sitting on the opposite side of the table as you being interviewed is wearing a shirt that says “BABY” and has an arrow pointing down to her protruding belly. There is zero question but what she is expecting.
Based on the obvious information the applicant is telegraphing, you ask the applicant, “When are you due?”
A. This question is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This question should not be asked during the job interview.

12. As part of an outreach program, you’ve been asked to hire a handful of high school kids to work a few hours a week. You know that the state laws require anyone you hire to be at least sixteen. Based on that, you ask an applicant, “Are you sixteen?”
A. This question is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This question should not be asked during the job interview.

13. Your organization relies a great deal on trust and everyone working to make the team successful. Because of that, you want to hire individuals for your department who will not erode what you’ve worked so hard to build and routinely ask each applicant in every interview, “Have you ever been arrested?”
A. This question is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This question should not be asked during the job interview.

14. You notice the applicant says on their resume that they graduated from Anderson University, and it is a school you’ve heard of but not had any direct connection to. To learn more about the school, and the education of the applicant, you ask the applicant, “Anderson University? Is that a Church of God school?”
A. This question is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This question should not be asked during the job interview.

15. It has been proven, at least at your branch, that good employees tend to know and associate with other good employees. Conversely, the not so good employees tend to know and associate with others of their type. During the interview, you ask one applicant, “Are you related to anyone else who works here?”
A. This question is legal and may be asked during a job interview.
B. This question should not be asked during the job interview.

Please visit GoCertify to attempt the remaining 10 questions of this quiz.


ANSWERS

Have you ever been asked to sit in on a job interviewing process? What you don't know, can hurt you.1. B — It is not legal to ask questions related to marital status and a question about a maiden name can indicate whether the person is married. If the candidate answers with a different name, then the interviewer learns they are married, and if the candidate answers that their current name is their birthname, then the interviewer may infer that they are not married. Both outcomes cause the interviewer to infer something on a topic they are forbidden to inquire about.
2. A — An open-ended prompt that is so vague offers the applicant the ability to focus on anything they want to talk about and does not directly ask about anything in particular. As such, it is the applicant who is volunteering any/all information and this line of questioning is perfectly legal. If the applicant volunteers something that could not otherwise be asked about, the onus is them, but no direct follow-up questions should be asked by the interviewer on those topics.
3. B — Not only are you not permitted to ask about the birthplace of the applicant, but you are not permitted to ask about the birthplace of any of their relatives either. All questions about citizenship, birthplace, and national origin are off the table. AFTER an offer is extended, you may ask for proof of citizenship, birth certificates, and other documents, but not during the interview process.
4. A — As long as the employer can make a case that there is a business necessity associated with a physical requirement, this may be used as a criterion for employment. Accordingly, questions related to it are allowed to be asked during the interview.
5. A — Questions about past employment and work experience are allowed during the interview.
6. A — Questions about past employment, work experience, and countries visited are allowed during the interview. It is important that the interview be kept job-related to get the most from it, and not just lapse into a free-for-all discussion of vacations. As long as the question can be associated with a business need, however, a good case can be made for asking it.
7. B — This question is not legal and should never be asked regardless of whether you are trying to prepare them for the future or not. You can ask where a person lives and how long they have lived there, BUT you cannot ask about the living situation (rent/own) or about others who live with them (“What would your daughter think of your moving within a year?”, etc.).
8. B — The word “relative” is often associated with a spouse and thus asking this question can be akin to asking the person their marital status. In reality, the question should be asked after an offer has been made and not during the interview process. Furthermore, replacing the word “relative” with “person” obtains the information you need and is much safer.
9. A — Asking questions related to required work schedules is allowed since it is a business necessity. It is important to keep the question as simple and direct as possible and focus only on the work need. For example, it would not be allowed to ask the individual whether they attend worship services, or whether they need off any particular religious holidays. While work scheduling is an area that is lawful to ask about, religious affiliation is not.
10. B — Regardless of your inherent belief, you cannot ask questions about an applicant’s credit, credit rating, credit score, etc. This is a taboo topic.
11. B — There are no good or allowable questions that can be asked about pregnancy. The topic does not become allowed just because the applicant is telegraphing it, any more than questions about disabilities would be permitted if the applicant had a cane.
12. A — As a general rule, questions about age should be avoided. In a situation where you are dealing with minors and state laws, however, you are allowed to ask whether an interviewee meets the state requirement. With this population, most will have work permits, and those suffice to show they are of legal age.
13. B — There is a big difference between being arrested and being convicted. Not all who are arrested are guilty. Thus, while you can ask about convictions, you may not ask about arrests without convictions.
14. B — Religious affiliation of schools attended should be avoided, as it can often highlight religious affiliation of the applicant themselves.
15. A — You are permitted to ask about relation to any other employees currently working at the company, since they may need to factor in to hiring decisions (don’t want one family member directly reporting to another, etc.). You should, however, avoid directly asking about relationships (“Is that your wife?”, for example) as that then crosses into territory where you are not permitted to go.

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Emmett Dulaney

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emmett Dulaney is a professor at a small university and the author of the CompTIA Network+ Exam Cram, CompTIA Security+ Study Guide and CompTIA Cloud+ LiveLessons.

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