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Three Interview Questions to Avoid

Few tasks present the challenges that interviewing does. It’s a skill that takes time and practice to get right. Even the most veteran among us will get it wrong from time to time. Yet, good interviewing skills are a necessary management function.

The key to successful interviews can be boiled down to one thing: the quality of the questions you ask. Questions can solicit valuable information (or not), and they can create insight or liability.

Here we will discuss three questions to avoid. We picked these three because they are common questions that, on the surface, may seem harmless, yet carry risk.

1) Will you need to take time off in the next 12-months?
This question tends to get asked because dentists want to be sure they won’t be hiring someone who needs time off right away. It makes sense. Recruiting and training are expensive, and you want to ensure a return on investment.

One of the first problems with this is the fact that it’s too broad and life doesn’t work this way. A person answering no cannot promise life won’t get in the way. Will s/he get sick? Will something horrible and tragic happen to his/her family? There are no guarantees in life so the question provides nothing concrete or valuable for the hiring dentist. 

The other problem is the can of worms that can be opened if/when the person states s/he does need time off during the first 12-months of employment and states why.

Employers are expressly prohibited from acting on certain information about people prior to hiring them. Information about disabilities, pregnancy, medical conditions, genetic information, family history, and so on are all protected. As an example, what happens if the person says she’s pregnant (or trying to get pregnant) and will need time off to have the baby? The information, once shared, can never be taken back and can be the basis of a discrimination labor board complaint or lawsuit against the dentist.

The alternative question: Can you fulfill the job duties and responsibilities of the position for which you are applying as they have been described to you, with or without a “reasonable accommodation”?   

2) Tell me about your family. Are you married? Do you have kids?
This usually comes about during that period of time in which small talk is occurring. Interviews can feel weird and too formal. In those situations, people look to find ways of easing into the interview and creating an open environment. They often do this by casually talking about variety of personal topics like family and kids. 

While this seems nice, it also has nothing to do with the person’s ability to perform the job or not – which is the only reason to have the interview in the first place. Kids or no kids, spouse or no spouse, this information does little to inform the dentist about the person’s competency as a hygienist for example. All interview questions should be geared towards job-related characteristics, or gauging the person’s attitude and fit.

Most family information or familial status is protected information. Therefore, much like the first question we discussed, it can be used against the dentist at a future date. 

3) Your name is unique. Does it have any relationship to where you’re from?
This may truly be a simple curiosity, yet, it has no relevance to determining someone’s viability as candidate. By now, you know where we’re going here. This can uncover issues with race and nationality, both of which are protected by law and are not to be used in the hiring decision.

Many interview questions can create liability, especially if the candidate is not hired. While the reason for not hiring him/her could be completely valid; it can also be construed by the rejected individual that it was based on his/her answer to these questions. If that happens, the dentist will have the burden to justify the rejection as legal – a tough and costly road to travel. Be mindful of the questions you ask. Don’t wing it. Be professional and ensure your questions relate to the job at all times.