…and why asking the wrong thing can land your company in big trouble
Questions about jam and role-playing games involving werewolves top the list in the worst ever questions asked of candidates in job interviews.
Workers have opened up to a UK employment law consultancy about interviews that either left them cringing or stamping out of the room in fury.
But according to the Leeds-based Protecting.co.uk consultancy, there’s a serious side to all this – employers could leave themselves wide open to the bad publicity and expense of a discrimination claim because of a badly-planned interview that asks candidates the wrong questions.
“Some bosses get it horribly wrong when interviewing for new staff or on promotion boards,” says Protecting spokesperson Mark Hall, “And all the guidelines about acceptable behaviour go right out of the window, often with disastrous results.”
Discriminatory behaviour on grounds of age, race, sexual orientation, gender or disability is illegal, and this applies equally to the interview room as it does to the office or shop floor. But that didn’t stop these horror stories, as told to Protecting.co.uk by workers from all over the UK:
• “If you were a jar of jam, what flavour would you be and why?”
• “We’re going to do some role-play now. You’ll be playing the part of the werewolf.”
• “Are you planning on getting pregnant?”
• “When was the last time you got into an actual fight with somebody?”
• “Tell me how you think you’ll deal with shop-floor banter. They don’t get many women down there.”
• “It’s not on the job description, but would you be able to act as my house cleaner as well?”
• “I was told I could increase my chances of getting the job by taking the boss out for dinner that night. For the record, I dined alone.”
• “You’re quiet. Are you imagining us naked?”
• “What’s your attitude toward illegal drugs?”
• “Not so much a question, but they got all the candidates together for a dance-off ‘to see which one of us is the best around other people’. It was for a supermarket cashier job.”
• “Do you know First Aid? Have you got a certificate? We haven’t got any first aiders and we’ve got a health and safety inspection coming up.”
• “Your CV says you speak French. How much do you think your language skills will be worth when Nigel pulls us out of the Common Market?”
• “Are you gay?” “Does it matter?” “It does to me.”
• “I went for a job for a New York-based company. It was a phone interview, and the American guy asked if I knew a David from London, as if we all know each other. I said yes, and promised to pass on his regards.”
• “I expect you’ll be wanting time off for your weird religious holidays, am I right?”
• “I see from your CV that you were in the armed forces. Did you ever kill anybody?” (I was in the Catering Corps, where the stock answer is always “Yes, thousands”)
Protecting.co.uk ‘s Mark Hall says that sometimes bosses end up behaving badly on a long, boring day of interviewing. But sometimes it can ignorance of the bounds of decency surrounding what you can and cannot say, and sometimes it can be just brain-numbing stupidity.
“What many of these examples have in common is a lack of understanding that a poor interview can leave your business or organisation wide open to potential discrimination claims.”
“Asking a potential employee if she’s planning on taking time off for a baby is a prime example. No amount of explaining otherwise can mitigate the disastrous consequences if or when she is not offered a job,” Hall says.
Protecting.co.uk says the best tactic for managers is to plan the interview carefully, and even hold mock interviews to check that the whole process is fair and transparent without the potential for embarrassing both candidate and company.
“The last thing your business wants is a legal claim against you,” says Hall, “And the second worst is appearing in a list of worst ever job interviews.”
“Think before you ask that show-stopping question!”