published October 4, 2017

By David Dorion

Illegal and Off Limits Interview Questions Law Firm Should Never Ask Attorneys During Interviews: How to Dodge Tough Questions

Off-Limits Interview Questions: What Should Never be discussed between a Hiring Manager and a Job Candidate

Much of that change has been to the benefit of the job seeker and employee. Additional employee rights and support within the legal community, has made the worker world nearly as formidable as the world of business owners.

And as other outside, non-business-like influencers such as workday and workweek flexibility, genuine worker care and an agreeable worker-friendly culture continue to hold sway within large companies, the one characteristic a good, well-informed worker will understand what sort of questions they should not be asked, such as their age, ethnicity, religious and sexual preference, among many other deeply personal questions.
Diversity and Other New Work World Concerns within the Business/Legal Sector

Diversity has made deep inroads in American business. Diversity has helped corporations create multi-ethnic boards of directors, minority managers, female executives and a diverse workforce.

But those are companies, not law firms. Companies can adapt and adjust to changing times much more quickly than law firms. Much of this is due to socially aware stock holders, concerned consumers, a savvy marketing division, and an understanding board of directors, all of whom have the distinct power to turn around their company’s direction.

The law firm, however, has none of this. Diversity, in many cases, is an afterthought for these firms. Some buy into it as a trend and opportunity to gain important recognition within the business/legal world, while other firms turn blind eyes to a firm’s need to be diverse. It’s not in their best interest. Besides they don’t really want a culture change; especially if it involves changing their lives and own cultural beliefs.
It’s not enough, though.

Talk to any of the best American and Worldwide companies and law firms about diversity, and more likely than not, they will say they’re doing well within the parameters of diversity. They hire minorities with each chance they get, sometimes without regard to the candidate’s skillset or their ability to get along with clients.

Rather than making the company more diverse, this sort of action can cloak a company in racism. They seek to appease investors and higher-level managers by hiring minorities, who can end up being inadequately trained, disregarded, not made to feel part of the company’s culture, until that person can take no more of his/her position, and simply quits.

This is why diverse hiring practices need an outline as to who you and your law firm are, what your cultures are, and what you as a manager as well as other managers see as the end result of attempting to become more diverse.

So what is the difficulty with law firms becoming diverse, and with that, take a step back to look at them critically? Well, in a law firm’s past, especially a large prestigious firm over 100 years old, and employing thousands of lawyers and support staff, this law firm’s long-term legal clients might feel uncomfortable with some of the new faces.

Usually, though, those types of clientele are old and, in a way thankfully, not long for this earth. In fact, it can be said that some of the attorneys who share the same beliefs as this older client may also be on their way to the easy chair.

In short, because of age, habit, purpose and just general stubbornness, there’s no wonder that law firms are some of the last business entities who haven’t fully embraced diversity in their work setting.
Who Might Want Diversity in The Workplace?

As the workforce changes and albeit, grows increasingly young, the newest age group that is beginning to taste what professional work is the Millennials.

Thing is, the Millennials won’t lay down for anyone. Sure, they need jobs, but they need jobs only on their conditions, not anyone else’s. Make a Millennial play by the rules when he or she knows and feels the rules are skewed, then they’ll quit faster than you can say, “You’re fired!”

Another aspect about Millennials is that they have been taught – or even possibly engrained by – the increase in sensitivities that have occurred in our culture. This translates heavily into the working world. Sensitivities translate into awareness, and awareness for Millennials only comes when one realizes a sort of democracy in the hiring and work process. That fairness must be held above everything else in the workplace. If not, then that Millennial will quit, thwarting off all onboarding efforts, time and money to train that millennial.
You’re doing it all wrong

And while Millennials are the closest and purist type of new worker to fully emerge from a culture of diversity, this also means that large businesses and law firms will have BS called on them immediately by Millennials, particularly in the interview process when these young workers truly have nothing to lose.

They realize that being hired by a so-called diverse business entity or law firm depends upon who was hired earlier.
  • Was it a black guy just because of the sake that the guy being interviewed was black, no matter what his skills were or were not?
  • Was it a woman because women were not initially thought of during the hiring process, which is why the ratio of men to women in this company is dismal at best?
  • Was it a Spanish-speaker because a Spanish-speaker belongs on every company team?
  • Was it a homosexual and/or lesbian simply because that whole culture had previously been glossed over or ignored, and not the fact that both same-sexed people interviewed earlier this week, displayed mad computer programming skills and website work?

A Millennial will immediately sniff out the fakeness of a company’s diverse hiring. Instead of focusing on the people’s talents, they’ll instead notice that, yeah, while this guy is black, or she’s Asian, etc., etc., they barely at best know how to do their job.

This makes the diversity suspect at best. If anything, it’s not organic, and what’s more, whatever job these people were supposed to be hired for, may fall by the wayside since they were erroneously and expediently hired based on their skin color, sex, sexual orientation, etc., instead of their skillset.

So that’s why you have to be very careful of what you or your hiring assistants ask young prospective candidates during your company’s next round of interviews.
Off-Limits Interview Questions: What Should Never Be Discussed between a Hiring Manager and a Job Candidate.

In most cases, smart and savvy job seekers who are curious about a company will immediately pick up on a business’s or law firm’s culture through the questions you as an interviewer ask. With that mentioned, it is important you avoid the following ten questions during your interviewing process. If they aren’t avoided, you could easily risk blowing up the entire interview, and potentially losing out on a quality candidate.

1. What is your race?

If anything at all, this is an embarrassing and humiliating question and one that on the one hand, can be difficult for the job candidate to answer, while on the other hand, to answer can leave a candidate uneasy.

Plus, there’s the overall fact that it is illegal for an employer to ask a candidate questions about their race or skin color. If appearance is an occupational qualifier (BFOQ or bona fide occupational qualification) – for example, when a person applies for a modeling job, a person is not required to disclose their ethnic background or submit a facial and/or body photo with an application.
2. What is your nationality?

Another illegality for an interviewer or hiring manager is to ask a prospective candidate whether or not they are a U.S. citizen. This goes in line with asking a candidate where he or she was born. Yes, some jobs, particularly in government, defense and other positions in which U.S. citizens are preferred, require citizenship, but even those face adversity toward requiring a certain nationality for its candidates. English also can’t be enforced as the single language spoken within a workplace unless a strong business case is made for such a company rule.
3. What is your maiden name?

This can be a back-handed way for an interviewer or hiring manager to ask a candidate what their ethnicity or nationality is, particularly if the candidate is a woman. Remember, you as an interviewer cannot even hint (whether intentional or not) toward discrimination on the basis of gender, marital status or the nationality associated with a maiden or multiple last name.

Additionally, recruiters are not allowed to ask different questions of female and male applicants or of married and unmarried men and women. It’s also inappropriate for an employer to ask a male or female candidate what their plans are for marriage and starting a family, or if they already have a family.
4. How old are you?

Younger and younger workforces coupled with an aging Baby Boomer society has made it so that the younger job seeker is in most cases favored over the older job seeker, even when the experience of the older job seeker is taken into account. In most cases, employment and/or job offerings based on age is illegal.

If a job candidate is over 40 years old, they are protected by The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). This act applies to 40+-year-olds who work in companies with more than 20 employees. It protects these older workers from employment discrimination.

Yes, employers may specify an age limit for a position in very rare cases where it can be proven that age is a BFOQ (within the entertainment industry as it pertains to character roles on television and in the cinema or professions in which age can have a disadvantage to the one employee and their workmates; such as firefighting, police work, some military work and the airline industry in which strength, intensity, and stamina are required.
5. Do you have any disabilities?

An employer may not discriminate against a qualified candidate who is disabled and must make “reasonable accommodations” for physically or mentally impaired employees. This is spelled out under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA goes on to state that recruiters can’t ask about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability. How many days were you sick last year? Have you ever filed for worker’s compensation? What prescription medications do you currently take? Are you an alcoholic? Have you ever been treated for drug abuse, are also unacceptable questions.
6. What is your religion?

This question is highly objectionable. After all, what does religion have to do with a person’s ability to understand then perform on the job they are seeking? This also goes for high holidays that an employee may observe.
7. Have you ever been arrested?

It’s true; some jobs require background checks in which if you were arrested, the event can show up as a black mark against you getting a job. Of course, this depends on the type of job you’re going after. A patrol officer needs in many cases a spotless history to become a full-blown cop. The same may stand for other jobs where integrity is a widely respected and demanded character trait.

In other job interview scenarios in which arrest records seemingly have no connection, it is illegal for an interviewer to ask a candidate if they’ve ever been arrested.

Keep in mind that in accordance with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) policy, employers must weigh a variety of elements when factoring convictions into hiring decisions. These include the nature and severity of the offense, the time that has elapsed, and whether the offense has any relation to the position advertised.
8. What type of military discharge did you receive, and why?

Military service as far as honorable or dishonorable discharges are private affairs recruiters are not allowed to inquire about. Why you were discharged is also off limits as a topic to ask a candidate about during the interviewing process.
9. Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?

A candidate’s financial status truly has nothing to do with their potential job skill abilities or performance if hired. A candidate’s financial status, whether or not they own a home, or have had wages garnished are off-limits to interviewers.
10. Do you belong to any organizations?

While some organizations, clubs, and assemblies may not gel with public acceptance, be it political or societal, it is still illegal for an interviewer to ask whether or not a candidate is affiliated with or are a member of any political, social, or religious groups. This also includes unions.

While these questions are, to an extent, snowballs that any level-headed recruiter would never ask during an interview, interview questions similar to it, or questions which can have the same reaction as the ones above can and should be perceived as inappropriate.

To be sure, today’s job candidates know the legal ramifications of asking such questions, which in your case as a recruiter, can make or break the interview question.

So with that, be sure to word your interview questions fairly, devoid of personal characteristics that have little to nothing to do with the job at hand, and in the end, can cause you and your company legal trouble.

Culture is easy to fake, but it is hell to implement if it is fake.

In the end, culture is an easy fake. The trouble with that, though, is it is hell to implement if it is fake. Ask incorrect or inappropriate questions during an interview, and immediately the gig will be up, and your candidate can be expected to walk right out the door.

If you want to attract the best possible candidates for a job opening within your business, or within a client’s business, concentrate on aspects of the job and the business itself. Showcase the culture and other facets of the workplace that you think your candidate will be interested in.

Stay on track, focused and fair during the interview process, and you’ll have no trouble finding the right fit for the job that you need to fill.

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