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7 Illegal Questions You Might Be Asked During an Interview

7 Illegal Questions You Might Be Asked During an Interview

During a job interview, you might feel as if your prospective employer is in the driver’s seat, and you must go wherever he or she leads you. However, this is simply not true. There are many laws in place to protect applicants from facing undue discrimination and to ensure each candidate for a job is viewed as objectively as possible. If you find yourself in a situation in which you feel you’ll be unfairly judged, there are many ways in which you can “flip the script” and drive the interview in a direction you’re more comfortable with.

1. How old are you?

This might seem fairly innocuous to job seekers in their 30s, but there are many hidden agendas behind a question of an applicant’s age. Employers can ask if an applicant is over 18 if it is company policy to not hire minors, but that’s about all they can ask as far as age is concerned. According to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, it’s illegal to inquire about an applicant’s age, since those over 40 are specifically protected by the law. Such a question is clearly attempts to discern how long a person may stay with a company, and whether or not he or she will be able to perform the job’s duties 10 or 20 years down the line. There is no need to answer this question; instead, refocus your answer on your years of experience.

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2. Are you married?

Again, this question might just seem like small talk, but the answer can give away more information than you think. If, for example, you just got married in the past year, the interviewer might decide you won’t be dedicated enough to the job, as you will just be starting a family, might have to take maternity/paternity leave, etc. Also, your answer might reveal your sexuality, which is, of course, protected by the US Department of Labor. It’s best to avoid going into your personal life, about which you do not have to volunteer any information. However, any info you choose to give might be used to disqualify you from employment.

3. What country are you from?

While it might seem like a good time to discuss your worldliness, discussing your national origin may lead to a subjective judgement by your interviewer. Of course, you must be lawfully able to work in the United States, and must possess documentation expressing this. However, you are under no obligation to divulge what part of the world you were born in. Along with this, you cannot be made to discuss other languages spoken at home, unless it is to your advantage. If you are comfortable discussing these aspects of your personal life, repurpose your answer to show that your bilingualism is an advantage to the workplace.

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4. What religion do you follow?

This goes along with the aforementioned Civil Rights act. Though obviously there is a chance that the interviewer might be biased toward a certain religion, there are other implications to how you answer this question as well. Employers might be fishing for information regarding your availability to work on weekends or holidays. Of course, they can just ask about your availability, but many interviewers don’t wish to be so candid. Again, repurpose your answer to express your availability, and inform them that the company will know far in advance if you will be taking a holiday.

5. Do you drink socially?

This question might come up in interviews for jobs regarding public safety, but you are under no obligation to answer. In fact, the ADA protects alcoholics as long as the disability does not interfere with their duties. And, as alcohol is a legal entity in the US, prospective employers have no right to know what you do on your time off. If this question comes up, simply answer no. As a word of advice, I wouldn’t drink at job-related events or parties in the future, regardless of how you answered the question.

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6. Do you or have you used drugs?

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, am I right? Just kidding, of course. This question might seem cut and dry, but it’s actually up to interpretation. Do you drink coffee or soda? Caffeine’s a drug. How about Motrin? What about if you’re a medical marijuana patient? There are many facets to this question, so in order for interviewers to be in the right, they must ask: “Are you currently using any illegal drugs?” Asking in such a manner specifies that it is not a past habit, and that an affirmative answer is confirmation that you partake in illegal activities. Employers also have a right to drug test prospective employees, as well as ask about past convictions regarding drug possession. And while we’re on the subject…

7. Have you ever been arrested?

Interviewers can’t ask this question, because an answer of “yes, but I wasn’t convicted” won’t exactly put you in a positive light. Some states do allow this question, but employers cannot discriminate based on the answer given. However, they can ask “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” and ask for details, and they can run background checks on applicants. If you have been convicted of a crime, and you know a background check is imminent but may not disqualify you from employment, the best thing to do is be upfront about it. Express regret about the circumstances, and demonstrate that you’ve learned from your mistake and have grown as a responsible adult.

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For more information regarding the legal issues surrounding employment, visit the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.

Featured photo credit: 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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