Yes, it is that time again: Friday’s Five.  This week I address five interview practices that every California employer should know:

1.      Understand which questions employers cannot ask that may be viewed as discriminatory.

Employers cannot ask questions that relate to an applicant’s marital status, children, plans to have children, religion, age, national origin, and other protected categories.  Even questions that can be interpreted as being discriminatory towards a protected category can lead to discrimination claims, therefore employers should carefully consider the interview questions and plan questions in advance of the interviews.

2.      Develop a list of good interview questions to test how applicants think on their feet.

Some of my favorite questions:

  • Tell me something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on. (Peter Thiel)
  • On a scale of one to 10, how weird are you? (Tony Hsieh)

3.       No interview questions at all – use “try outs”

From Seth Godin:

There are no one-on-one-sit-in-my-office-and-let’s-talk interviews. Boom, you just saved 7 hours per interview. Instead, spend those seven hours actually doing the work. Put the person on a team and have a brainstorming session, or design a widget or make some espressos together. If you want to hire a copywriter, do some copywriting. Send back some edits and see how they’re received.

If the person is really great, hire them. For a weekend. Pay them to spend another 20 hours pushing their way through something. Get them involved with the people they’ll actually be working with and find out how it goes. Not just the outcomes, but the process. Does their behavior and insight change the game for the better? If they want to be in sales, go on a sales call with them. Not a trial run, but a real one. If they want to be a rabbi, have them give a sermon or visit a hospital.

California employers need to be careful about not having the applicant perform actual work to create something that is then sold to customers, this may qualify as compensable work that the employer would have to pay the applicant at least minimum wage for.  The DLSE Enforcement Policies and Interpretations Manual provides the following guidance on “try out” time:

Try Out Time. There may arise situations where an employer may wish to have a prospective employee exhibit skills such as typing, shorthand, or operation of machinery, before employment. The DLSE will accept such “try out time” as non- compensable if:

1. This time is not, in fact, training as opposed to testing skills;

2. there is no productivity derived from the work performed by the prospective employee, and

3. the period of time is reasonable u under the circumstances.

Each case must be reviewed on its facts. For instance, the period of time to test skills of a sewing machine operator will be much less than that needed to test the skills of a computer programmer. While no particular time frame can be given, the rate of pay for the occupation can usually be used as a guide to determine the amount of time necessary for a “try out”.

4.      Obtaining reference checks.

It is a good practice to follow-up with the applicant’s references provided.  I’m also a big proponent of conducting a search of the applicant’s background on the Internet.  For some issues that may arise when an employer uses the Internet to do a search on an applicant, my previous article on the topic can be read here.

5.      Use background checks with caution.

When conducting background checks on applicants and employees, employers need to take time to review the applicable state and federal laws that apply to background checks.  LinkedIn was sued previously for violation of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) for certain background reports it generated for users of the site.  In addition, under California law, the Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act and the Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act could apply to background checks in the employment context.  These laws are very complex, and employers should enter this area with the knowledge of their obligations before conducting background checks.  For more information about background checks, please see my previous article here.

Photo: World Relief Spokane