What Ever Happened to Common Sense?
Newsletter volume 2 number 4
Over the past decade, legal counsel has increasingly evaluated corporate hiring practices. This seems to make sense given the poor track record of many businesses with regard to workforce diversity. Unfortunately, though, the advice some attorneys give their corporate clients may actually make it impossible for managers to realistically assess any prospect, and for any candidate to get a fair hearing.
Lawyers often advise managers, for example, to "ask the same questions of all applicants." Does this sound right to you? Let's take a closer look. Suppose for argument's sake that Ohio State is considering two candidates for athletic director: two-time Ohio State Heisman Trophy-winner Archie Griffin and Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
According to the "same question" rule, Griffin couldn't be asked about his athletic career because such questions wouldn't be asked of Powell. And since Griffin didn't serve in the armed forces, Powell couldn't be questioned about his military record. The result is clearly absurd: the outstanding achievements of both men would be nullified, with the university athletic department the big loser.
Some attorneys even warn interviewers not to ask about a candidate's education. And this pursuit of the absurd has reached the point where a video on "How to Avoid Employment Lawsuits", from a Chicago law firm, runs 2 hours and 12 minutes. To get this specific advice, which has nothing to do with assessment or selling of the candidate, requires a time investment more than four times the length of the average 30 minute on-campus interview!
Finally, prevailing legal wisdom has it that the best way for an interviewer to avoid a lawsuit is to stick to a carefully scripted list of prepared questions. But this kills spontaneity and eliminates the chance for the kind of probing follow-up that makes interviews effective. No one benefits when interviewers are afraid to ask tough questions or are more worried about legalities than about hiring the right candidate.
Obviously, interviewers need to know what is legal to ask in an interview. However, most employment-related issues and lawsuits cluster around termination practices, not hiring practices. We believe recruiters and managers should enhance their interviewing skills, but use common sense about some of the legal advise they get.