What questions should you ask in job interviews?

In a competitive jobs market, knowing the right questions to ask a candidate is very important. You are being assessed as much as they are. 

As you are assessing the candidate, remember that you’re being assessed as well. Be extremely careful that you don’t ask any questions that could compromise your integrity or even leave you open to legal action.

Questions you should ask

The nature of job interview questions depends on the role. Ask open-ended questions whenever possible, as this will encourage the candidate to speak freely on any given topic. Here are five questions you should always ask, to get a better insight into the candidate’s employment history and working nature:

  1. ‘What attracted you to this position, and to this company?’ This is a solid question that will give the candidate a chance to show how much they know about their field, as well as your business.
  2. ‘Are you a team player or do you prefer to get work done on your own?’ This is a crafty question that plenty of candidates may struggle with. The right answer is for them to say that they are comfortable in either scenario, with examples. However, if the candidate expresses an interest in solely working on their own, in the midst of a busy team environment, that could signify a red flag for you.
  3. ‘Give me an example of a time you worked well in a team, along with a time you faced adversity.’ This will give you a detailed insight into how the candidate works with others, and how success was achieved. Watch out for a candidate saying they haven’t faced adversity in the workplace. This is more than likely untrue, and something you should press them on.
  4. ‘Tell me about your leadership style, with specific examples.’ This is a question that can be posed to all candidates, regardless of the position for which they are interviewing. You could ask a junior candidate about their qualities and strengths in sports or at university. With regard to a more senior candidate, try to figure out whether they are a micro-manager. Beware people who say they leave their team to do its own work. This is generally code for them not being prepared to work themselves.
  5. ‘Tell me about your interests.’ Although not critical for the successful adoption of a role, this question will tell you a lot about the candidate as a person, and inform your decision as a result. Remember, go with your gut!

Avoid discrimination

You want to avoid discriminatory questions at all times. There are nine headings under which discrimination falls:

  • Sex
  • Marital status
  • Family status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race
  • Membership of the Travelling community

Questions you shouldn't ask at any time

Taking the nine headings above as a guide, certain no-go questions will be obvious. However, you can land yourself in hot water without directly asking discriminatory questions. A candidate who doesn’t even get the role can take a case against your business to the Equality Tribunal. Here are some questions that, although seemingly innocent, are unacceptable.

  1. ‘It’s getting late. Are you on the school run today?’ This seemingly innocuous question discriminates against a person’s family status. All references to children must be avoided. Instead, you could ask whether evening work was acceptable, for example.
  2. ‘Are you planning on retiring in the next few years?’ This question discriminates on the grounds of age.
  3. ‘I see you have an engagement ring. When are you thinking of getting married?’ This question, although potentially well-meaning, discriminates on the grounds of marital status.
  4. ‘We work on Sunday mornings. Would this prevent you from going to Mass?’ Any reference to religion must be avoided at all times.
  5. ‘Does your hearing aid affect you when using headphones?’ Again, this seems like an innocuous enough question, but it discriminates on the grounds of disability.

Example of discrimination

Discriminating against an employee or even an interview candidate can cost your business greatly. For example, the Equality Tribunal found a primary school discriminated against a teacher on the grounds of age, religion and sexual orientation, and ordered it to pay the teacher €54,000.

During the interview for the position of school principal, the interviewer made a derogatory reference to homosexuals, leading to a ruling of sexual orientation discrimination. The job was eventually given to another applicant who was considerably younger, had considerably less experience and was less qualified, leading to a ruling of discrimination on the grounds of age.

The interviewer also asked what the teacher would do with children whose parents did not want them to participate in the school’s religious programme, leading to a ruling of religious discrimination.

3 Action Points

  • Be clear about what you expect in the interview. Know what you want, and let the candidate know too. Prepare your questions in advance.
  • Ask the right questions. The above questions are always worth asking, but know that different roles require different questions. Be sure you have your research done. Make sure you don’t ask inappropriate questions.
  • Don’t discriminate. Know the questions that are off-limits, and stay well clear of them.
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