The Too-Candid Job Candidate

I recently saw a very funny video about a very important small business topic.

The video was of a job interview with the “too-candid candidate.” The woman being interviewed brought up everything from her possible political beliefs to religion to the interviewer’s sexual preferences.


While these are all topics that are usually not part of your average office chit-chat, they really are topics that must be avoided, by both interviewee and interviewer alike, in a job interview. Actually, especially by the interviewer.

One is tempted, when one interviews someone for a job, to make conversation and not just ask, “So, what are your weaknesses?” The value of engaging in a more general, open-ended conversation is that you can better get to know someone that way. How does he think on his feet? What is her personality like?

These are important topics for anyone hiring an employee, but let me suggest that they are doubly important to the small business. The reason for that is that small businesses are, well, small. Whereas in a big company people work together but not always intimately, in a small business we have no choice but to work with one another very closely.

As such, a small business is often like an extended family. In a good small business, that is a fun thing, but in a bad one, it’s not as no one wants to work with a dysfunctional family, right?

I digress.

The point is, the small business owner or manager has many a reason to want to get to know a job candidate better. That’s all well and good. The problem is that when you have a too candid candidate, or especially a too candid interviewer, the business is ripe for being charged with hiring discrimination.

Here’s why:

“Employment discrimination” is typically considered by most people to be when an employer intentionally refuses to hire someone based on that person’s race or religion or gender or some other “protected” class (“protected meaning, protected from discrimination by either the Constitution or law.)

But here’s the real deal: While that sort of discrimination does of course occur, far more often a company gets in trouble when there is the appearance of discrimination. For example, let’s say that the interviewer sees that the candidate is wearing a Star of David and innocently says, “Happy Hanukkah!” Later, when she doesn’t get the job, she may file a claim stating that she didn’t get it because the company is prejudiced against Jews.

There are lots of other ways this could happen:

  • Job listings: For instance, you want to use gender neutral words. Don’t say you are looking for a waiter, say you are looking for a server.
  • Job applications: As with the job listing, the application must avoid any hint of bias.
  • Interviews: As we saw above, interviews are the easiest and most common way employers can get into trouble.

So, just what can’t you ask in a job interview? Subjects to avoid are

  • Religion
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Political affiliation
  • Family status (pregnancy, children, marital status)
  • Age
  • Disabilities

This then begs the question, what can you do to avoid these types of issues? My friends at ComplyRight know what they are doing when it comes to hiring. Their job applications are guaranteed to be compliant.

Am I right or am I right?

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Steve Strauss

Steve is a senior small business columnist at USA TODAY and author of 15 books, including The Small Business Bible.

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