Ten Engineering Recruitment Interview Questions to Avoid and What to Ask Instead

By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman

Managers performing engineering recruitment need to evaluate a contract engineer’s commitment and work ethic in addition to their engineering skills. However, they often ask illegal questions to uncover relevant information. Unless each probe is carefully worded, it may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or a slew of amendments and other employment laws.

If you need more reasons to heed our advice, consider this: courts have been holding managers personally liable for violating federal, state and local employment laws. But don’t despair; it’s possible to legally extract the desired information, as long as you ask the right questions.  Here are some examples*.

Don’t ask how long veteran contract engineers plans to work or about their retirement plans to assess their longevity, because it’s an age-related question and workers over 40 are in a protected class.
Instead ask about their career goals over the next five years, because they’ll probably disclose their retirement plans.

Don’t ask when a candidate graduated from college to see if their knowledge is current.
Instead ask about their continuing education courses or if they’ve attended any seminars or lunch and learn sessions to see if they’re committed to lifelong learning.

Don’t ask about previous illnesses or sick days to assess a candidate’s reliability, because they may end up disclosing a mental or physical disability.
Instead ask: “How many days of work did you miss last year?”

Don’t ask whether a candidate has family obligations, flexible childcare or weekend activities to see if they can work late or on weekends, because the question indirectly solicits information about a candidate’s family status or religious affiliations.
Instead ask: “You may have to work late or an occasional Saturday, will that be a problem?” Be sure to ask the same questions of males and females, so you can’t be accused of stereotyping or making assumptions based on a candidate’s age or gender.

Don’t ask about a candidate’s accent or native tongue to see if they’re fluent in another language, because it’s illegal to discriminate against an individual because of birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group.
Instead ask what languages they speak, or whether they’re fluent in Spanish, but only if it’s a job requirement.

Don’t ask if they belong to clubs or social organizations to see if they’re connected, because the question is too broad and some groups have religious or political affiliations.
Instead ask if they belong to any professional engineering groups or industry associations.

Don’t ask about parents or spouses to see if the candidate comes from an engineering family or background.
Instead ask: “Tell me how you became interested in the engineering field.”

Don’t ask about prior arrests to assess a candidate’s character because employers can only consider recent convictions that are work-related.
Instead ask: “Have you ever been convicted of fraud or theft?”

Don’t ask: “How long is your commute?” because you can’t choose candidates based on their mode of transportation or location.
Instead ask: “Our office hours are eight to five, can you work that schedule?” Or, “Would you be willing to relocate?”

Don’t ask whether the candidate is a member of the National Guard or reserves to see if they’ll be taking extended absences.
Instead ask: “Do you have any upcoming events that will cause you to miss more than a few days of work?”

Remember, employment laws apply to candidates for regular or contract positions. Be sure to review state and local laws and consult with human resources when drafting a slate of interview questions.

*Disclaimer: This article is presented for technical staffing informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.  If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to check with an employment attorney and/or the EEOC website.


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