Your guide to ethical interview practices

13 Mar 2019 By Rob Scott

What are the common pitfalls lurking in the interview process and how can employers steer clear of them? Rob Scott reports

The ethical credentials of a company are more important than ever in the eyes of the public, and consequently the workforce is becoming increasingly mindful of what constitutes ethical or unethical practices. 

Your company’s interview process is the first impression candidates get of how your company conducts itself in an ethical manner, and making a good impression isn’t only important in terms of attracting the best talent but also for staying the right side of the law. But what are the possible dangers involved in interviewing and how can they best be avoided?

Unconscious bias

A key area that employers should address when seeking to bring their interview policies up to higher ethical standards is the minefield of unconscious bias. 

Unconscious bias is the natural way in which people tend to favour others who have similar characteristics to their own. This includes appearance, background or education – even down to something as innocuous as dress sense.

The pull of unconscious bias is something that interviewers must actively combat to adhere to ethical interview practices. One way to do this is to question why one candidate stands out over another. Break down what gives them an edge over other candidates in terms of skills and experience to be sure that there is concrete reasoning behind your preference for one candidate over another.

Without addressing unconscious bias, there is a chance that your company could be missing out on the best talent.

Indirect discrimination and off-limits questions 

Direct discrimination is easy to spot: writing off candidates due to gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or disability is completely unethical and, moreover, illegal.

Indirect discrimination may be harder to identify and happens when a rule applies to everyone but disproportionately disadvantages some.

Examples include uniform policies that don’t cater to religious groups or inaccessible workplace environments that exclude those with disabilities.

There are also certain topics that are off-limits in an interview scenario. Like direct and indirect discrimination, some of these off-limits topics may be more apparent than others. Naturally, you would never ask a candidate about their religion or sexual orientation in an interview, but some seemingly innocuous conversation starters are equally inappropriate.

Some key questions to avoid include marital status and if they have children, or are planning to have children. These are protected characteristics and basing hiring decisions around these circumstances contravenes ethical interview practices. 

Tips to immediately improve your interview process

There are several processes that you can implement immediately in your recruitment procedure to avoid bias and maintain a high ethical standard. 

To tackle unconscious bias, try including numerous employees in the recruitment process to negate the personal unconscious bias of any one individual. 

Consider implementing a points-based scoring system based on the practical skills of the candidate to further filter out any unconscious bias. This could be implemented along with other written or practical tests that focus purely on the capability of a candidate to fill your company’s vacancy. 

Look to the public sector for guidance. Recruitment practices there often follow a relatively formalised process in comparison to the private sector. Public sector recruiters are more likely to have access to detailed instructions on how to follow ethical interview practices, so make sure your staff have access to similar guidelines.

Rob Scott is managing director of Aaron Wallis Marketing Recruitment

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