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Memo to Managers
4 Common Mistakes in the Hiring Process and How to Avoid Them
Most hiring managers understand that they should avoid questions related to a candidate’s national origin, citizenship, age, marital status, disabilities, other protected characteristics, as well as arrest record, during the interview process. But is it okay to research a candidate’s social media profiles? What seemingly harmless conversation topics might create legal or ethical issues or risk?
Follow these four guidelines to make sure your hiring processes are legal, fair and responsible—and help you identify the best candidates.
1) Be Prepared
The importance of being prepared would seem obvious, but many managers enter interviews without sufficient preparation. Plan your interviews ahead of time. When you’re equipped with questions that focus on the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for success, you’ll be more likely to identify great candidates—and less likely to veer into risky territory. Uncertain about whether a question is acceptable? Check with our HR or compliance department in advance.
2) Don’t Conduct Your Own Internet Research on Candidates
Researching a candidate online is not unlawful. Indeed, many companies do credit checks, criminal background checks and social media research during the hiring process. But looking up this kind of information on your own can create risk.
First, you might come across information, such as photos that you feel indicate “poor judgment,” that leads you to reject a candidate. Likewise, you might find a reason to prefer a candidate, such a political causes or affiliations. The risk is that in such situations, you may substitute your personal biases for the values of our organization. It also could lead you to select someone who is not, in fact, the strongest candidate for the role. And, of course, if the reason you select or reject a candidate is based on a protected characteristic, you may be violating the law and our non-discrimination policy—clearly, a bad thing.
Second, depending on how you conduct your research and what you find, you might be violating the law. For instance, some states prohibit an employer from asking for a candidate’s username and passwords for social media accounts. Gaining access to restricted (private) pages through “pretext”—for example, by asking a candidate to “friend” you, by posing as someone you are not, or by asking someone else to do so—also can raise legal and ethical issues.
As a result, the best course of action is to:
- Avoid doing background research on candidates—leave that up to the HR department.
- If you believe researching a candidate would be helpful, reach out to HR or Compliance first.
- Work with HR or Compliance to identify exactly what you will look for, how the search will be conducted, and who will do it.
- Perform the same searches for each candidate. Singling certain candidates out can appear to be discriminatory.
- Share the information uncovered by the searches with those involved in the selection process, and let the organization make the decision of how to use it.
If the organization will be using background checks or social media research in the hiring process, inform each candidate so that she/he can plan accordingly.
3) Don’t Make Promises About Jobs, Visas or Sponsorships
Candidates will view you as speaking on behalf of the organization. As a result, any inaccurate statement you make to a candidate—even if you thought it was true—can be problematic, and, depending on what you say, might even create a legal problem. When it comes to questions about relocation payments, visa sponsorships, benefits information, etc., suggest that the candidate follow up with HR who are the resident experts and will be able to give the best answer.
4) Follow Our Standard Processes for Recruiting and Hiring
There’s a good reason we have these policies and procedures in place. If you aren’t familiar with our hiring policies, or if anyone in your department needs a refresher, talk to the compliance, HR, or recruiting team. Seeking help from experts is a sign of intelligence, not weakness!
Questions of the Month
Q: We interviewed two qualified candidates for an open position. Our manager decided not to hire the first candidate because she has a strong accent and he thinks it would undermine her credibility during client conversations. Could this candidate allege unlawful discrimination?
In the U.S., the answer depends on the accent—is it a foreign accent or and accent from a region within the country? Discrimination based on national origin is unlawful, so rejecting a candidate based on an international accent very likely would violate the law. It does not matter that colleagues or clients might to have to ask someone to repeat themselves. Similarly, with very few exceptions, the fact that clients might prefer working with someone with an American accent is not reason enough to discriminate against a candidate. So, before you take accent into account, reach out to our HR team and/or Legal and get input.
Q: I just interviewed a college student for an internship in my department. After the interview, I did a search for her name on social media, which turned up a drunk driving arrest in 2010. What should I do with this information?
Share it with HR right away. First, HR will need to determine whether it was only an arrest (which cannot be used to make a decision) or a conviction also. Second, whether a conviction would affect our decision depends on the nature of the position to which she is applying. For example, if the position she applied for will involve driving a company vehicle, we may disqualify her. But if her role will not involve driving, operating heavy machinery or using a firearm, we may not hold the conviction against her.
Learn how to prevent discrimination in the workplace with practical advice from our subject matter experts.
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