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Effective Law Firm Interviewing Skills: How to Avoid "Off Limits" Questions but Still Get Information You Need to Make Good Hiring Decisions

Summary: The following are a few examples of the most commonly reported areas of discriminatory questioning.

Learn how to avoid off limits questions in a law firm interview.
  • Age. Avoid questions about age, date of birth, and graduation date. Focus on the substance of a candidate's experience rather than on number of years of experience. Telling older candidates they are "overqualified" can be perceived as a discriminatory preference for younger candidates.
  • National origin/ancestry. If language skills are relevant to a position, ask what languages the candidate speaks. Do not ask where the candidate's parents are from or how language skills were acquired.
  • Marital or family status. Avoid questions about marital status, spouse, number of children, and child care. If a job requires travel or relocation, explain what is required and ask whether the candidate can fulfill these requirements. Avoid questions that seem to presume married women will be less likely to travel or relocate – or that request details of child care arrangements. Avoid asking women whether they prefer to be called "Miss", "Mrs." or "Ms." Questions about spouses may be viewed as discriminatory, not only by women, but also by gay and lesbian candidates.
  • Disability. Open-ended questions about whether an interviewee has a disability are discriminatory. Employers are permitted to ask whether an interviewee is able to perform the essential functions of a job. However, according to current interpretations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, questions about the provision of accommodations should be raised only when an offer is extended.
  • Organizations. Asking what professional organizations and community activities have influenced a candidate's professional development is very relevant to assessing a potential hire. But avoid asking candidates to list all of their organizational affiliations.
  • Social interests/home life. Questions about home life, social interests, and hobbies are inappropriate and raise numerous red flags. Some interviewers craft their questions with care but alienate candidates through small talk. Initiating a sports conversation with a minority male candidate is an example of small talk that is likely to be perceived as based on racial stereotypes.

Effective Interviewing

Focusing on job-related issues not only avoids discrimination but also results in more productive, effective interviews. Additionally, as an interviewer, you can enhance your role if you:
  • Know the hiring objectives of your organization. Understand the skills required for positions being filled. Be able to describe the responsibilities of entry-level attorneys.
  • Know your organization. Be able to discuss key marketing points and highlights of practice areas for which you are interviewing.
  • Prepare by reviewing résumés thoroughly. Your knowledge of a résumé will sharpen your questions and communicate your organization's sincere interest in the candidate.
  • Listen. Experienced, effective interviewers tend to talk only about 20% of the time during an interview. Eighty percent of the time they listen to the candidate. Novice interviewers tend to talk 80% of the time and emerge from interviews knowing little more than they learned from résumés.
  • Know the law. Review equal employment law, and identify ways in which interview questions can reveal subtle biases.
  • Get training. Help ensure that others in your organization who are involved in callback, in-office interviews are trained in the principles of nondiscriminatory interviewing.
  • Know your importance. Recognize that interviewing is a specialized skill and that an effective interviewer makes a tremendous contribution to the future of an organization.

See the following articles for more information:

How to Effectively Interview Lateral Candidates: Pointers for Law Firms

Top 7 Rules for Law Firms Conducting Call Back Interviews of Law Students

Behavioral Interviewing Techniques to Help Your Law Firm Get Great Laterals

How to Conduct an Interview for Lateral Hires