Dos and Don’ts for Interviewers

Keep your interviews on track and compliant with this list of interviewing dos and don’ts.

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Here's what you need to know:

  • Be aware of federal and state regulations around interviewing candidates
  • Base your questions on what the role requires and your company culture — and ask every person interviewing for the same job the same questions
  • Ensure your candidate walks away from the interview experience with a positive perspective of your company

You have several positions open and are working to find qualified candidates to fill them. You know you need to conduct interviews, but with the prevalence of litigation as a solution, you’re nervous about what you can and can’t ask.

You’ve already taken the correct first step in recognizing that there are boundaries around the conversation you have with your candidates. We’re here to help you navigate these waters — they’re really more transparent than they initially seem.

It’s accurate that interviews should be structured, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be personable. This article will provide you with specific dos and don’ts to keep your discussions on track and keep you and your managers out of tenuous situations.

Why do you have to worry about “rules” for an interview?

the Small Business Administration conducted a study of small businesses and found that approximately 40.5% of them are sued annually for various employment law infractions.

According to, 65.1% of the United States’ new employment opportunities are thanks to small businesses. All of those new jobs also leave those same companies open to lawsuits. Although the statistic is not limited to litigation due to improper interview tactics, the Small Business Administration conducted a study of small businesses and found that approximately 40.5% of them are sued annually for various employment law infractions.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversees businesses’ compliance with the various employment laws that have been enacted. A sample of these regulations include:

  • Title VII (discriminating against individuals because of their color, national origin, race, religion, or sex.)
  • ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act)
  • ADEA (The Age Discrimination Employment Act)
  • Civil Rights Act of 1991
  • EPA (The Equal Pay Act)
  • GINA (The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act)
  • USERRA (The Uniformed Services Employment Reemployment Rights Act)

In today’s world of instant information, people are more informed than ever. Most of your candidates are well aware of these employment laws and the protections they enjoy as a result of them.

Interview Questions You Should Never Ask - and Why

Keep your focus on the goal of the interview process

Don’t let the fact that there are federal and, in some cases, additional state regulations keep you from your goal of filling your vacancy with the best candidate. You’re simply going into your interview process informed.

To that point, let’s set you up for a successful interview process.

Make sure you have a complete job description for the open position. It should include the:

  • Job title
  • Salary range
  • Minimum qualifications someone must possess to perform the job functions
  • Standard duties expected of the role (general day-to-day activities)
  • Physical expectations of the job (i.e., must be able to safely lift boxes of 40 lbs.)

There isn’t any room in your job description for things like:

  • Educational background (this can be misconstrued as racial or socioeconomic discrimination)
  • Criminal history restrictions (Ban-the-Box). If it’s genuinely required, the job description can include requirements such as: Must be eligible to be bonded

Once you have your complete job description, you can prepare for your interview. Base your questions on what the role requires and your company culture.

The interview is not the time to ask personal questions. It’s ok if the candidate volunteers information. Still, as the interviewer, you cannot ask leading questions to get that information. Let’s talk about some dos and don’ts to set you up for success.

How you can put your best foot forward with your candidates — and stay out of hot water

One thing you want to make sure you do is to ask every person interviewing for the same job the same questions. You want to be able to have clear documentation as to why you legitimately chose one candidate over another.

To set yourself and your candidate up for a successful interview, Do:

  • Introduce yourself.
  • Ask them the name they prefer to use and address them as such during the interview.
  • Tell them what to expect during the interview – how long it will take, how many people will be involved, the types of questions you’re going to ask (i.e., you want them to give you actual experiences, although there may be a few hypothetical questions thrown in), and the fact that you’ll be taking notes.
  • Tell them you want them to answer questions specific to their personal role in the situations.
  • Offer some information about the company and its culture.
  • Talk about the role and the expectations surrounding it.
  • Ask the questions in a positive light.
  • Reframe their answers back to them to make sure you understood them.
  • Take notes on an evaluation scorecard that includes each question that will be asked during the interview and leaves space for observations and notes.
  • Ask them if they have questions after you have finished asking your questions. Make a note of their questions, too.
  • Let them know when they can expect to hear from the company about the results or the next steps after the interview has concluded.

There are 3 categories of questions you want to ask your candidates.


You’ll want to ask about how their previous experience prepared them for this role, the challenges they faced, and the strengths and weaknesses they’ve learned about themselves. These questions could include:

  • How did you find out about this job?
  • Why do you feel you’d be a good fit for it?
  • Tell me about your previous experience and how it moved you toward this job.
  • What did you find the most rewarding in your (previous/current) job?
  • In your (previous/current) position, what did you find the most challenging?
  • What has your boss told you your greatest strengths are? What about your areas for development or improvement?

The new role

You’ve spent some time getting to know the individual and helping them get comfortable with the interview process. Now you’ll want to dive into the particulars of the job. Ask experiential questions such as:

  • Tell me about a time when __________ (fill in the blank with a challenge the individual would face in the role. You will most likely have at least three different questions along these lines.)
  • What happened in that scenario?
  • What was the result/outcome?
  • How do you know?

Think about the traits you want in your candidate. Do you want someone willing to respectfully push back against a manager? Do you want someone who will take instructions and follow through without questions? Ask:

  • Tell me about a time when you thought there might be a different or better way to do something. What did you do?
  • Tell me about when things didn’t go how you hoped they would. What did you learn, and how have you applied those lessons?
  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your manager. How did you handle it? What was their response?
  • What is your favorite part of your current job? What’s your least favorite part?

Don’t be afraid to ask clarification or follow-up questions if you feel you don’t have the level of response you need.

Pro Tip: It is human nature to respond to questions in terms of teamwork — “In that situation, we….” When your candidates do this, redirect the question and ask them what their personal role in the process was.

Cultural add

Now it’s time to let the candidate relax a little bit. Ask some questions that are on the lighter side and will give you some insight into what makes them “tick” and help you determine whether or not this person will be a good culture add for the company.

Consider asking things like:

  • What types of tasks or projects get your total attention and put you in that “zone” where you’re excited about what you’re doing?
  • Considering that the Marvel™ franchise is everywhere, tell me what your “superpower” is that sets you apart from your colleagues?
  • What do you hope people will say about you at your retirement party?
  • Tell me, what product or brand best describes you?

Pro Tip: If any of these questions seem to cause your candidate to pause, give an example of how you would answer.

What you need to stay away from when conducting interviews

You want to make the interview process positive. With that in mind, if you’re going to conduct panel interviews with multiple people involved, limit the number of participants to the least number of people necessary.

Additionally, there are very specific topics that are taboo when you’re conducting interviews. In addition to the categories involved in Title VII (color, national origin, race, religion, or sex), never ask anything that applies to:

  • Age. This applies to avoiding asking people when they were born and refusing to ask when they graduated. The only exception is if someone has to be eligible to perform some of the job’s functions at a minimum age. In that instance, you frame the question as, “This position requires the incumbent to __________. Is there anything that would prevent you from being able to do that?”
  • Marital status
  • Children, including if an obviously pregnant person is interviewing — never ask when the baby is due. As with the other items, this can lead to charges of discrimination.
  • Ethnicity. An individual’s accent can result in natural curiosity and can seem like a harmless inquiry, however, do not ask where someone is from. This could result in a perception of a direct violation of Title VII.

Pro Tip: If you’re tempted to ask a question that isn’t on your evaluation sheet, ask yourself if the candidate’s response will have any bearing on whether or not they can successfully perform the job.

It’s important that you understand that any notes you take can be subpoenaed. With that in mind, only take notes on your evaluation sheets and do not make any notes about the candidate that are personal in nature.

5 Things You Might Be Doing Wrong in Your Interview Process

Ensuring a positive experience for everyone involved

Your interview with your prospective candidate is your chance to assess them. Keep in mind, however, that they’re also interviewing you. Present the job and company in an appealing manner. Even if this person isn’t the right fit for this role, they may be a perfect person for a different job.

Present the job and company in an appealing manner. Even if this person isn’t the right fit for this role, they may be a perfect person for a different job.

Make sure your candidate walks away from the interview experience with a positive perspective of your company.

To give you more assistance, we have created an Ultimate Recruiting Toolkit that will not only help you with the interview process but will also set you up for successful:

  • Job description development
  • Position posting processes
  • Prospect post-interview scoring and evaluation processes
  • Candidate offers
  • Effective recruiting process techniques

To grab your copy of this valuable resource, click the link for Zenefits’ Ultimate Recruiting Toolkit now.

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