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Guide to interviewing for managers

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If managers are interviewing, this model guide will help them understand the law and good practice, including how to avoid bias and discriminatory questions.

It contains the following sections:

  • Avoiding discrimination
  • Legislation
  • Interview best practice
  • Effective questions
  • Records
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How long to understand this guide?
20 mins
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What is a Guide to interviewing for managers?


Applicable legal jurisdictions
In which jurisdictions can this guide be used?
Great Britain & NI (United Kingdom), Worldwide

Guide to interviewing for managers

Avoiding discrimination

Anti-discrimination legislation applies throughout the recruitment process, including selection interviews.

Employers are legally accountable for any discriminatory conduct taken by their employees while on the job. This means that if a manager conducting recruitment interviews does or says anything that might be perceived as discriminatory, the employer may be obliged to compensate the victim if a successful complaint is later brought to an employment tribunal.

A job candidate who feels he or she has been subjected to discriminatory treatment throughout the recruitment process has three calendar months from the date of the alleged discrimination to make a claim with a tribunal.

Tribunals have no limit on the amount of compensation they can award in discrimination cases.


Job applicants enjoy protection against discrimination because of:

  • sex;
  • transgender status (i.e. where a job applicant has had a sex change or is in the process of changing sex);
  • pregnancy and maternity;
  • marriage or civil partnership;
  • race, colour, nationality, ethnic origins and national origins;
  • religion or belief;
  • sexual orientation;
  • age; and
  • disability.

Rejection for employment is also illegal if it is based on a candidate's previous or current trade union membership or, with limited circumstances, a 'spent' criminal record.

The general principle established in the United Kingdom's anti-discrimination legislation is that all job candidates must be treated equally, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or other factors. The framework of disability law is slightly different in that an employer may choose to treat a disabled candidate more favourably than other candidates if they so want (and in some circumstances, must treat a disabled candidate more favourably than other candidates).

Discrimination can be direct, in which an individual is targeted because he or she possesses a protected characteristic, because he or she associates with someone who possesses a protected characteristic (for example, if an applicant has a disabled son), or because the employer incorrectly believes that he or she possesses a protected characteristic.

Indirect discrimination is also possible. Indirect discrimination arises when an employer unjustifiably imposes a condition as part of the recruiting process that, while applicable to all job candidates, disadvantages particular persons. For example, requiring job candidates to speak or write English fluently may be an example. This condition will implicitly discriminate against persons from countries where English is not the first language. Such a condition would be racially discriminatory and illegal unless the employer could demonstrate that it was suitable and required for the proper execution of the work, and that it was not excessive in proportion to the job's demands.

It makes no difference whether the discriminating treatment is deliberate or not.

Interview best practice

The primary goal of a recruitment interview is to evaluate job candidates' abilities, experience, and general background in order to determine which candidate is the best fit for a certain position. As a result, questions should be tailored to elicit facts, and interviewers should avoid making conclusions based on assumptions about candidates based on their own subjective ideas and beliefs.

Managers should establish a list of essential interview questions to ask all applicants for a certain position. Because all candidates will be given an equal opportunity to promote their talents and abilities, this technique ensures consistency and fairness. Managers should not, however, limit themselves to asking simply these questions, since there may be times when they will need to ask questions that are relevant to a certain candidate, such as clarifying something confusing or ambiguous on an application form or inquiring about a gap between employment. Furthermore, additional unplanned questions will be required throughout the interview in order to follow up on or examine any important issue addressed or hinted at by the interviewee.

The recommendations provided here will assist individuals participating in recruitment interviews in avoiding discrimination.

Avoiding bias

Managers who are involved in recruitment have a responsibility to conduct selection interviews objectively and without prejudice for or against any specific candidate. This is more difficult than most people believe since all humans are impacted by bias and prejudice, which frequently function subconsciously. As a result, managers in charge of hiring choices must be aware of how prejudice might impact their judgments.

Dos and don'ts

  • Do recognise that candidates from different racial backgrounds may have different ways of communicating their achievements at a job interview. For example, candidates from certain ethnic backgrounds may, on account of their racial or cultural background, be relatively reserved as regards their experience and achievements. Another point to be aware of is that in some cultures it is considered impolite to make direct eye contact with a person in authority.
  • Do guard against the 'halo effect'. This occurs when something about a job applicant creates a favourable first impression on the interviewer with the result that he or she may not be able to view the candidate's suitability for the job objectively or recognise any negative elements in his or her background. The interviewer might, for example, find the applicant's manner, accent or appearance pleasing, or might discover that he or she attended the same school or university as the applicant.
  • Do recognise your own general personal attitudes, views and likes/dislikes with regard to people, and learn to put these to one side during selection interviews.
  • Do distinguish between the information that the candidate is presenting and the mode of presentation. Unless presentation skills are relevant to the job in question, a slick and/or confident presentation style will be irrelevant to the person's suitability for the job.
  • Don't allow the initial impression of a job applicant to influence the selection decision, for example by making negative assumptions about an applicant based on mode of dress, general appearance or accent.
  • Don't be influenced by stereotypes, for example assuming that older candidates will not be capable of undertaking training in new technology.

Effective questions

  • Design questions to check facts, obtain relevant information about each applicant's background, test achievement and assess aptitude and potential.
  • Ask specific questions on matters such as the applicant's work experience, qualifications, skills, abilities, ambitions and strengths/weaknesses.
  • Ask open questions, i.e. those beginning with 'what', 'which', 'why', 'how', 'where', 'when' and 'who', rather than closed questions inviting only a 'yes' or 'no' answer.
  • Ask questions that are challenging, but never ask them in an intimidating or aggressive tone or manner.
  • Ask questions that require the applicant to give examples of real situations that he or she has experienced, for example: 'Tell me about a time when you had to discipline a member of your staff. How did you handle it?'
  • Ask factual questions about past experience and behaviour and refrain from making assumptions.

Avoiding discriminatory questions

Discrimination can take place in the following circumstances:

  • A job applicant is subjected to interview questions that have an underlying discriminatory impact, for example questions put to a woman about her children or childcare arrangements.
  • A question put to a job applicant implies that the interviewer thinks there may be a problem. An example could be where a question such as 'would you have a problem working on Saturdays?' is asked specifically because the interviewer has deduced (or assumed) that the candidate is Jewish. Such a question could be viewed as directly discriminatory because of religion.
  • Negative assumptions are made about the applicant on the basis of the answers given to the above types of questions.
  • An applicant who is pregnant is asked questions about plans for maternity leave, childcare, etc.

Candidates should not be asked questions about:

  • their marital status or marriage plans;
  • childcare arrangements;
  • general family commitments and/or domestic arrangements;
  • actual or potential pregnancy/maternity leave;
  • their partner's occupation and mobility;
  • any actual or potential absences from work for family reasons.

Employment tribunals have consistently taken the view that such questions, if asked of a female candidate, indicate an intention to discriminate (whether conscious or not). This is because questions of this type are usually rooted in an assumption that childcare and other family commitments may have a negative impact on a woman's commitment to the job, attendance or availability to work overtime.

Instead, questions that explore the applicant's ability to perform the job should be asked and should be posed to all candidates.

What to ask and what not to ask

Don't say Do say
Are you planning to get married/have a family in the next few years? What are your general aims and goals over the next three/five years?
Who would look after your children if you were asked to travel away from home on a business trip?

The job would involve travelling away on business trips approximately [x] times a year. To what extent would you be able to comply with this?

If we needed you to work late at short notice, how would this affect your childcare arrangements? The job might occasionally require you to work late at short notice. How would you respond if asked to do this?
How would your husband feel if we asked you to relocate to a different branch of the company? How would you feel if we asked you to relocate to a different branch of the company?

Ultimately, if a job applicant who is suitable for the job in terms of skills and experience is rejected in favour of someone of the opposite sex or of a different racial group, for example, and that person can show that potentially discriminatory questions were asked at the interview, the burden of proof shifts to the employer to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that it did not discriminate.

Interviewing a disabled candidate

There is no duty on job applicants to volunteer to disclose a disability to a prospective employer. In addition, during the recruitment process, it is unlawful to ask about an applicant's health, which includes asking about disability, before offering him or her a job, except in limited circumstances. The purpose of this prohibition is so that employers do not reject candidates without allowing them to exhibit their suitability for a role.

The following situations are the limited circumstances in which employers are permitted to pose questions about health:

  • To establish whether or not an applicant will be able to undergo an assessment, for example a job interview or written test, and whether or not the employer will need to make reasonable adjustments in connection with that assessment, for example reducing the overhead lighting in an assessment room if the applicant is sensitive to light. These questions will most commonly be asked in an invitation to interview letter, and should explain the assessment process and ask the candidate to notify the employer of any reasonable adjustments he or she might require.
  • To establish whether or not an applicant will be able to perform a function that is intrinsic to the job for which he or she is applying, after having taken into account reasonable adjustments that could be made to help the applicant overcome any difficulties in performing the role on account of a disability. This will be permissible in very limited circumstances and the questions should be specific to the role. For example, it might be permissible to ask a candidate who is applying to be: a shelf stacker a question about his or her ability to bend; a scaffolder a question relating to his or her ability to climb scaffolding; and a waiter a question relating to his or her ability to carry heavy objects. However, a question relating to the candidate's ability to lift heavy objects should not be asked of a candidate who is applying for a desk-based role. Broad questions, for example asking a candidate about his or her absence record, are not permitted. To ensure that interviewers recruit the best person for the role, they should explore each candidate's ability to perform the essential aspects of the role.
  • To monitor the diversity in the range of people applying for work. This would typically arise in an equal opportunities monitoring form.
  • In certain circumstances, to eliminate a disadvantage experienced by disabled individuals, meet their needs, or encourage their participation in an activity if they are under-represented in that activity.
  • To establish whether or not an applicant has a particular disability where having that disability is an occupational requirement, for example to establish whether or not an applicant is HIV positive in respect of a role of HIV mentor.

To avoid discrimination during an interview, line managers should bear in mind the following guidelines:

  • Ensure that any questions focus on the applicant's ability to perform the job duties, and not on the potential difficulties that he or she might have in the job on account of a disability.
  • Refrain from asking intrusive questions about the candidate's medical condition or disability.
  • Frame questions in a positive way so as to avoid the risk of the job applicant perceiving that you are looking for or anticipating problems.
  • Avoid drawing negative conclusions based on an assumption about a disabled candidate's capabilities.

Asking a question about health in prohibited circumstances could be evidence of disability discrimination. If an unsuccessful job applicant subsequently brings a disability discrimination complaint, the employer would need to prove that no discrimination took place.

Once a line manager has made an offer of employment to a candidate, he or she can pose questions relating to the applicant's health. Therefore, it might be permissible to make a job offer conditional on passing a medical examination, if the offer is genuine. Rather than looking for problems, the manager should adopt an attitude of looking for solutions.

Therefore the manager could ask the candidate whether or not he or she will require reasonable adjustments to be made, to suggest adjustments that could be made, and what, if any, helpful adjustments, his or her present or previous employer made.

If a line manager does ask a permitted question about health at any stage of the recruitment process, he or she should take care to ask it in a sensitive manner.

Avoiding age discrimination

When interviewing, managers should beware of placing too much importance on length of experience. Focusing on length of experience will place younger applicants at a disadvantage because they will be less likely than older candidates to have long experience.

Instead, managers should concentrate on interviewees' type and breadth of experience, and their skills, competencies and talents.

Interview notes

Managers conducting recruitment interviews must take notes during the interview and then produce a record of the rationale behind the selection choice, i.e. the primary reasons or reasons why the successful candidate was chosen and the other shortlisted candidates were rejected. Such records are significant for a number of reasons.

  • Nobody has a perfect memory and if you have interviewed several candidates during the same day you will inevitably be unable to recall accurately who said what, what the key issues were in relation to a particular candidate, and how a particular question was answered.
  • If no records are created and one of the rejected candidates subsequently brings a tribunal claim alleging discrimination, you are unlikely to be able to recall the precise matters that were discussed at the interview or the way in which questions were phrased.
  • The absence of any records may lead an employment tribunal to conclude that the whole recruitment process was conducted in a random, subjective or haphazard way.
  • If records are available this will provide evidence that the recruitment process was approached in a professional manner. It may also provide specific information that will form a defence against the claim, for example a record that the answers that the candidate gave to specific questions indicated that he or she did not have the essential knowledge or skills required for the job.
  • Once a tribunal claimant has shown facts that indicate that he or she might have been treated less favourably on one of the prohibited grounds, the burden of proof shifts to the employer to prove, on the balance of probabilities that it did not discriminate. In recruitment cases, this means persuading the tribunal that the candidate's recollection of events is false or inaccurate, that the questions asked were in fact phrased differently or that what was said was not discriminatory. In practice, this would be impossible to achieve without proper records.

Managers should be aware that every record made about a person and stored in a structured file (or entered into a computer) gives rise to individual rights under Data Protection legislation. Job seekers, in particular, will have the ability to obtain a copy of their own file in writing. As a result, interview notes should be written with this in mind.

General support

  • Obtain information through open questioning on matters such as the applicant's work experience, qualifications, skills, abilities, knowledge, ambitions and strengths and weaknesses.
  • Do not use age as a criterion in the selection process. Age discrimination has been prohibited since October 2006 and age is, in any event, a poor predictor of effective job performance.
  • Do not allow gut feeling alone to determine the selection decision, because gut feelings are inevitably influenced by personal attitudes, and may possibly result in unlawful discrimination.

Interviewers who concentrate on the job criteria and the extent to which each applicant's history meets them will have a better chance of avoiding unlawful discrimination and identifying the best candidate for the position.

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Guide to interviewing for managers
guide to interviewing for managers