Categories: HR & Employment Law | by admin

hr advice for employers


Nailing down the right questions to ask each eager applicant can be an HR challenge. As you’re planning for the 2018 hiring process, make sure you’re not guilty of asking these 10 questions – some for legal reasons, and some because they’re seriously eyeroll-worthy.


“So tell me about yourself…”

This question is super tired, broad, and usually awkward. You’re not on a blind date. You already have the candidate’s information and a basic understanding of their experience and skills. Think about what you’re specifically hoping to gain from this answer, and narrow your questioning. Consider “What do you do in your spare time?” or “What was your favorite class at your university?” instead.


“Where did you grow up?”

While this might make pleasant small talk, it’s actually illegal to ask in an interview. It counts as a question about race/national origin. Even if it weren’t illegal, what does this information actually tell you about a candidate? Skip the small talk, and dive right into the important questions.


“What is your biggest weakness?”

Chances are, the candidate has a scripted answer to this question—but they’re truly hoping you’re not going to ask it. No one is going to willingly offer up their genuine personal struggles in a job interview, so you’ve essentially tasked your candidate with presenting a strength wrapped as a weakness (e.g., “I’m just such a perfectionist”). Not helpful.  


If you’re trying to understand how a candidate reacts to stress, or what type of coaching a candidate might need, ask questions like these: “Tell me about a project where you had a significant obstacle, and how you overcame that obstacle.” Or, “How do you react when you have tight deadlines or multiple projects to juggle?”


“How many kids do you have?” 

Kids are cute, and family makes for a great casual conversation. However, it’s illegal to ask about a candidate’s family situation in an interview, as the law protects candidates from discrimination based on marital status, pregnancy, or parenthood. If a candidate offers information about their spouse or kids in another response, don’t pursue the topic further and instead move forward with questions about the candidate’s skills and qualifications.


“What can you contribute to our company?”

A candidate can’t possibly know what your team needs or how they’ll fit in from just a short interview with one or two people. Instead, offer some specifics about the role, and gauge the candidate’s response. Offer statements like “We’re looking for someone who can jump right in and dive deep into some projects” or “This job has a 6 week training period, where the right person will do both shadowing and independent research.” Do their ears perk up? Do their eyes gloss over? These types of statements will garner a genuine response from a candidate, which you can note.


“What are your Christmas plans?”

This one is illegal, as are any questions that touch on religion. Even if a candidate offers up a great story about a religious community or organization they take part in, do not ask for follow-up about their religious affiliation or religious activities. If a candidate brings it up in relation to a past job or volunteer experience, focus on the skills and experiences that the candidate used in the position, rather than the religious affiliation itself.


“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Is the position on a five year contract? No? Then don’t ask this question. If you want to get a sense of a candidate’s ambition, ask them more about what they’re looking for in a position, what drew them to this specific role, and what drives them. A really great question to ask instead of this one: “How do you define success for yourself?”


“What’s your native language?”

This is considered illegal, as it’s a discrimination question related to race/nationality. If you’re interviewing for a language-focused job or the candidate has listed that they’re multilingual on their resume, you can definitely ask questions like “how many languages do you speak?” or “I see you listed here that you speak Farsi, would you consider yourself fluent?”


“If you were a pizza delivery man, how would you benefit from scissors?”

….what? This is an actual question that was asked in an interview at Apple. Wild logic and situation-response questions make a candidate feel cornered. Even if there isn’t a right or wrong answer, a job interview shouldn’t make a candidate feel like they’re on a gameshow. Rather than making a candidate feel like they’re being put on the spot and tested, having a natural conversation that focuses on concrete topics will give you a better sense of who they are and how they’ll fit into your company.


“Why should I hire you?”

By the point most interviewers ask this question, they already have a good sense of a candidate and the decision they’re going to make. All this question serves to do is put the interviewer in a position of dominance, and make the candidate feel like they’re begging for the job. That’s gross. Don’t do it.


*  *  *


A good interview should give the interviewer gets a better sense of the candidate as a person, and give the interviewee a better idea of the job specifics and company culture. Putting pressure on a candidate will make them clam up, panic, or give formal, rehearsed responses. Let the conversation flow organically, and you’ll put your candidate at ease and get a better sense of who they are and whether they’ll fit with your team. Still need more HR help? We’re here for you.