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10 Illegal Interview Questions You Don’t Have To Answer

10 Illegal Interview Questions You Don’t Have To Answer

The typical job interview is a stressful and challenging experience, especially if you are prone to anxiety or lack an innate sense of self-confidence. It is also particularly difficult for anyone who finds it difficult to think clearly under pressure, as the questions posed in job interviews often require carefully considered and well-articulated answers.

It is also crucial that you understand your rights as an interviewee, as there are a number of questions that potential employers are prohibited from asking under existing employment law directives. By understanding these directives and the boundaries that should exist between you and an employer, you can hopefully enjoy a less-stressful and more productive interview.

So without further ado, here are 10 interview questions that are illegal under existing employments laws: –

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1. How old are you?

Perhaps the most common illegal interview question, employers are often keen to determine your age as a candidate. Although this information may have been included on your resume (depending on whether you use a traditional or modern template), the person conducting your interview does not have the right to directly or indirectly ask your age during the process. In the US, the Age Discrimination Act (ADEA) is designed to protect anyone who is over 40 from such questioning, while individual state laws also exist to protect younger applicants. The law is applied universally in the UK, where employers can only reference age if it is to guarantee that you are old enough to carry out the required role.

Whether this question is asked outright or indirectly (such as by querying the year that you graduated from college), the response that you give is entirely at your discretion. If you feel comfortable answering the question you are entitled to do so, but if not you can query whether or not your age is relevant to the job role or your application before tendering a response.

2. Are you married?

There is a term in employment law called pregnancy discrimination, which has been created to prevent employers from treating mothers or female applicants unfairly. This prohibits employers from attempting to solicit any information concerning a candidate’s family plans, including marriage, engagement and child planning. While this is a long-standing pillar of employment law, the issue with this question is that it can be posed in casual conversation, so you must keep in mind that you are not obliged to disclose any personal information surrounding your lifestyle or family status. If you are asked this question, you can simply respond by telling your hiring manager that you are not comfortable discussing your private life in a professional environment.

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3. What is your sexual orientation?

On a similar note, fundamental discrimination laws prohibit employers from asking any questions relating to sexual orientation. This has no relevance on your suitability for any position of employment, and any hiring manager who quizzes you about your sexuality is committing a clear offence. Unlike the previous two questions (which can be answered at the candidate’s discretion despite being technically illegal), this query should be met with a far sterner and resolute response. More specifically, you should take the opportunity to remind the employer of your rights as a candidate for work and reinforce that your sexual preferences are unsuitable topics of conversation in the workplace.

4. Have you ever been arrested?

This question represents a grey area in employment law, as employers do have the right to ask if you have ever been convicted of a crime. They are not entitled to enquire about your arrest record, however, as you are considered by law to be innocent in any instances where you have been detained by the police but not convicted. Employers can conduct independent research into your background online, however, so you may find it beneficial to be honest and open about your past if you have been arrested prolifically in your youth. If not, you can simply answer this question by reaffirming the fact that you have never been convicted of any crime in a court of law.

5. Can we have your social media login details?

Back in 2012, there were a number of employers who were reported for asking interviewees to hand over their private, social media login details. Many refused, although others parted with their details in a bid to secure employment. This is completely prohibited, as while employers can conduct independent searches of your public social media profiles they have no right to ask you to hand over your private details. Employers are not even allowed for links to your profile page, and if you are asked you should politely refuse. This applies to all online and mobile social media profiles, including fast growing applications such as Snapchat.

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6. What country are you from?

For anyone with mixed parentage, dual nationality or an exotic accent, this question may seem to betray little more than mild curiosity on behalf of the employer. Regardless of the intentions behind it, however, this question is illegal on the basis that it involves your national origin. You are not required to reveal any information in response to this question, as it is your qualifications and experience rather than your background that determine your viability as a candidate. It is important to listen closely to the wording use by a hiring manager, however, as employers are entitled to quiz you on your eligibility to work in a specific country. If you are asked this directly, you will need to reaffirm your status as being eligible for work.

7. Do you like to drink socially?

This is a bizarre question, and it is difficult to understand what relevance it has in a professional setting. There is a reason why it is strictly prohibited for employers to ask this, however, and this is to protect recovering alcoholics under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (or the Disability Equality Act of 2010 in the UK). Under the terms of these laws, recovering alcoholics are not compelled to reveal any information that may hint at their status and the same principle applies to anyone who has suffered with substance abuse in their lives. This is why many companies conduct random alcohol and drug tests in the workplace, as they cannot directly ask employees or interviewees whether or not they take such substances.

8. What is your religion?

Along with questions relating to sexual orientation, this is one of the worst questions that an employer can ask during an interview. Although there is a clear motivation for employers to gather this information (as the look to anticipate any scheduling or holiday issues that relate to your faith), there is a correct way for them to go about achieving this and it does not involve asking you to discuss your religious orientation. Instead, employers can ask if there are any days or periods during which you are unavailable for work, as this relates to a specific schedule and the operating hours of the company in question. So although you will need to answer this question honestly, you can refuse to disclose your religious beliefs or outlook.

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9. How did you get that scar or physical abnormality?

This may not apply to everyone, but it is a deeply personal and insensitive question that has no merit in an interview or professional situation. The fact that this question is illegal also offers an insight into the depth of the ADA and similar acts, as they not only prohibit discrimination against individuals with a physical disability but they also protect those who are ‘regarded as disabled’ due to a scar or physical abnormality. Any questions about such physical characteristics are prohibited, and you are under no obligation to even acknowledge them. If this question is posed, you can simply underline that it is not an issue that you wish to discuss as it makes you feel uncomfortable.

10. How do you feel about supervising a team of women (or men)?

Both the US and the UK deploy stringent gender equality acts, which serve a clear purpose in the typical workplace. As a result of this, it is illegal for employers to ask you any direct questions that relate to gender or make assumptions based on perceived differences between male and female candidates. In this instance, this means that hiring managers cannot ask candidates how they feel about managing or working with a gender specific team, as this forces them to make comments that are either presumptuous or potentially offensive to either men or women. If you are asked this question it would be prudent to either ask the interviewer to rephrase it or simply relay any experience that you have managing teams in general (which managers are perfectly entitled to quiz you on).

Featured photo credit: Flickr – PresseBox.de flickr via flickr.com

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Published on March 20, 2019

How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement for Your Business

How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement for Your Business

Have you ever felt lost in the minutia of your job?

As a business owner, I can relate to getting bogged down in the day to day operations of my business. Things like inventory, payroll, scheduling, purchasing and employee management take up the bulk of my day.

While these things are important and need to get done, focusing too much on the details can make you lose sight of the big picture. This is why having a good mission statement comes in handy.

What is a Mission Statement?

Put simply, a mission statement is an internal document that provides a clear purpose for the organization. It provides a common reference point for everyone in the organization to start from.

In other words, after reading your company’s mission statement, managers and employees should be able to answer the question “What are company’s main objectives?” For example, Southwest Airlines mission statement reads:[1]

“Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.”

In this single statement, Southwest conveys the company’s goals of providing the highest level of customer service as well as providing a good working environment for their employees.

Mission Statement VS. Vision Statement

While the mission and vision statements are related, there are subtle but distinct differences the you should be aware of.

First of all, a mission statement is designed primarily as an internal company document. It provides clarity and direction for managers and employees.

While there’s nothing wrong with sharing your company’s mission statement with the outside world, its intended audience is within the company.

While a mission statement provides a general framework for the organization, the vision statement is usually a more inspirational statement designed to motivate employees and inspire customers. Going back to Southwest Airlines, their vision statement reads:[2]

“To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.”

This statement inspires good feeling from the customer while motivating the employees to achieve that vision.

What Does a Good Mission Statement Look Like?

When coming up with a mission statement, it’s important to take your time and do it right. Too often, people (especially entrepreneurs) just write down the first thing that comes to mind and they end up with worthless or (worse yet) a generic mission statement that is utterly useless.

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Remember, a mission statement should provide a common framework for everyone in your organization.

When writing a mission statement, you should always try to incorporate the following;

  • What we do?
  • How we do it?
  • Whom do we do it for?
  • What value are we bringing?

Now, you can see how tempting it is to just come up with something generic that ticks off those four boxes. Something like “We provide the best widgets available online for the consumer.”

After all, that did check off all the boxes:

What we do? Provide widgets.

How we do it? Online.

Who do we do it for? The consumer.

What value we bring? The best widgets.

The problem with this mission statement is that it could apply to any number of companies producing the same widget. There is nothing to distinguish your company or its widgets from any of your competitors widgets.

Compare that mission statement to this one:

“We provide the highest quality widgets directly to the consumer at an affordable price backed up with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If our clients aren’t 100% satisfied, we’ll make it right.”

What’s the difference?

Both mission statements answer all the same questions of what, how, whom and value. But in the second statement, they are differentiating their company from all other competitors by answering the question “what makes us unique”.

Another way to read that is, “Why you should buy from us.” In this example, it’s because our widgets are of the highest quality and we stand behind them 100%.

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You might have noticed the statement didn’t say that we sell widgets at the lowest possible price. That’s because we are emphasizing quality and satisfaction over price.

A different company’s mission statement may emphasize selling widgets at the lowest possible price with little to no mention of a guarantee.

Hallmarks of a Good Mission Statement

1. Keep It Brief

Your mission statement should be no longer than three sentences. This is not your company’s magnum opus.

You should be able to distill the what, how, who and why questions into a succinct message.

2. Have a Purpose

A company’s missions statement should include the reason it even exists.

Make clear exactly what the company does with statements like “We strive to provide our customers with …….”

3. Include a “How”

Take this as an opportunity to differentiate your company from its competitors.

How do you provide a product or service that’s different or better than how your competitor provides it?

4. Talk About the Value You Bring to the Table

This is where you can really set yourself apart from the competition. This is the “why” customers should buy from you.

Do you offer the lowest prices? Fastest delivery? Exceptional customer service? Whatever it is that sets you apart and gives your particular products, services or company an advantage talk about it in the mission statement.

5. Make Sure It’s Plausible

It’s okay to shoot for the stars just to settle for the moon, but not in a mission statement.

Being overly ambitious will only set you and your employees up for failure, hurt morale and make you lose credibility. You will also scare away potential investors if they think that you are not being realistic in your mission statement.

6. Make It Unique and Distinctive

Imagine if someone who knew nothing about your business walked in and saw how it was operating, then they read your mission statement. Would they be able to recognize that mission statement was attached to that business? If not re-work it.

7. Think Long Term

A mission statement should be narrow enough so that it provides a common framework for the existing business, but open enough to allow for longer term goals. It should be able to grow as the business grows.

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8. Get Feedback

This is very important, especially from managers and employees.

Getting their input can clarify how they currently see the company and their role within the organization. It’s also a good way to get people “on-board,” as studies show that people are more likely to go along with an idea if they feel included in the decision making process beforehand.

9. Review Often and Revise as Necessary

You should review the missions statement often for two reasons.

First, as a reminder of what the essence of the company is. It’s easy to forget when you are in the day to day grind of the business.

And two, to make sure that the mission statement is still relevant. Things change, and not everything can be anticipated at the time a mission statement was written.

For example, if a mission statement was written before the advent of the internet, a company that use to sell things door to door now probably has a website that people order from. You should always update the mission statement to reflect these changes.

The Value of Mission Statements: Why Go Through All of These in the First Place?

It may seem like a lot of work just for a few sentences that describe a company, but the value of a well written mission statement should not be discounted.

First of all, if you are an entrepreneur, crystallizing the what, how, whom and value questions will keep you focused on the core business and its values.

If you are a manager or other employee, knowing the company’s basic tenants will help inform your interactions with both customers and colleagues alike.

Strategic Planning

A relevant mission statement acts as a framework for strategic planning. It provides guidance and parameters for making strategic decisions for the future of the company.

Measuring Performance

By having the company’s mission in a concrete form, it also allows for an objective measurement of how well the organization is meeting its stated goals at any one time.

Management can identify strengths and weaknesses in the organization based on the criteria set forth in the mission statement and make decisions accordingly.

Solidifying the Company’s Goals and Values for Employees

Part of a well run organization is nurturing happy and productive employees.

As humans, we all have an innate need for both purpose and to be part of something larger than ourselves. Providing employees with a clearly defined mission statement helps to define their role in the larger organization. Thus, fulfilling both of these needs.

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Now I’m not saying that a mission statement can overcome low pay and poor working conditions, but with everything else being equal, it can contribute to a happier and more productive workforce.

To Hold Management Accountable

By creating a mission statement, a company is publicly stating its highest values and goals for the world to see. By doing so, you are inviting both the public and your employees to to scrutinize how well the company lives up to its ideals.

So if you state that you only provide the highest quality products, and then offer something less, it’s fair for both the public and the employees to question, and even call for a change in management.

If management doesn’t take the mission statement seriously, no one else will either; and the legitimate authority that management rely’s on will be diminished.

To Serve as an Example

This is the opposite side of the coin from the previous statement. If the highest levels of management are seen taking the mission statement seriously and actively managing within the framework of the statement, that attitude filters down throughout the organization.

After all, a good employee knows what’s important to their boss and will take the steps necessary to curry favor with them.

Finally, use the company’s mission statement as a way to define roles within the company. You can do this by giving each division in the company a copy of the mission statement and challenge the head of each division to create a mission statement for their respective departments.

Their individual mission statements should focus on how each department fits in and ultimately contributes to the success of the company’s overall mission statement. This serves as both a clarifying and a team building exercise for all parts of the organization.

Final Thoughts

Developing a mission statement is too often just an after-thought, especially for entrepreneurs. We tend to prioritize things that we perceive will give us the biggest “bang for our buck.”

Somehow, taking the time and effort to sit down and think seriously about the what, whom, how and value of our business seems like a waste of time. After all, we got in the business to make money and become successful, isn’t that all we need to know?

That mindset will probably get you started okay, but if you find yourself having any success at all, you’ll find that there really is such a thing as growing pains.

By putting in the time and effort to create a mission statement, you are laying the groundwork that will give you a path to follow in your growth. And isn’t building long term success what we are really after?

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Featured photo credit: Fab Lentz via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Southwest Airlines: About Page
[2] Fit Small Business: 10 Vision Statement Examples To Spark Your Imagination

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