By Allen Smith, J.D.

Managers who aren’t trained on how to conduct effective interviews may cause organizations to lose out on the best candidates—something they can ill afford during the Great Resignation. What’s more, managers who don’t receive proper training are likely to place their organizations at risk of violating a host of employment laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

To mitigate this risk, organizations should train managers on the hiring process, urged Michael Cohen, an attorney with Duane Morris in Philadelphia, during his presentation “Managing Your Managers to Manage Better: A Practical and Necessary Look,” a SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2022 pre-conference session held in New Orleans on June 12.

The need for better hiring practices is particularly acute in industries hit hardest by the pandemic and subsequent Great Resignation, such as hospitality, retail and health care. A session attendee who identified himself as an executive vice president at a health care organization in Louisiana told SHRM Conference Today, “We currently need nurses, and we will need nurses and other health care professionals in the future. Unfortunately, we are not able to create and train these essential workers overnight.”

So, managers must treat the applicant pool well and employers must broaden the pool where possible, Cohen recommended.

Don’t Overprepare

The first step is for the manager to prepare an updated job description prior to the interview stage. The manager also needs to create a uniform list of job-related questions to ask during the interview; however, the interviewer shouldn’t stick just to these questions. “Real interviews become conversations,” he shared.

In effective interviews, managers ask intelligent questions based on applicants’ answers.

“Don’t overprepare,” he cautioned, because that can result in the interviewer not listening and listening is essential.

If the manager asks only predetermined questions and no follow-ups, it may look like the interviewer doesn’t care about the answers, Cohen said.

Nonetheless, the discussion shouldn’t stray into inappropriate interview questions.

Don’t Write Off Applicants Too Soon

Some managers decide in the first 15 seconds that an applicant is the wrong person for the job. This can be a mistake, Cohen cautioned, noting that it takes some people a while to hit their stride in an interview situation. An organization with managers making knee-jerk reactions may lose out on qualified individuals, he noted.

Cohen said he represents a startup that talks to its managers about providing “white-glove service” when it comes to the hiring process. Treating everyone with a high level of respect can result in “boomerang applicants” — those who don’t receive a job offer but apply again in the future.

Cohen also recommended that managers not cut interviews short; otherwise, they risk discrimination claims. Let’s say halfway through the interview, an applicant fails a question about whether they’d ever take a candy bar without paying for it. Cohen said the manager should continue the interview, giving the applicant the chance to correct a make-or-break answer and minimizing the chances of a discrimination claim.

Widen the Applicant Pool

Cohen encouraged attendees to widen their applicant pools. Experience may be as or more valuable than a college degree, for example.

While college degrees might be required in some cases, such as to fulfill the learned professional exemption to overtime requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Cohen described the higher educational system as too expensive and “broken,” recommending that attendees do more to recruit those who haven’t graduated from college. “Some bright and motivated people don’t spend four years in college,” he said.

Another way to broaden the applicant pool is to refrain from asking about salary or criminal history, even if such inquiries are permitted under state or local law.

Applicants shouldn’t be banned from ever working again because they committed a crime 10 or 20 years ago, Cohen said.

Respond to Voluntary Disclosures Carefully

What if someone volunteers information related to a crime during an interview? Cohen recommended that the manager simply say they appreciate the disclosure but not inquire about it further, to avoid what could be a potentially dicey legal area from a discrimination standpoint.

Similarly, if a disability is disclosed by an applicant during the interview, the manager shouldn’t do much beyond indicating nonverbal empathy. The manager shouldn’t apologize, as the applicant may take the apology to mean the employer is sorry it isn’t extending a job offer because of the applicant’s disability.

With veterans, “stay away from discharge information,” Cohen recommended. Otherwise, applicants might disclose that they were honorably discharged following an accident or that they left the military after revealing their sexual orientation.

If a manager and an applicant went to the same college, they shouldn’t discuss when the applicant graduated because doing so could result in an age discrimination lawsuit.

Cohen noted that these days, organizations need to be selling themselves to applicants as much as giving applicants the opportunity to highlight their experience. “The smallest hiccup can result in not getting a candidate,” he said.