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When hiring, don’t overvalue interview skills

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources

Does your organization’s hiring process rely heavily on how applicants handle themselves during job interviews? If so, be aware that courts are often suspicious of such inherently subjective decision-making.

Make sure objective qualifications such as education and experience count for more than the fleeting impression a good interviewee leaves.

In fact, if an applicant who belongs to a protected class can demonstrate qualifications that were at least as good or better than those of the chosen candidate from a different class, a court may conclude that interview performance was a smokescreen for discrimination.

Recent case: Dwayne Hubbard, who is black and worked for International Paper, wanted to transfer to a different location to shorten his commute. He applied for an opening at a plant that apparently had no black employees.

Hubbard has a bachelor’s degree and was working toward a master’s degree when he interviewed. He also had many years of experience and met or exceeded all the minimum job requirements. He got an interview but wasn’t hired.

Instead, the selection panel offered the position to a white applicant. The stated reason for rejecting Hubbard was poor interview performance. One reviewer said Hubbard wasn’t energetic enough. In addition, Hubbard said someone in HR had warned him before he applied that he “wouldn’t fit in.”

Hubbard sued, alleging race discrimination. He then discovered that the successful white candidate had been ranked by the same interviewers as “slow or laid back” and “laid off every job he has had before.”

The court sent the case to trial, warning that using subjective measures may be a pretext for discrimination. (Hubbard v. International Paper, No. 2:08-CV-181, SD OH, 2009)

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