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Hiring essentials: tips for applications and interviewing

by Steve Jones

Many federal employment laws can apply to the hiring process. Even if you are a small business that may not fall under the rules because of a limited number of employees, it’s always recommended that you follow legally compliant policies from the start. When hiring an employee, you should consider both your application and your interview process

EEOC directive
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suggests that employers consider the following before including a particular question on an employment application or in a job interview:

  1. Is this information necessary to judge the individual’s competence to perform this particular job?
  2. Does this question tend to disproportionately screen out minorities and females?
  3. Are there alternate nondiscriminatory ways to secure the necessary information?

Problem areas
Certain application and interview questions tend to be problem areas for employers. In preparing your job applications and interview questions, you should be aware of some potential pitfall areas. Note that some of the information below are applicable only to much larger employers.

Age, date of birth. Generally, age is considered to be irrelevant in most hiring decisions, and therefore, you shouldn’t ask about date of birth. Also remember that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects employees who are 40 or older. You may ask an applicant to state his age if he is younger than 18. If you need date of birth for internal reasons (e.g., in connection with a pension or profit-sharing plan), obtain it after the person is hired.

Race, religion, national origin. Generally, you shouldn’t ask questions about race, religion, or national origin. However, if the information is necessary for equal employment opportunity (EEO) or affirmative action reasons, you should record it on a separate form (not on the application itself), and it should be available only to your personnel department. Don’t request pictures of applicants because that can form the basis for a discrimination claim.

Physical traits, handicaps. Care must be taken when you ask a person about any physical, mental, or health conditions she may have. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from asking any questions about physical or mental handicaps before making a job offer. The general rule of thumb for health-related questions is that you shouldn’t ask a question if it might elicit information about a person’s disability. If a job does have certain physical qualifications, it’s proper to ask questions related to those requirements only.

Education. If a job doesn’t require a particular level of education, it’s improper to ask questions about an applicant’s educational background. When the performance of a job requires a particular level of education, you may ask applicants about their educational background, the schools they attended, the degrees they earned, and any vocational training they had.

Sex, marital and family status. Generally, questions related to gender or marital and family status shouldn’t be asked on a job application or in a job interview. Likewise, questions about childcare arrangements are improper in most cases. Questions about the likelihood of pregnancy certainly should be avoided. If such information is needed for social security, income tax, or other purposes, obtain it after the applicant has been hired.

Bottom line
My best advice is to avoid the problem areas outlined above when you interview job candidates. Generally, there’s no legitimate purpose for eliciting such protected information. If the information is necessary for some legal compliance or employee benefits purpose, you should obtain it outside the hiring process.

Steve Jones is a founding partner with Jack Nelson Jones & Bryant, P.A., in the firm’s Little Rock, Arkansas, office. He may be contacted at

1 thought on “Hiring essentials: tips for applications and interviewing”

  1. I understand that certain questions are discriminatory and should not be asked, but it seems to me that we are unable to ask almost anything that might clue us in as to whether the person can actually do a job before hiring them simply because we like the person and how they come across in the interview. If I have a position that requires a person to be there every day, then I want to know how many days that person was absent in their previous positions, but that might elicit answers that hint at a disability or a health problem!

    If I want to know if a person will be able to arrive on time, can I ask if they have a reliable way of getting to work?

    It seems we are going the way of the defense in football, no matter what you do, you’ll get a penalty!

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