How to stay out of hot water when interviewing

So there I was, all shiny and new, smart suit, big smile and confident handshake waiting to be grilled on HR related matters and to be able to show this gentleman interviewer in front of me how great I was and how much he should give me the job. And his first comment? ‘Gosh you’re a lot smaller than I thought you would be, only a slip of a girl’. My response? A sharp intake of breath and to stand on my tip toes!

The interview which followed included questions such as ‘so, how will you cope standing in front of a room full of men, having to give them bad news? You won’t cry will you?’ and ‘what does your partner do? I take it he’s ok with you working with a bunch of blokes?’ and my best of all ‘are you married? No? Oh! Why not? Too bossy?’ I still remember these to this day and fortunately I didn’t get the job. I’m not sure how he and I would have worked together longer term. But it certainly demonstrates that, even in the early 90’s, there are certain things you just can’t ask!

So, how can you stay out of hot water? What actions can you take to protect yourself? The main one is a simple one – remember when asking any interview question, always ask yourself ‘is this question relevant to the job?’ If not, don’t ask it. Simples.

Let me give you some examples of some shockers – and yes all have been used in real interviews.

1. You only have 5 years’ experience and we need 10, why should we take you on?
2. Were you born in the UK?
3. Are you married?
4. Who will look after your children while you’re at work?
5. Do you go to Church?
6. I see you have really thick glasses, are you ok with computer work?
7. Who did you vote for in the last election?
8. Are you a member of a union?

Asking questions like this will cause you to fall foul of the Equality Act 2010. How? They all refer to a legally protected characteristic.

1 Age
2 Nationality/Race
3 Martial/Civil status
4 Sexual orientation
5 Sex discrimination
6 Religious belief
7 Disability
8 Political affiliation
9 Trade union membership.

Instead you can ask
– You have a great depth of experience, how best will you be able to share that with us?
– Can you please show us the documentation to demonstrate you have the right to work in the UK as part of our recruitment process
– You are aware the role requires long hours and occasional overtime, would that be an issue?
– Can you perform all the required job functions, tasks, and/or duties listed here, with or without accommodation?

Also use competency based questions on topics like leadership, delegation, team working, adaptability, influencing, and decision making to name just a few. Use the questioning technique of ‘tell me a time when…’, or ‘how would you…’ to tease out the information you want. In addition you can use the ‘5 W’s plus + 1H’ questions (Who, What, Why, Where, When + How) as great starters to those open questions. Often in the examples given, the interviewee will share some personal information anyway. That’s fine – it was their choice to share it, not you asking directly for it. Both styles of questions allow you to find out more information about an applicant’s experience which will help you to decide if they are suitable for the vacancy.

So do you feel better prepared and able to stay of out of hot water when recruiting?
Next will be my my top tips for the perfect interview.


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