Ethical interviewing: don’t fall foul of employment law 

It’s great that equality laws are in place to give everyone the same chance at interviews, but do you know specifically what it is and isn’t OK to ask about? Workingmums is here to help with a quick summary of the dos and don’ts in an interview.

Interview Techniques


What not to ask

You shouldn’t ask any ‘personal’ questions that relate to someone’s age, ethnicity or country of birth, marital status or sexuality, religion, pregnancy/parenting or disability.

Some interviews can feel quite informal and almost like a chat – in which case, take extra care. Some questions that would be OK in a social setting are not appropriate at work.

Although it might seem innocent, you cannot ask questions about where someone grew up, what their partner does for a living, when they left university, their childcare arrangements… or anything that links back to those equality characteristics.

Discrimination – direct and indirect

When you’re considering the different applicants for a job, you must be careful not to discount someone because of an equality characteristic. Deciding that someone wouldn’t fit in because of their age, gender or because they have children is direct discrimination and breaches the Equality Act.

You should also consider the implications of indirect discrimination. This is where a policy or decision that you make at work means that certain groups of people are worse off than others.

Here’s an example: one of the criteria for how you select someone for the job is that they need to be available for a 7.00am meeting once a week. This would be indirect discrimination against parents who could struggle to find childcare this early in the day.

If there is a good work-related reason for the policy – where your business would not be able to perform without this 7.00am meeting –the discrimination is justified and therefore not unlawful.

Unconscious bias

Research suggests that the decisions we make are often led by negative assumptions or feelings that we don’t consciously recognise. As humans we tend to warm to those who feel similar to us – in age, in appearance, in social class, as fellow parents. In a job interview this gets classified as ‘good chemistry’ and is seen as a reason to hire… but are you actually being fair?

By being aware of this ‘unconscious bias’ you will be able to consider whether your preference for a certain candidate is for the right reasons. Your decision should be based on just one thing – how well the person can do the job. Part of unconscious bias is that you might make assumptions that someone is more capable, just because you like them. Again, awareness of this drives better decision-making.

It’s been proven that the more diverse a workplace, the better the company performs. And as people work with others from a range of backgrounds, their unconscious bias reduces.

Seeking support

Many workplaces are introducing diversity training and specific workshops to explore unconscious bias. Speak to your HR team to understand whether this is something you can pursue, or whether they can organise training on a broader basis for you and your colleagues. After all, there’s a lot to be gained from greater diversity at work!

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