Interviewing potential new hires in the US

10 September 2020

Hiring can be difficult for everyone. It is especially stressful for French or European employers to hire in the US as American employment laws are significantly more stringent than in most European countries.

Additionally, every employer takes a risk each time they are filling an opening with a candidate.

That’s why it is crucial to understand the legal pitfalls in the US and to look out for interview red flags. Our talent search experts compiled a list of questions that you should never ask during a job interview in the US – the don’ts, and the ones that can help you to uncover tell-tale signs – the dos.

Job interview questions that are illegal in the US

Everyone involved in the hiring process in the US should know that there are questions you must never ask during a job interview. These illegal questions can have significant legal consequences.

It is illegal to ask a candidate about the following topics:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Marital status
  • Pregnancy or plans to have children
  • Health conditions
  • Sexual orientation
  • Or any personal consideration that could bias your assessment of the candidate

Additionally, in Massachusetts, it is now illegal to ask candidates about current and past salary, or to request this information from current or former employers –unless an offer has already been made to the candidate, and the candidate has formally given approval for doing so.

Asking such questions and then rejecting the candidates is an excellent way to invite a discrimination lawsuit with the potential for significant financial consequences, along with the scrutiny of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of the Justice Department.

10 interview questions to uncover red flags

1. How was your commute? Will your commuting time be acceptable during rush hours?

How far people are willing to commute varies wildly. A few people are willing to travel for over an hour, while others think 30 minutes is too long. However, lengthy commutes are among the major reasons for turnover. Therefore, be aware that candidates who travel long distances might be poor prospects long-term.

2. What do you do for fun?

It’s a good question to help you discover if a candidate can get really passionate about something.

3. What do you already know about our company?

You may assume everyone has Googled your company’s name – if they haven’t, you probably don’t want them. As a follow-up question, you may ask: What else would you like to know? Is there anything that you really like, or anything that gives you pause?

4. Where do you see yourself being two years from now? Five years from now?

You’ll get an idea of how ambitious they are and/or how realistic they are.

5. Tell me about a recent time when you had a substantial disagreement with your direct supervisor.

To probe on conflict resolution skills, or lack thereof. You’ll know if the candidate gets overly emotional or overly excited when describing the conflict. Follow-up questions may be: How was it resolved? Now that you have the benefit of hindsight, in retrospect, who was right?

6. Tell me about a business success you’re really proud of.

Managing failures is key; managing successes is, too. You’ll get a sense of how the candidate thinks about achievement, and how much his/her vision aligns with your own culture. Follow-up questions may be: What do you think were some of the components that led to the success? Was it a team effort? Could you have done it alone?

7. Tell me about the last time you made a significant mistake. What did you learn from the experience?

Everyone has made mistakes. If the job applicant says he hasn’t, then think twice before hiring.

8 Why do you want to work here?

If the candidate answers, “to earn the good salary that you posted,” you probably don’t want him or her.

9. If we talked to your last supervisor, what do you think they would say about you? Follow-up questions may be: What would they say about your outstanding qualities? What shortcomings would they probably point out?

10. Where else have you applied and where else did you get past the front door?

It is essential to get a sense of how much the candidate is on an active job search, who you are competing with, and how much they value your job opportunity. Follow-up questions may be: How do we compare? Where does this opportunity rank in your mind? Where are we on a scale of 1 to 10? What would it take for us to be a 10?

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