Fair Hiring Guide

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Topic: The Interview

1. Before the Interview

To get the best information from interviews, adopt the strategy that you want every applicant to be able to present his or her qualifications as thoroughly and as positively as possible. You can start by making sure that all applicants have the same expectations about the interview and that interview questions are well thought out in advance.

  • When you call to invite an applicant for an interview be sure to give information regarding how to get to the interview location, who will be involved in the interview, and what process will be followed (see Frequently Asked Question #1). Give the applicant an opportunity to ask questions.

  • Be cautious when leaving messages for an applicant that you are unable to reach in person in order not to jeopardize their current employment and to maintain confidentiality.

  • When scheduling the interview, ask every applicant whether there is anything they’ll need for the interview (e.g., map, disability accommodation, etc.).

  • If an applicant requests a disability accommodation you don’t know how to provide, call Staff Human Resources for information and assistance. For more information see Disabilities.

  • Schedule all interviews in fully accessible rooms with good lighting.

  • Consider providing the applicant with a copy of the interview questions a few minutes prior to the interview. This will allow the interviewee time to formulate a response and may relieve some stress for the individual during the interview.


2. Developing Interview Questions

  • Develop a standard set of questions to be asked of all applicants, based on the requirements for the job. A good way to start is to write one question for each qualification, to make sure you cover the territory. You can eliminate areas you already have adequate information on from the application and focus on those you need to learn the most about.

  • You may also note any particular questions you have about any applicant’s application, e.g. “We couldn’t tell from your application whether you actually resolved customers’ complaints, or just received and recorded them for someone else to resolve.”

  • Don’t ask for information that’s illegal to use:

    • Age or birthdate

    • Maiden name or prior married name, marital status

    • Birthplace, nationality, race

    • Religion

    • Financial status (e.g. loans, bankruptcies, garnishments), or whether they rent or own a home

    • Arrest record (the application asks about convictions, not arrests)

    • Number and age of children, childcare arrangements

    • General medical condition, state of health, history of illnesses

    • Record of receiving Workers’ Compensation benefits

    • Dates of military service, type of discharge


3. During the Interview

  • Try to put the applicant at ease. Introduce everyone and provide water. It’s O.K. to chat a bit, and it’s O.K. to smile and be friendly.

  • If the applicant gives very short answers, ask some follow-up questions, rather than just noting “gave short answers.”

  • If the applicant misunderstands a question, try saying it again in a different way.

  • If it is clear after the first few questions that the person isn’t a good candidate for the job, continue the interview and try not to let it show. When it’s obvious to a candidate that they aren’t being taken seriously, it’s easy for them to conclude that the process isn’t fair, possibly resulting in a formal complaint.

  • Leave time for an important last question: “Do you have any questions you’d like to ask us?”

  • Plan to close the interview by thanking the person, describing the rest of your process, and telling them when they can expect to hear from you.

  • Interviewees who aren’t being offered the job appreciate it if you call and tell them. At minimum, you should notify them by letter immediately after the selected candidate has accepted the offer.


4. Disabilities

Ask about a person’s abilities, not about her or his disabilities.

  • You may ask all applicants, “Can you perform this task, either with or without accommodation?”

  • You may ask all applicants to describe or demonstrate how they would perform a task.

  • You may ask whether a person can meet the attendance requirements of the job.

  • Don’t ask questions about the nature or severity of a disability.

  • Don’t ask questions about how much sick leave a person used in prior jobs.

  • Don’t ask applicants whether they will need accommodation in order to do the job.

  • If an applicant raises the issue of needing accommodation, simply confirm that it is the university’s policy to provide employment accommodations, and if they’re the successful candidate, you can discuss that before or when they start work.

Advice for interviewing applicants with visible disabilities:

  • If an applicant is missing a hand or arm, follow their lead: shake whatever they offer.

  • Talk directly to the applicant, even if the applicant is using a sign interpreter or has an attendant present.

  • Look directly at the person, even if they are blind, because it will direct your voice in the right direction.

  • If an applicant appears with a guide dog or helper-dog, remember that it’s not a pet, but a working dog. Don’t try to interact with the animal.

  • When talking to a person in a wheelchair, try to be at eye level.

  • Ask if a person needs assistance before assisting.

  • If you’re not sure how to assist, ask what kind of assistance would be helpful.

  • Speak in a normal tone unless requested to do otherwise.

  • Allow ample time for responses from people with speech disorders (and don’t assume a speech impairment means the person has a mental impairment).

  • If you do not understand what an applicant is saying, don’t pretend you understand. Ask him/her to repeat what they said.


5. Cultural Bias

Bias in Interviewing – Cross Cultural Misperceptions

Culture consists of learned and shared values, beliefs and behaviors. We all come to interviews with preferences for certain culturally defined behaviors, values and norms. Being aware that we bring these personal inclinations to interview situations allows us to become more inclusive of individuals who are culturally different than ourselves.

  • Cultural programming influences how we interpret what we hear and the behavior that we see during job interviews. We interpret what we see and hear through our own cultural lenses.

  • Be aware of UCSC “culture” and how applicants from certain ethnic and other groups may not share the values and norms prescribed by UCSC culture, or may simply be unaware of them.

  • The structure of the interview itself is a construct of UCSC culture that reflects certain values and expectations for behavior. Even though we may have explained the interviewing process to each candidate, we cannot assume that everyone we interview will be familiar with the subtle hierarchy of values and expectations that govern our interactions during an interview.

  • Be aware that sometimes what we consider to be appropriate or desirable qualities in a candidate may reflect more about our personal preferences than what is actually needed to perform the job. Being culturally inclusive requires a willingness to see differences as possibilities rather than obstacles.

To Avoid Being Sabotaged by Your Own Cultural Programming

  • Understand how powerful culture is and have a generosity of spirit about the difference. Learning a new culture is very difficult and takes a lot of effort. The adaptation process gets even more difficult in stressful times (such as when you’re in an interview) and we resort to familiar and comfortable behaviors.

  • Expect that the people you will hire will be reshaped by being part of UCSC and in turn, UCSC will change. The process is positive and reciprocal – adaptation goes both ways.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. When I call applicants for an interview, what kind of information should I give them?

    • Explain how to get to campus and to the building and room and what the parking arrangements are (meters, parking permits), if driving. Mention the closest disability parking spaces.

    • Given them a general description of the interview process, (e.g., people will take turns asking you questions; they’ll be taking notes to refer to later.”) and how many people will be participating.

    • Advise them if they will need to arrive early to complete or provide missing information on an application and if they should bring a list of references. Consider providing them with a copy of the interview questions a few minutes prior to the interview.

    • Give the applicant your name and telephone number, to call in case they have to contact you about the interview. Give them an alternate contact name and phone number for the day of the interview.

    • Don’t forget to ask if they will need anything else for the interview and if they have any questions.

  2. What if I can’t reach a candidate to schedule an interview or what if they will not be available during the timeframe established for interviewing (e.g., they are on vacation)?

    • While it is important to be as flexible as you can in scheduling interviews for your top candidates to ensure that you get the best qualified person for your position, you must balance this against your need to fill your position in a timely manner. If you have selected a candidate for interview and you are unable to hold an interview because of issues related to availability, you should indicate that the applicant was unavailable for interview on the  RMS Worksheet: Job Offer - Open/Campus-Only Recruitments.

  3. Do I have to ask each applicant the same questions?

    • During the interview, while the same standard questions should be asked of each applicant, you do not have to ask exactly the same questions of every applicant. You may deviate from your standardized questions by asking for clarification, asking an applicant to give examples or more description, or asking follow-up questions about one applicant’s specific work history.

  4. How can I use my interview time most effectively?

    • Interviews are best used to gather information about a person’s past work experience, knowledge, and potential to be successful in the position. They’re poorest when trying to get material to make indirect inferences about a person’s motivations or hidden character flaws. For example, if you’re tempted to ask a “if you were a color, what color would you be?” question, ask yourself what that has to do with job performance.

  5. What are the best kinds of interview questions?

    The best interview questions are simple and direct, asking about a person’s ability and experience with respect to the requirements of the job, e.g. “Have you worked with UNIX before? Would you please describe what you did? What other kinds of computers and software have you used?”

    The best predictor of future performance is past performance: ask applicants about what they’ve actually done, in specific behavioral terms whenever possible. For example, instead of asking, “Are you a good employee?” ask for specifics: “What kinds of documents did you prepare? What kind of volume? What kinds of decisions were you asked to make? How often were you asked to do a form over again? For what reasons?”

    Examples of kinds of interview questions:

    • Questions of clarification that you might ask one person and not another, e.g.: We couldn’t tell from your application whether you designed workshops yourself or just conducted workshops that other people had designated. Could you tell us exactly what you responsibilities were?

    • Direct questions are easy to understand, and are more likely to yield concise answers and specific information. Ask what you want to know, e.g.:

    • What were your responsibilities at your last job?

    • What kinds of software have you used? For what kinds of tasks?

    • What kinds of decisions did you have authority to make on you own?

    • Open-ended questions allow the candidate to decide how to present an answer, and may therefore reveal something about speaking skills, ways of organizing information, and the way a candidate thinks about things, e.g.: Tell us about your job. What do you think is the best way to develop leadership skills in students?

    • Problem or situational questions require a candidate to analyze a situation and can tell you something about how they approach a situation, e.g.: What would you do in a situation in which …? When you evaluate someone’s performance, how do you handle areas in which the person is not performing adequately?

    • Questions that ask candidates to recall their actual past behavior in a situation can avoid some self report problems, e.g.: Think of a time you had to make a quick decision, and describe it for us. Tell us about a time when you disagreed with your supervisor. How did you approach him/her, and what was the result?

    • Probing questions ask the candidate to tell you more or clarify, e.g.: Could you explain more about what you mean by “student-oriented leadership”?

  6. How can I assess multicultural competence?

    Don’t assume, ask questions such as:

    • What, if any, has been your experience working or living with people of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds?

    • What have you done that required communicating with people whose first language was not English? What do you think is important to be aware of in communicating with non-native speakers?

    • We’d like you to think of a time when cultural differences came up in a job you held. Please describe the situation as well as how you dealt with it.

  7. Can I ask hypothetical questions?

    • It’s fine to ask hypothetical questions, e.g. “What would you do if ...,” but remember that many people turn out to behave differently than they claimed. You are more likely to get accurate information if you ask a person to describe their actual experience, e.g. “We’d like you to think of a time in your past work experience when you had to deal with a conflict with a customer. Would you tell us what the conflict was, and how you handled it?”

  8. What are common problems in making interview judgments?

    • First Impressions - Forming a favorable or unfavorable impression of someone in the first few minutes of the interview, and filtering or distorting information that comes later. E.g., we may immediately like a charismatic person and not notice that he or she lacks specific qualifications for the job. Or, we may decide right away that the person is unsuitable and tune out for the rest of the interview (creating the danger that the person will notice s/he isn’t being interviewed seriously and assume the worst).

    • Halo Effect - Over generalizing: being so influenced by one striking characteristic of a person that we ignore all others, e.g. rating someone high overall because that person seems to be articulate, or rating someone low overall because she or he is shy.

    • Contrast Effect - The tendency to evaluate someone in comparison with something other than the criteria -- e.g., evaluating a candidate too highly because he or she was interviewed right after a very unqualified candidate, or because she or he is most unlike your last unsuccessful employee.

    • Negative Information - When trying to distinguish among well qualified candidates, searching for any negative information to disqualify a person, and therefore giving undue influence to a negative factor that may not make that much difference in later performance, or just might not have been obvious on another person's application.

    • Fleeing to Objective Indicators - When faced with difficult decisions among well-qualified candidates, the tendency to search for any information that appears to be "objective" -- e.g., number of years of experience -- when it may not be a valid predictor of a person's performance.

    • The "Similar to Me" Effect - Being influenced by some way in which the candidate shares an experience or characteristic -- e.g., where a person is from, what school they went to, etc. Similar dynamic is whether a person is "a UCSC kind of person."

    • Stereotyping - Usually, using common social stereotypes to make assumptions about a person based on group membership -- e.g., Asians are attentive to detail but not assertive, or men won't take orders from women. We each also have personal stereotypes, based on past experiences -- e.g., a woman who would wear pants to an interview will have bad judgment dealing with people; or overweight people don't care about themselves and will not care about their work; or people with Southern accents are ignorant, but people with British accents are intelligent.

    • People who "will fit in well" - Feeling most comfortable with people like us, and thereby screening out diversity of all kinds. Important to try to distinguish a valid criterion of "interpersonal skills" from prejudiced judgments of personal style. Dangers to watch for: individual differences in dress, accent, eye contact, degree of formality in an interview, assertiveness, etc., can have a very different meaning in different cultures and subcultures. Also watch for sex differences in evaluating “style” -- e.g. confident women may be more impressive to women than to men; tentative and friendly women may be more impressive to men than to women. Make sure your judgments are job-related.

    • Inferences about Motivation - Assuming that we can know something about a person's motivation by inference from his or her life circumstances -- e.g., that a person who "really needs a job" will be more highly motivated than a person who isn't dependent on the income, or that a person who is currently commuting to a job "over the hill" is just looking for a way to avoid the commute. Related: "overqualified" judgments, i.e., that a person who has more than the required qualifications "will be bored with the job" and will leave as soon as a "better" job is available.

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Revised November 2006: C.20