I see a lot of posts focusing on mistakes that applicants make in an interview, but in my line of work, I see the consequences of what happens when employers make mistakes in interviews. A mistake can be so easily made that could lead to a lawsuit by the applicant or losing a qualified candidate.
I was reminded of this by my own interview experience last week. We were interviewing summer associate candidates last week and I asked one candidate what has been the biggest challenge so far in law school. The candidate responded by asking “Biggest challenge in law school or in life?” Although I was curious to know the answer to the “in life” question as there seemed a reason that it was brought up, I quickly realized no good could come of that question.
For all I knew, the biggest challenge involved fleeing a hostile dictatorship, dealing with a terminally ill child, or being the victim of a crime. These may seem like extreme examples but are all things that relative strangers have told me over the years (thankfully not in an interview situation) after I asked what I thought was an innocuous question as I tried to learn more about a new acquaintance. As these thoughts flashed quickly through my mind, I responded to the applicant, “Let’s just focus on law school.”
So, what are some common mistakes I’ve seen interviewers make that lead to losing candidates or worse, legal liability?
- Saying something discriminatory in the interview.
- Saying something that could be perceived as discriminatory — this may seem like a regurgitation of #1, but in my experience, it is rare that people say something outright discriminatory in an interview. Instead, it is comments that are made about protected classes that could be perceived as discriminatory that get interviewers in trouble. For example, an applicant notes on his resume that he is fluent in Spanish and happens to have a Hispanic last name. It is perfectly fine for the interviewer to ask the applicant questions about how proficient he is in Spanish. It is not acceptable for the interviewer to say, “I see from your last name that you are Hispanic. You must have learned Spanish from your parents, would you feel comfortable translating complicated written documents into Spanish?” The interviewer should have just asked about the translation and said nothing else.
- Being distracted or checking emails during an interview — I think some hiring managers got a little spoiled by the economic downturn of a few years ago. In the aftermath of the subprime mortgage crisis, there was a glut of qualified people suddenly thrust into the labor market due to lay-offs. Candidates had limited options and were much more likely to take jobs that were not ideal simply to have a job. As the market has improved, candidates have more options as to where they want to work. Interviewers have to realize that they need to sell the applicant on working for the company just as much as the candidate needs to sell the interviewer on why he or she is right for the job.
- Promising Anything — until a final decision is made as to who is going to be hired and at what salary, no promises should be made that the employee is going to get the job or that a particular salary or benefit will be offered.
- Being negative about Human Resources — I have heard tales from friends who have interviewed with companies that the hiring managers grouse about Human Resources during the interview. It usually comes up in the context of “I really like you, but I do have to get HR approval. If it were up to me, I’d hire you now but they have to meet you just to sign off on the hire. It’s really silly, but they make us do it. They can be really slow. Expect to hear from them in about two weeks.” Human Resources is responsible for addressing employee relations issues in the workplace, including complaints of harassment and discrimination. Comments like these make HR seem ineffective and unnecessary, which plants a seed in an applicant’s head that HR is not the place to go to resolve disputes. This may mean that complaints go unaddressed and discontentment festers until it erupts in a major problem.
I’m sure if I thought about it, I could come up with more examples of interviewer mistakes. Do you have more examples? We’d love to hear from you.