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What should I have done after inappropriate interview question?

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in Human Resources,The HR Specialist Forum

Recently, I was the HR rep sitting in on an applicant interview, when the hiring manager asked, “With working, family, and going to school, how will you be able to handle the workload?” I immediately told the applicant she didn’t have to answer, but she said it was OK and went ahead and replied. After the interview, I explained to the manager why it was an inappropriate question. Eventually we hired someone else for the job. But I’m a nervous wreck, fearing that this question will come back to haunt us in a lawsuit. Should I have done anything differently? Is there anything I can do now to make sure we don’t get in trouble?—Carolyn, KS

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Karisse July 9, 2010 at 1:35 pm

When I read the scenario, I was immediately struck by the fact that you called to the candidate’s attention that the manager asked an “inappropriate” question. I think you could have simply rephrased the question to learn the same information the manager was seeking through (possibly) innapropriate means. I think you could have said something like, “I don’t want to put words in John’s mouth, but I think he is trying to say…” That way, you get the information from the candidate, the manager saves face because you would just seem to be participating in the interview, and the candidate may not realize there was an issue. After the interview, I think you should follow the procedures Elizabeth listed above to cover the company and yourself. Additionally, the manager may loose trust in you for calling them out in this way. I think the question was a little dicey, but I think your approach may have been a little off-putting to the manager and it did not demonstrate you supporting the manager- everyone makes mistakes and mis-speaks.


Joey July 1, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I’m not sure that the question in inappropriate. The question is a fair one that can be used to measure commitment to work. It’s not as if the HR Rep said “do you have any kids?” or “can you make it to work on time if you have to drop the kids off at daycare?”. Based on the way you phrased your question, that knowledge had already been made known, likely by the candidate.

That being said, Elizabeth offer great advice on what to do to keep you from staying a nervous wreck, if you don’t like what I offered.


Elizabeth June 30, 2010 at 10:01 am

* That you indicated to the applicant that they didn’t have to answer the question
* That you discussed with the manager after the fact that it was an inappropriate questions
* That the answer to the question was in no way used to determine who was hired
* Why a different applicant was chosen over this applicant

Then make sure to put procedures in place that all interview questions are written and reviewed prior to the interview. If a spur of the moment question does come into a manager’s mind, it could be written on a piece of paper available during the interview and handed to hr for review prior to actually being asked. Innocent questions can usually be reworded so there are not problems like this, as long as the same question is asked of all candidates. Such as: “Do you foresee having any conflicts with workload that this position requires?”


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