How do I interview Generation X job hoppers?

If you re recruiting for skilled professionals in today s job market, you ll be forced to engage job-hopper candidates with spotty employment histories and little apparent staying power or commitment to their prior companies. And, because of market competition, you may not have the discretion to simply pass on individuals who have held four jobs in the past three years. Indeed, these individuals sometimes appear to be holding all the cards and negotiating for signing bonuses and other perks once reserved for senior levels of management.

There are three issues you ve got to consider when interviewing job candidates with spotty work histories. First, what s their reason for leaving their current company? Second, what would be their next logical move in career progression if they remained with their current employer? And, third, would moving over to your company be a good move in progression for them from a career development standpoint?

Tell Me More

It s not enough to gauge whether a candidate will make a positive impact on your company; the candidate must also have an opportunity to build his resume, learn new skills, and assume greater responsibilities by joining your company. You can determine whether the company's needs and the employee's needs are balanced by using the process described in Question 40.

Candidates who appear to change jobs for change's sake should be avoided. Steer clear of job changers who lack compelling reasons for leaving their current companies, or you may find yourself filling the same position again before you've had a chance to recoup the costs associated with hiring and training.

Remember that people tend to repeat patterns of change in their careers over time. If you see that a candidate lasted twelve months per position over the past three jobs, then don't kid yourself: You'll most likely have this individual around for only the next twelve months as well. That might be okay for you depending on your immediate needs (for example, for Web-savvy techies with specific Web design skills). Overall, though, beware spotty job histories with predictable job changing patterns: those folks tend to leave positions for change's sake, and that makes for low-probability hires.

Whatare the ten most common interviewing questions that could cause legal problems?

No discussion of interviewing would be complete without at least a partial listing of the most problematic interviewing queries that could land companies in legal hot water. Usually these are questions that are, or can be perceived as, breaking laws against discrimination. No one sets out to ask discriminatory questions; sometimes it's just out of oversight that managers ask inappropriate questions.

For example, a hospital administrator in a pathology laboratory interviewed a female candidate who was obviously pregnant. The administrator was concerned that the chemicals in the lab, which were known to cause cancer, could adversely affect the fetus. Out of concern, the supervisor asked the candidate, ''Are you sure you'd want a job that exposed you to cancer-causing chemicals, especially now that you're pregnant?''

When the candidate was not ultimately selected for the position, she brought her complaint of discrimination to the hospital's human resources department. The department promptly invited the candidate back to interview for other openings and apologized for the hospital administrator s indiscretion. Although no further legal action was taken, a more aggressive individual might have pursued the matter further. The administrator, in his defense, stated that he was asking out of practical concern and meant no harm or offense. He was written up nonetheless: Companies have an obligation to demonstrate that they take such concerns seriously and provide remedial training and, when necessary, discipline to prevent further incidents of inappropriate questioning.

Tell Me More

So which questions do you have to watch out for? After all, you realize that your intentions, harmless and innocuous though they may be, are not at issue. It s a plaintiff attorney s interpretation of your questions that s the real issue. And it s not uncommon for plaintiff lawyers to attribute unlawful motives to your actions by making a case that you ve used the information that you learned by asking a particular question to unlawfully deny the candidate employment.

To avoid legal skirmishes of this sort, review this partial ''watch list that follows, and ensure that these questions never make their way into your interviewing vocabulary:

Inappropriate Question #1: "What's your maiden name so that I can check your references?''

Asking for a woman s maiden name can discriminate against her on the basis of marital status and possibly national origin. Instead, ask whether the candidate has used any other names in the past (not necessarily due to marriage) that will allow your company to verify the person s past work experience and education.

Inappropriate Question #2: "How old are you?'' A variation of this question is, "In what year did you graduate from high school?''

State and federal law protects workers more than forty years of age. There s no problem asking about the year in which a candidate graduated from college: People can graduate from college at any point in their lives. In contrast, nearly all high schoolers graduate at about eighteen. An individual s year of birth could readily be determined by subtracting eighteen from the year of graduation.

Inappropriate Question #3: "Where were you born? Are you a U.S. citizen? Where did you learn to speak Spanish?''

These questions transgress guidelines regarding national origin, birthplace, and citizenship. Instead, you should ask, ''Could you, after employment, submit verification of your legal right to work in the United States?'' Questions regarding a candidate's native language or acquisition of foreign languages should generally be avoided unless such language proficiency is an essential function of the particular position being applied for.

Inappropriate Question #4: "Are you married? Can you make adequate provisions for child care?''

Ooops—a big no-no! It's a legitimate concern to wonder whether a potential employee can meet overtime demands, fly out of town on last-minute notice, or consistently report to work on time. However, you are limited by law to stating such things as standard working hours, any overtime demands, and company travel expectations, and then simply questioning whether candidates would have any reason why they couldn't meet those requirements.

Inappropriate Question #5: "Would your religion prevent you from working weekends?''

Asking such a question discriminates on the basis of religious affiliation. It's just as easy and effective to state: ''Weekend and holiday work is required. Is that acceptable to you as a condition of employment?''

Inappropriate Question #6: "Are you disabled? Have you ever filed a workers' comp claim? How many days were you sick last year? Do you have AIDS?''

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1992 requires businesses with fifteen or more employees to make their facilities accessible to the physically and mentally disabled and prohibits job discrimination on the basis of disability. The ADA says that a company can't exclude a qualified candidate from a job if that individual can perform the ''essential functions'' of the job either unaided or with a ''reasonable accommodation.'' (The terms in quotation marks are subject to legal interpretation, of course.) The alternative? Hand a candidate a job description that differentiates essential and nonessential job functions, and ask, ''Are you capable of performing the position s essential job functions with or without a reasonable accommodation?

Inappropriate Question #7: "Have you ever been arrested?''

It is allowable to ask a candidate whether he has ever been convicted of a felony, but this felony question (typically found on your company s employment application) must be accompanied by a statement that a conviction will not necessarily disqualify the candidate from consideration for the job. See Question 51 to find out whether you can deny employment to people with criminal records.

What s the difference between being arrested and being convicted of a felony? Simply put, people who are arrested are often not convicted, either because they are innocent or because there wasn't enough information to justify a conviction. Whether the conviction is for a felony or misdemeanor is not the key issue. Various states define unlawful acts differently as felonies, misdemeanors, or ''wobblers (meaning the unlawful acts can be either felonies or misdemeanors depending on the circumstances). In California, for example, embezzlement is a misdemeanor. This misdemeanor would clearly be considered job related for any job applicant who would have a fiduciary responsibility to your company. Employment could consequently be denied on the basis of this misdemeanor. The language in your employment application, therefore, must be scrutinized and adapted to meet the laws of your state.

Even if the candidate has been convicted of a felony, categorically rejecting him would be a problem for two major reasons: First, the felony may have no relation to the essential functions of the job. Second, such a blanket policy has been held to have an adverse discriminatory impact upon certain ethnic and racial minorities in inner cities. Speak with your employment attorney before accepting or rejecting candidates who have been convicted of a felony. These are rare occurrences, but you could end up in legal hot water for wrongfully hiring the individual (a concept known as ''wrongful hiring and retention ) or for failing to hire him.

Inappropriate Question #8: "What kind of discharge did you get from the military?''

Whoops—another no-no. Military service questions must be limited to relevant skills acquired during service. No questions about the nature of the discharge—honorable or otherwise—may be asked.

Inappropriate Question #9: "Have you ever declared bankruptcy or had your wages garnished?''

There are no acceptable alternative questions that allow you to address these issues before the hire. You are, however, perfectly within your rights to make employment offers contingent upon credit checks provided: (a) applicable state and federal laws are followed and (2) good credit is necessary to perform the essential functions of the job.

Inappropriate Question #10: "Who is the nearest relative we should contact in case of emergency?''

It's fine for you to ask for someone to contact in case of emergency. However, asking for the ''nearest relative'' could border on discrimination by national origin, race, or marital status.

Check out The Employee Recruitment and Retention Handbook and Fair, Square, and Legal for more information about what questions you can legally ask in an interview.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >