I’m going out on a limb here, but I think the raft of anti-discrimination legislation has spooked us all into a state of fear, to the point that we’re not getting to ask the things that really matter in a job interview.
Before you go hollering, know that I’m in full agreement for ending blatantly stupid discrimination. I lived through the years where how I answered the question on my age and sexuality and family plans, would make or break my chances of getting the job.
But I think that there’s so much fear today of saying the wrong thing, and a misunderstanding of how far the legislation extends, that interviews are a waste of time for all but those professionally skilled in “information extraction” techniques.
Let me give you an example.
Line manager X, working for a tiny company where long hours are the norm, and are needed because of their commitments to customers.
Applicant Y has just volunteered that she has a young family. Our line manager is now wondering how she will manage to juggle her personal commitments and work demands, and he's wanting reassurance that she will be able to reliably work the long hours. However he's not going to ask her more questions to check into this because, in the event that her answers aren't satisfactory, he doesn't want the risk of being seen to discriminate against her.
Instead he finds some other trite excuse to not hire her, and potentially misses out on a great employee because he couldn’t just have a frank discussion about the job needs and how she might successfully accommodate these.
Here’s another example.
Line manager C, running a large team in a big corporate. The team is wholly female and of one racial profile, not representative of the rest of the workforce or the company customers and diversity is desperately needed.
She isn’t comfortable briefing her recruiter on what she really needs as she doesn’t want to break any discrimination laws.
So she views CV after CV with nonsensical feedback to the recruiter, until she finally finds some profiles that might fit (or until the recruiter spots the trend, tests it, and can deliver on the hidden agenda)
Now if the line managers in both instances had been given high quality interview training they could have dealt with each of these challenges very easily. But most line managers will throw their hands up in the air rather than spend time getting canny with their questioning techniques - interviewing is not their "real job" after all, so maybe its not fair to expect them to be so well skilled.....
This fear of the anti discrimination minefield, cuts both ways.
Think about Candidate D, perfectly suited to the job, wanting the job, and he is the company's preferred candidate. He had an alcohol abuse history many years ago, now firmly under control, but has been repeatedly told about the social aspect of the job being essential to the company culture.
He really wants to ask whether his chances to succeed and progress will hinge on racking up a bar bill, or whether more sober client entertainment activities would suffice. But exploring this in greater detail, may mean disclosure of his health history. He's sure the company will take a dim view of his past, and he won't get the job, so he keeps quiet and proceeds to accept the employment offer. 2 months after starting, he's finally been able to understand the extent of the company's hard party culture, and to the employer's surprise, Candidate D chooses to quit rather than risk his health.
If only there was a way for him to have asked what he really needed to know during the hiring process, without fear of being discriminated against for a lifestyle of many years ago.
Interviewing is a minefield. So many stakeholders dancing around, and not actually finding out what they really want to know, and second guessing and presuming as a result, all because they're terrified of setting off the bomb of an anti discrimination claim.
We’d be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences on this.