Job Interviews Employer

Job Interviews: Employer Do’s and Don’ts

More than 175 countries and territories have reported cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). According to the World Health Organization (WHO) case growth has accelerated to more than 1, 210,000 cases and 67,594 deaths worldwide as of April 6, 2020.

The U.S. economy is amid an unprecedented job crisis with the unemployment rate expected to be 15% by the end of this quarter, according to some analysts’ expectations ( As of April 1, 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that total nonfarm payroll employment fell by 701,000 in March, and the unemployment rate rose to 4.4 percent.

At some point though, the COVID-19 crisis will begin to fade, the social distancing restrictions will lift, and employers will start re-hiring employees as the economy begins its slow climb back toward normalcy (whatever that might look like).


A.  Business Continuity in the Short Term

The immediate need for most business is to protect their employees through social distancing and teleworking whenever possible. In many instances, local and state decrees have closed non-essential business, causing a sharp drop in hours for employees and even necessitating furloughs or terminations.

After addressing the near-term issues caused by the pandemic (cash management, employee safety and security and scaled back general operations) Businesses should also look towards creating a detailed plan to return to full operating status after the crisis is over. The physical and mental pressures on your workforce could mean that not all are ready and available to immediately return to work. Or your market, customers and suppliers could have changed so dramatically that you must, to some degree, reinvent the business. Regardless, there will likely be a significant amount of recruiting and interviewing in the recovery period. This is a good time to review your interview process to confirm you are in compliance and ensure hiring managers and those involved in the selection process are consistent in how they evaluate candidates.


B.  The “Cost Per Hire”

Cost per hire” is a phrase that refers to the average amount of money you spent on making a hire. This metric is useful when you are creating or tracking your recruiting budget.  A recent survey by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that the average cost per hire is just over $4,000. With that cost in mind your goal is to find the right person for the right job at the right time — and the interview process is an integral part of attaining that goal.

In conducting the job interview, the interviewer must keep several important things in mind, including their role as the interviewer, which questions to ask and how to ask them, and which questions not to ask.


C.  The Interviewer’s Role in Providing Information

Your first responsibility as the interviewer is to ensure that the candidate understands all the critical aspects of the job for which he or she is interviewing, including conveying the following information to the applicant:

  • the nature of the job;
  • the skills required to succeed in the role;
  • pay, (at least a pay range; you choose not to “negotiate” pay at that juncture)
  • benefits;
  • working conditions;
  • who would be supervising the candidate, if hired;
  • background information about your business; and
  • any special requirements of the role (i.e., travel, weekend work, heavy physical demands, etc.)


D.  What Questions Should the Interviewer Ask?

 In getting information from job candidates, the interviewer should tailor his or her questions to eliminate extraneous information and focus on getting the information really needed to judge the applicant’s suitability and qualifications for the job. Asking irrelevant questions may offend your applicant, damage your business reputation, or just waste valuable time (both yours and the candidate’s).

A good practice is preparing a written list of questions in advance of the interview. The interviewer may think of other questions during the interview, and that is fine  But having a prepared list of questions will help ensure that you at least get all the critical information from the candidate that the company needs to make an informed decision about the candidate’s employment.

It is also a good idea to take notes during the interview. Written notes of the questions and answers (together with the candidate’s resume or application) can be a valuable tool for remembering specifics about a candidate’s skills or background – particularly if you are interviewing several candidates. However, remember not to make notes about an applicant’s appearance, even if it’s just to allow you to remember who’s who. Notes about a candidate’s gender, race, religion, color, or age could be later used against the employer in a “failure to hire” discrimination claim.


E.  Questions not to Ask in an Interview

Obviously, don’t ask question you do not need to know the answer to in order to make an informed decision about the candidate.  But to put a finer point on it, don’t ask questions that might elicit information from the candidate that an employer would be prohibited from considering. Basically, stay away from any question that concerns:

  • Race;
  • Religion;
  • Age;
  • ethnic background;
  • sexual lifestyle or sexual orientation;
  • marital status;
  • national origin;
  • drug use (prescription or otherwise);
  • parental status or childcare responsibilities; or
  • injuries or illnesses that might be considered disabilities.

Some questions that could be considered discriminatory include:

  • Are you married?
  • What is that accent you have?
  • Where is your spouse from?
  • Are you engaged?
  • Do you have children?
  • Where are you from?
  • Were you born here?
  • What is your ethnic heritage?
  • What church do you go to?
  • How old are you?
  • When were you born?
  • When did you graduate from high school?

Some of these questions you might consider “small talk” and aren’t meant to get information for use in any type of discriminatory hiring. It doesn’t matter. Don’t ask them.

A common question we get from our clients is: “what if the applicant volunteers’ information about one of these areas?”  An interviewer can’t necessarily prevent a candidate from talking about their family or religion, but we typically recommend that the interviewer ignore it and not engage on the topic, and refrain from asking follow-up questions about that subject. Don’t even include it in your notes; it could later be used as evidence of hiring discrimination.


F.  Recording Your Impressions of the Candidate

In person interviews are a great way to “get a feel” for the candidate’s personality and how the candidate would fit in at the company.  This is a legitimate goal of the interview process, and seasoned interviewers develop a knack for identifying candidates that would be a good fit. But how the interviewer memorializes their impressions matter.  For example, a male applicant for a secretarial position arrives for the interview dressed in a suit. A female interviewing for the same position arrives wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt. While the company may legitimately choose not to hire the female because of her less than professional clothing choice, the interviewer’s notes about that particular applicant should factually describe that “the applicant appeared for the interview in sweatpants and a sweatshirt.” The interviewer’s notes should not reflect an open-ended statement, such as “the candidate was rejected because she did not have the proper appearance.” That statement is not specific enough and could be interpreted to mean that she was rejected due to race, weight, age or sex, even though that was not the intent.


G.  Final Thoughts for Employers

The responsibility for conducting an effective interview includes both conveying information (e.g. the role, responsibilities, and work environment) and obtaining information (e.g., the candidate’s knowledge, skills and abilities) the company need to know in order to make the hiring decision. Knowing what interview questions to ask is only half the battle; you also need to also know the questions you shouldn’t ask. Preparing an interview outline in advance is a great tool to help the interviewer stay on track.

The interview is also the company’s chance to get to know the candidate beyond the information on the candidate’s job application or a resume. It’s also a chance for the applicant to get information about the business and to evaluate whether it is a place he or she would enjoy working. Conducting an interview is a major, necessary component to a company’s hiring process, but is one that can be fraught with legal landmines if not done correctly.


C2 provides strategic HR outsourcing to clients who want to develop optimal workforce strategies and solutions to allow them to be more competitive and profitable. C2 blog posts are intended for educational and informational purposes only.