A number of years ago I was on an interview panel with a Managing Director and one of the board members who was on the Recruitment Committee. We were in the process of hiring a new Financial Controller.
The board member, who was one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet, was doing what I often like to do at the start of interviews. He was putting the applicant at ease by breaking the ice and asking some questions about the applicant’s outside interests so as to get better responses with subsequent interview questions.
However, in this instance he inadvertently overextended his questioning when he innocently asked, “So, are you married? How many kids do you have? Oh, how old are they…?”
My eyebrows raised and the MD was quick to jump in and politely say to the applicant, “by the way, these questions have nothing to do with the outcome of the interview.”
The long and the short of it is, you have to watch yourself at interviews, because even if discriminating is the furthest from your mind, sometimes you don’t know what is on the mind of an applicant.
For the most part you could be against the law if you wilfully discriminant through your interview questions on a range of personal characteristics. These characteristics are also known as protected attributes and include:
- Sexual orientation
- Physical or mental disability
- Marital status
- Family or carer’s responsibilities
- Political opinion
- National extraction
- Social origin
So what happens if you go through the interview process and your line of questioning gives you no reason to feel as though you have exhibited any form of discriminatory questioning, but you become surprised when someone approaches you or your company and claims you have discriminated against them?
There are two things that may make you feel more comfortable about handling the situation that may also help you to avoid or support any future legal activity.
Undoubtedly you were probably genuinely just trying to make the best appointment to meet the necessary requirements of the job. You were looking to hire the best person for the job. Therefore, there may have been some clear gaps in the skills and experience of the offended applicant who believes they have been discriminated against.
In the first instance a clear explanation or feedback of why they were not most suited to the role may avoid confusion. What is it that others had that he/she didn’t that made others more ideal applicants?
The second thing you should do is document as much as possible about the recruitment process. This should be like a business case or case notes that includes the number of applicants, advertising dates, number of interviews, the selection criteria etc.
By getting everything down and on paper as soon as possible gives you the most accurate information, puts you on the front foot, and allows you to get on with things while having what you need in case it escalates.