Balancing culture with compliance
You just started an interview and likely want the candidate to feel relaxed and comfortable. You might break the ice by asking if they had any trouble finding your office (logging in for virtual interviews). Perhaps you talk about the weather, or you compliment their notebook. It usually works and gives you a glimpse into their personality. This is also a way to start to identify culture fit within your organization. So, what could possibly go wrong? Small talk with a job candidate can go sideways before you know it. Knowing how to make a candidate feel comfortable by being personable while avoiding the legal pitfalls that can accompany standard "small talk" is a necessity. This blog post will cover 9 of these dangers and what you can do to avoid them!
The primary danger of small talk is that it can be inadvertently used to gather protected information about the candidate. This could be anything from their religious beliefs or political opinions to their health or family status. Asking questions that reveal this type of information makes you susceptible to discrimination claims down the road.
Another danger is that small talk can inadvertently lead to discrimination. For example, asking a candidate what they do for fun could reveal that they are not able to work on Saturdays due to religious reasons, which could be cited as religious discrimination if you choose to go with a different candidate.
The third danger with small talk is that it can influence how you communicate during an interview. For example, asking about hobbies could lead to personal conversations instead of professional ones and divert the conversation from the interview script and a focus on the job duties and descriptions. This can also create issues if you are trying to standardize your interview process across several candidates.
Human nature often draws us to people who have similar personalities, so asking questions regarding common interests may result in some bias being shown towards certain candidates. And while some level of personal sharing gives insight into the candidate's personality and how they will work with the team, it can invite significant bias into the interview process. You can somewhat avoid this sort of bias with a diverse hiring committee.
Small talk during an interview can also be grounds for discrimination of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. Suppose you are not careful with what you ask during an interview, certain questions can lead to a lawsuit because it violates the Civil Rights Act that forbids employers from discriminating against job candidates due to their religious or political beliefs. Asking personal questions about a candidate's marital status, children, or other intimate details can be seen as crossing boundaries and making the interview process uncomfortable for the candidate and could even leave you open to a sexual harassment claim. While small talk is often seen as a part of the interview process, it's essential to be aware of the dangers that come with it to avoid any potential legal issues. Use a standardized interview script, stick to professional questions and topics and keep your conversations light and polite.
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