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A Channel 4 television series has attracted a lot of publicity as it advertises that it takes viewers into the heart of one of Britain’s last secret places – ‘the interview room’. The show focuses on the pressure that the candidates feel before and after the interview. The tensions are high and the elation or disappointment at the conclusion real. If he had answered this way or she had not said that…

Turning the focus onto the interviewers that are featured each week though can provide a completely different perspective. Experienced HR personnel might be shouting “You can’t ask that!”

So what are the rules about interview questions?

An employer cannot pose just any question as they risk the candidate bringing a claim that they have been discriminated against even if that was the last thing on they intended. Take for example[1] the question of an Irish applicant “do you have a problem with the drink over here?” meaning (according to the interviewer) is the Guinness as good?  It was taken as racially derogatory as a reference to the Irish being prone to drink problems.

Then there was the question of a school teacher with 27 years’ service[2] who had applied for the post of deputy principal why she would be “bothered with the hassle of the job of deputy principal” that was age discrimination.

Reducing the risk of discrimination claims taking place will ideally mean that those asking questions in the interview have had some equality training. However there are some basic rules that will always help.

  • Prepare questions – based on the job description and by considering what qualities the candidate will need
  • Use open questions that allow the candidate to show how they have qualities suited for the role e.g. what have your achievements been to date? What are your strengths? Why have you applied for this particular post?
  • Give the candidate an opportunity to show how they might deal with difficult situations? This could be by way of example by asking what is the most difficult situation you have had to face and how did you tackle it?
  • Avoid questions that are not relevant to the requirements of the job for instance about their future family plans
  • Be wary of making stereotypical assumptions about people – the risk of subconscious discrimination has recently been highlighted[3] in circumstances where a married woman was not treated the same because of an assumption that they would not be the ‘bread winner’.

This post was edited by Christopher Davies. For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.

[1]O’Driscoll v The Post Office

[2] O’Neill v Board of Management, St Gabriel’s National School

[3] Geller and Geller v Yeshurun Hebrew Congregation


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This blog is intended only as a synopsis of certain recent developments. If any matter referred to in this blog is sought to be relied upon, further advice should be obtained.