Interviewing Employees: The Do’s and Dont's


So, you’re in the market and looking to hire an employee (or independent contractor). Congratulations, this is a crucial step in growing your business – whether this is your first employee as a part-time seasonal helper or your 20th employee for a growing regional business.

There are common practices that you should keep in mind whenever interviewing a new employee.

In this article, we’ll explore what questions to generally ask and avoid. We’ll go over some common practices to maintain your professionalism and avoid legal conflicts, and get the most qualified candidates for the positions you’re interviewing.

Next, we’ll go over some common rules that employers should generally follow in preparation for conducting an interview.

Create a List

Hiring a new employee is a fundamental skill that every employer must eventually learn. Now, you could hire anyone that walks in the door, but that would usually be foolish. Learning how to hire the best candidate for the job is like learning to do anything the first time – it takes some preparation, real-world experience, and good judgment. The first, however, concerns preparation for the interview.

First, you should create a list in preparation for an interview. To keep it simple, you could create a 2-columned list. In the first column, you could list all the common tasks of the job. In the second column, you could list all the skill sets and experience that you want for the job.

Column 1: Tasks

  • All the requirements and tasks of the job

Column 2: Skills & Experience

  • All skills and experience that you’re looking for to accomplish the tasks of the job.
For example, assume you own a website company and you’re looking to hire a database designer.

Column 1:
  • Build a certain number of webpages per week
  • Troubleshoot and fix problems when they occur
  • Think independently
Column 2:
  • 3-5 years of experience with Adobe Photoshop
  • Catalogue of prior build websites
  • Ability to write in HTML, Flash, and CSS, Javascript, and some background in C++
The purpose the list is to maintain consistency in your interviews. In other words, try to keep your questions similar for all candidates, so as not to show favoritism or discrimination, and to maintain a level of professionalism. You should judge candidates based on merit, and this system will help you to do so. This way, if a candidate ever complains about favoritism or discrimination in the hiring process, you’ll have documentation to show your level of consistency (assuming you remember not to stray too far off the skill sets on the list).

Also, at this stage of preparation, you’ll need to determine whether you plan to hire an employee or independent contractor.

Next, we’ll go over questions to generally ask in the interview process.

General Questions an Employer Should Ask in the Interview Process

There is no one single set of questions to ask in any interview. Obviously, different jobs will require different questions. You wouldn’t post a job for a chef at a restaurant and ask the candidates if they can write computer code; however, if you’re hiring a database designer, you would ask what types of computer code they can write.

In short, an interview is generally the best way for the employer to get a sense of what the candidate is like. Every person is different with a unique personality, and as such, every interview will be slightly different. However, there are general questions that every employer should ask a new candidate regardless of the job description.

Questions to Ask (if asked equally to all candidates)

  • Can you perform all the functions of the job?
  • Can you meet the job’s attendance requirements?
  • What are your professional certifications, if any?
  • What is your educational background?
  • What is your job experience in this field?
  • Do you use illegal drugs?
  • What makes you the best candidate for this job?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Etc.
Next, we’ll go over some questions to avoid in the interview process.

Questions to Avoid

Do not ask candidates about their characteristics that the law prohibits you from asking. For example, do not ask about:
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Age (unless age is a requirement for the job)
  • Disability
    • This is one of the most difficult laws for many employers to understand and comply with.
    • Remember this: You can ask people about their abilities; but not their disabilities!

Below are some disability-related questions that an employer should generally not ask:

  • Are you disabled?
  • List conditions or diseases for which you have been treated?
  • Have you ever been hospitalized, and if so, what for?
  • Do you have a medical condition?
  • Do you have any major illnesses that we should be aware of?
  • Did you miss any work with your previous employers because of a medical condition?
  • Do you any physical defects or ailments that we need to know?
  • Do you take prescribed drugs?
  • Did you ever file a workers compensation claim for a prior medical condition?
Next, we’ll go over what to do if a candidate raises a question that you wouldn’t have asked.

Tread Lightly When a Candidate Raises a Delicate Issue

If a candidate brings up an issue that you would not have asked or are prohibited by law from asking, please tread lightly as you proceed with the conversation. Only go into as much detail as the candidate asks and generally refrain from anything more. Do not prod any further into the subject area. Let the candidate direct the conversation.

For example, if a candidate asks about "reasonable accommodations," this should trigger that there may be a possible disability issue. However, do not ask the candidate if she or he has a disability. Also, if the candidate asks about race, religion, or age, please tread lightly. Only go into as much detail as the candidate wants to go. If you get into a sticky situation with a candidate, attempt to treat the candidate in the same professional manner as every other candidate. Also, you may want to consult a local attorney or your state’s labor department for potential questions that you might not know how to deal with.

Next, we’ll go over why employers should stay away from promises they cannot keep.

Stay Away From Promises You Cannot Keep

As an employer, do not make promises you cannot keep. For example, do not tell a candidate that he/she will only be laid off for poor performance when other reasons (that you don’t even know about) may require you to lay off an employee (e.g. a downshift in the economy, a buyout of the company, a loss in revenue, or other reasons). Even if your projected business indicates that the company will meet certain thresholds within the year, and the candidate should expect to receive a bonus, don’t explicitly state that the candidate will receive a bonus if hired (unless that is absolutely true). It is generally better to simply say that bonuses may be offered at the discretion of the employer, and the company has paid out bonuses for ____ out of the last ____ years.

If you offer a benefits package to a candidate, do not mislead the candidate about the details of the benefits package. As the employer, you should know the details of your benefits package and prepare to answer such questions. However, if you don’t know certain details about your benefits package, tell the candidate the truth, and let them know you’ll find out the answer and get back to them (or have your human resource manager get in touch with them).

In short, as an employer, it is generally better to err on the side of caution when talking about future expectations. This does not mean you should stay away from all promises. Rather, it is generally better to stay away from absolute promises (i.e. no wiggle room at all) and instead use relative promises (i.e. with wiggle room).

An example of a relative promise with wiggle room could sound something like this:
We generally give out bonuses, but they’re dependent on many factors, including ________. The Company does reserve the right not to give out bonuses for many reasons, including but not limited to, _______ .
An example of an absolute promise with no wiggle room could sound something like this:
We always give out bonuses, and if you’re hired, you’re sure to receive at least a $5,000.00 bonus.
Stay away from any language like this, or your employee could reasonably expect this to be part of the contract with your company (unless you will absolutely follow through with the promise).

Next, we’ll finish this article with a few key points to keep in mind.


As you can see, the interview process should not be difficult; however, keep in mind how the law affects the questions that you ask. Put yourself in the applicant’s position and stick to those questions that you would have expected to answer, while making sure to stay within the confines of the law during the interview process. Additionally, try to stay away from even subtle forms of discrimination. And do not make promises you cannot keep.

Keeping these points in mind during an interview will help you to maintain a high level of professionalism, stay within the confines of the law, and help you to find the best candidate for the position.

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