When trying to figure out if job candidates are a good fit, for hiring managers it’s okay to be boring—a tip that extends to small talk you make during the interview to what kind of questions you ask about their background on the application.
Keep it simple and stick to concrete questions that focus on the ability to perform the job, said Andrea Stempel, associate general counsel and head of employment law for Ernst & Young, as part of a panel discussion Wednesday hosted by the Practising Law Institute that gave advice on how to avoid common pitfalls in the hiring process.
Don’t ask about trips to Thailand, for instance, or what year he or she graduated from high school or go too far in an attempt to make personal connections when getting to know a candidate.
This type of practice, and others, can keep employers in the clear when it comes to litigation.
The experts on the panel, Stempel and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe lawyers Jill Rosenberg and Lisa Lupion, offered advice about the changing landscape in hiring. Here are four takeaways.
Keeping it simple during the interview
Be careful during interviews even with seemingly innocent questions as some areas of inquiry could be problematic, Stempel said.
Asking about a candidate’s graduation year in discussing education could elicit information about a candidate’s age. Suggesting that someone is “overqualified” for a position could give rise to an age discrimination claim. Questions about availability on weekends could lead to religious accommodation issues. Even questions about birthplace or language proficiency could provide unnecessary and inappropriate information regarding national origin or citizenship.
Stempel also said she is wary of a new trend of video resumes. “Less is more early in the application process,” she said.
Navigating the social media landscape
Social media has become a factor in the hiring process. The majority of hiring managers, roughly 60 percent according to a recent CareerBuilder survey, use search engines to research candidates. Of those who looked into social networking sites, 49 percent found content that caused them not to hire the candidate and 32 percent said they found content that made them more likely to hire the candidate,.
“Employers find these tools useful,” Rosenberg said. She warned, however, there are privacy issues and managers should only look at public profiles and avoid asking applicants for passwords. As a result of that trend, she said many states and cities banned employers from providing access to private pages.
“The biggest risk is that it provides too much information from an employer point of view,” Rosenberg said. There is a hazy line with photos posted. A picture of someone drinking may not be cause but other actions, like illegal drug use or “dancing naked on a table,” could show poor judgment and potential harm to the company. “This is an area where there is a lot of gray,” she said. She added, “It’s important to implement best practices. It’s unrealistic to completely ban managers and human resources from social media. They will be doing it anyway.”
Rosenberg advised there should be a policy and protocol to screen applicants in a uniform manner, create a list of the social media used to search each applicant and determine what types of lawful information to obtain. She also suggests to keep searches to the job-related information and even conduct the search after the interview.
Asking about prior salary not business as usual
Discussion about the gender pay gap has only grown in recent years, and one way states and large cities have worked to combat the disparity is to ban employers from asking about previous salary. In effect, such measures would eliminate bias or further perpetuate the cycle of lower pay.
“The idea is to fix the problem by not asking about previous salary history” Lupion said. She noted several city and state measures that have addressed this issue that bans employers in most cases from asking applicants about previous salaries, including Massachusetts, New York City, Oregon, Philadelphia and Delaware. Illinois, New Jersey and San Francisco have pending ordinances. California passed a law that prohibits employers from relying exclusively on prior salary in justifying pay differences but does not prohibit inquiring about salary history.
Lupion said the hodgepodge of regulations could be tricky ground for employers. She advised keeping records to document the rationale for the offer and a record of how the negotiations ended in a final offer. Lupion also suggested setting a salary range prior to interviewing candidates.
Should employers ‘ban the box’?
An initiative took root, sparked by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and advocacy groups, to encourage employers to ban application boxes that ask if a prospective employee has ever been convicted of a crime.
Critics argue this box has a disparate impact on African-American and Latino job candidates.
Rosenberg said more than 28 states and 100 cities have passed laws that prohibit employers from asking about criminal background checks. The laws in these states differ, however, and have exceptions. She said many companies have adopted a one-size-fits-all policy. In general, employers should have a policy in place. “It’s not just picking and choosing where you think it might be a good idea,” Rosenberg said.