Instruct managers: Make and retain interview notes

If your managers conduct interviews, whether by phone or live, it’s a good idea to remind them to take and keep good notes of those discussions. They’ll need them in case an applicant (or internal candidate) sues, claiming some form of discrimination.

The most legally safe interview notes are detailed and outline which questions were asked, what the responses were and how each applicant did on the questions. Sticking to the same questions with each candidate also helps avoid bias claims.

Also, remind interviewers that if they look for “soft” skills, they must be prepared to explain why those are important.

Recent case: Morrell Dooley, a black female who was over 50 years old, applied for several internal promotions at Roche Laboratories. She had worked for the company since the 1960s as a pharmaceutical sales rep and was proud of her “soft” sales skills.

Dooley sued after she interviewed for an oncology drug-sales job and was passed over in favor of younger candidates. She lost.

What saved the company in court? Managers who conducted the interviews kept detailed notes. Those notes consistently showed that Dooley did well on the interviews, but rated lower than other candidates on specific clinical knowledge. She even admitted during one interview that she relied more on rapport than knowledge of the drug.

All the hiring managers agreed that, in oncology sales, the most important sales tactic was selling the scientific efficacy of drugs. The court tossed out the case based on the managers’ assessment that Dooley didn’t have the requisite “hard” skills. (Dooley v. Roche Laboratories, No. 04-2276, DC NJ, 2007)

Bottom line: Taking and keeping good interview notes can be a lifesaver in court. Chances are that, without written notes, managers won’t remember the specifics of any particular interview months or years later.