Published 02 October, 2020

Discrimination During the Interview Process (5 min)

There's no such thing as an unbiased person, human beings are naturally biased. But, an employer cannot be biased and discriminate in its hiring processes, based on a job applicant's race, national origin, gender, pregnancy, age, any kind of disability or religion. State and local laws may specify additional protected classes, based on factors such as the sexual orientation of a job applicant.

Job applicants have legal rights, even before they become employees. So, the employers must abide by anti-discrimination laws at all the stages of the hiring process, right from placing a job ad to interviewing, till the final selection of the candidate.

Now the discrimination during the interview is rarely as obvious, as it used to be in the past.  Everybody has some unconscious biases, which however subtle it may be, can have the potential of affecting the entire screening and the selection process (and sometimes it might even affect your chances of landing the job). So, knowing your rights, how to identify discrimination and what to do when it happens can help you stand for yourself.

What a job seeker should know about discrimination

During an interview process, discrimination can’t be done on the basis of the characteristics like race, nationality, ethnicity and color. This means that none of these factors can be taken into account during the different stages of recruitment, fixing of wages, hiring, assignment, benefits, promotions, discharge, discipline, layoffs, or any other aspect of employment. When it comes to your job search, this means:

  • Employers should advertise their open positions in a way that it reaches all the applicants, whether they belong to the majority or the minority group.
  • Employers must determine in a fair manner which candidates to interview, purely based on their experience and qualifications and not their name (For example interviewing an Elizabeth, with no experience while ignoring a Yousuf, with an extensive experience).
  • Employers must never subject candidates to pre-employment tests that knowingly or unknowingly discriminate against a certain racial group (i.e. white candidates tend to pass the pre-employment test while black candidates have a lower pass rate)
  • Employers should review their hiring metrics annually to determine whether any steps exclude minority applicants and then develop action plans to resolve the issue going forward.
  • It is expected that employers hire the most qualified and well-aligned candidate for the job regardless of their race or ethnicity.

What should be the hiring process to avoid discrimination

During the hiring process, employers should avoid making false promises to a prospective or new employee. Any false promises may result in a “breach of contract" under the law. For example, a promise that stock options will be provided worth a given amount and the employee will be in the job for his lifetime. He will receive significant pay increases every year, irrespective of the company’s growth or the employee’s performance. All these fake statements may result in a breach of contract. Then, if the promises are not kept, the employer can be said to have breached the contract and will be held responsible towards the employee for any kind of damages the employee has incurred due to the employer's false promise.

Employers need to avoid these questions

Generally, employers should avoid the questions which relate to the classes that are protected by discrimination laws. Following are some of the queries which the employers should avoid during the interview process:

An applicant might raise questions, if they are asked about any of the above areas during a job interview. If so, then the employer needs to discuss these topics to the extent necessary in order to answer the applicant's question.

How to avoid discrimination during recruitment

Discrimination in recruitment is quite a real issue and it is a legal requirement that you must avoid doing so. Further, if you are accepting all the potential applicants, then it will be much more likely that you find the best possible person for the job.

We suggest that you follow the below steps to avoid discrimination during the recruitment process.

Create a neutral job advertisement

Remember, discriminatory advertisement is against the law. It can carry heavy fines and therefore must be avoided. So, you should not include anything that could be perceived as discriminatory. You should not use language that could be seen as restrictive. For example, do not use a language which suggests that you are only considering female applicants. Moreover, your advertisement must focus solely on the skills that are needed to do the job. You can ask for details of any personal characteristics, like age, sex or race, only if those are specifically required for a particular kind of job.

Decide based on the skills required

You need to be very specific about the skills needed for the job, so that all the potential applicants can easily understand the skills and the duties required from them. You must remain objective while selecting the skills and ensure that those are easy and can be fulfilled by people from different backgrounds. You should explain why each trait is important and outline the skills which are ‘essential’ and which are ‘preferable”.

Shortlist a suitable range of candidates.

When you are shortlisting the candidates to interview, select the interviewees only from CVs based on the criteria and the skills that you have set. You can’t allow personal bias or stereotypes to affect the list of applicants which you shortlist. You should  be very consistent in your decision making and can’t let any protected characteristics influence your choices.

It’s also important for you to diversify in terms of which platforms you select candidates from. This ensures you get a diverse pool of candidates and open up an opportunity for more people to apply in different ways.

Preparation for the interview.

You should carefully plan the interview and decide the questions you are going to ask in order to ensure that your questions are not perceived as discriminatory. All the applicants should be given an equal  opportunity  to explain in detail why they are the best suited person for the job. You should ask all the applicants the same set of questions at first to assess on the key criteria which they must have, however any subsequent questions following their given answers may vary.

Conduct an effective and fair interview

As mentioned earlier, ask the same questions when assessing essential criteria. You should not make any assumptions about a candidate based on a particular behaviour. For example, if a candidate doesn’t shake your hand due to the respect as is followed in their culture, then do not draw any conclusion based on that. Having more than one person conducting the interview ensures that you reach to a much better and fair decision.

Select and offer objectively.

While deciding whom to offer the job to, you need to ensure that your selection process is not discriminatory. You should refer to the job description and focus only on the candidates’ skills and abilities to see if they match with your criteria without having any personal bias.

Maintain a detailed record of your decisions.

You should keep a detailed record of all your decisions regarding who you have hired and the reasons for doing so. It is absolutely necessary to have these recorded and can be used for training purposes in future.

Always provide a feedback.

You should always give a crisp and clear feedback. All the reasons need to be explained well to the unsuccessful candidates as to why they were not selected. You need to make sure that your feedback is constructive and highlights all the points to be worked upon and also explains how did they  fair in the interview process.

Always provide a feedback.

You should always give a crisp and clear feedback. All the reasons need to be explained well to the unsuccessful candidates as to why they were not selected. You need to make sure that your feedback is constructive and highlights all the points to be worked upon and also explains how did they  fair in the interview process.

What should you do if you suspect discrimination in a job interview

If you ever suspect that you’ve experienced discrimination:

  1. Consider all the possibilities. Not being selected for a job is not a very clear evidence of discrimination. However, if you are more qualified than the candidate who was selected and was passed over – especially if illegal questions were asked, then there might have been a discrimination.
  2. Try to work it out directly with the organization. Firstly, you have to make sure that there is sufficient evidence towards your claimSecondly, contact the HR department to let them know that you have concerns about the screening process. Seek a specific feedback regarding the differences they found between the candidate who was selected and you. Did they interview him in a better way? Do they have examples to share? Many HR executives are happy to share the feedback, if you ask them directly. If the hiring team asked you a discriminatory question, then it’s very  important that you notify HR about that.

Further, if you still decide that you have been discriminated against and want to take action, visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Web site and complete the assessment form to file your claim. The EEOC will contact the employer and they'll have to provide substantial responses to your allegations. In case you feel like you were mistreated or if it’s the opposite, you had a wonderful experience, just let us know about it! Together we can create more transparency in the job market and help future employees find the best possible place to work at! 

Remember, that a job interview doesn’t provide only a job, it also gives you a wonderful opportunity to ask question and know about the company too.  Share your interview experiences with us, so that discrimination during interviews can be minimized as far as possible. Together, we can do it.

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