Is your interviewing process out of bounds?

Choose your candidate questions carefully to avoid discriminatory hiring practices.

Tread carefully while asking interview questions so that your requests for information are within legal limitations.

MOST SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS wear a multitude of hats when it comes to taking care of day-to-day operations. One of those is typically the Chief Hiring Manager and Interviewer Hat. Recruiting and hiring in the green industry is a challenging and time-consuming process. Additionally, most business owners and managers don’t have formal training on how to conduct interviews. This lack of formal instruction can cause many managers to step where they shouldn’t during the interview process.

Are you going to have kids? Are you pregnant now? Is your wife pregnant? How long do you think you’ll take off work when you have a baby? Will you come back to work after you have a baby? How many kids do you have in day care? When will you get married? Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend and do you live with them? Do you have a wife and kids to take care of? Based on these questions, this sounds like conversation you’d hear at social brunch or a friend’s wedding shower, or maybe this is a familiar line of questioning at family gatherings. Where this type of banter shouldn’t be expected, however, is in the job interview room.

While questions such as the ones I mentioned have no business being asked during a job interview, they are still considered fair game by employers who either don’t know or don’t respect the legal and ethical boundaries surrounding hiring. Discriminatory interviewing tactics not only hurt the job seeker, but they can significantly undermine a company’s efforts to acquire talented hires.

“Will you miss work if your child is sick? Because husbands don’t miss work, and we expect you to be dedicated to us, not your family.” This is a real question asked of a real interview candidate I spoke with (not asked by me, of course!). Ultimately, it’s fear that is behind a question like this. This fear is felt by the hiring manager who’s worried they will soon have to go through the recruiting process all over again.

Fear is an understandable emotion. Running a business is a risky affair that puts a lot of burden and stress on the owner, not to mention managers and those in charge of hiring. There can be fear of an employee being out of the office too often or for an extended period. Smaller greenhouse operations, in particular, have a difficult time trying to cover the workload of key employees that are off the job for many months. It can be downright painful and costly when unplanned. I’ve managed others’ businesses and labor and I run my own business, so I get it. However, that fear does not entitle us to discriminate against a good candidate based on their potential fertility, marital status, sexual orientation, or any other such personal matter that has no bearing on their suitability for the job.

Discriminatory interviewing tactics not only hurt the job seeker, but they can significantly undermine a company's efforts to acquire talented hires.

Even if you hire a candidate, intrusive and illegal interview questions asked during their interview put a damper on future working relations because trust is most likely already lost. As an employer, the last thing you want is your new key hire coming in the door and already looking over her shoulder (or even for a plan to leave). Bad interview questions set both parties up for failure.

As an employer or hiring manager, you must know which questions you are and are not legally allowed to ask candidates during an interview, or put on your job application. Know that overstepping your bounds with inappropriate questions will immediately send up red flags for applicants. If you don’t want good applicants walking out of your job interviews or passing on your offer (or suing you), keep your interview questions focused on what’s relevant — the applicant’s skills and experience.

The best way to combat your labor-related fears is to focus on the benefits you’ll gain from hiring a great candidate, even if there is the potential they may be out for a few months for maternity leave, are young and single and may move on in a few years, or have a few kids and may need to take more sick days than other employees. Working out flexibility needs in advance can take a lot of pressure off both employer and employee, plus boost productivity. If, as a company, you haven’t been proactive in thinking about and planning for such staff outages in advance, there’s no time like the New Year.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies.

January 2017
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