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Hiring managers asking off-limit interview questions

?As many as 85% of interviewers have admitted to asking discriminatory questions during the recruitment process, including about age and plans to have children

A significant number are unclear over what can and cannot be asked during interviews, research by Hyper Recruitment Solutions (HRS) found.

More than three-quarters (77%) of interviewers surveyed said they did not think it potentially illegal to ask ‘are you planning on going on maternity/paternity leave?’ with 40% thinking the question is acceptable and 36% thinking it is inappropriate but not illegal.

The survey found that 42% of male hiring managers think it is an ‘acceptable’ question compared to 24% of female hiring chiefs.

The findings highlight a lack of interview training among those responsible for hiring staff. Almost half (47%) of respondents said they have never had official training on what questions to ask in an interview. Just a third (36%) of those at a junior level of responsibility said they had received training, compared to 56% of those at director level and 72% of business owners.

From an employee point of view, the survey found that one in five (19%) feel they have been mistreated in an interview. Of those, 48% tried to ignore it, 34% told the interviewer how they felt, 19% walked out and just 17% made a complaint to the hiring company.

Twenty-three per cent of men and 16% of women said they had felt mistreated in an interview, with twice as many men (43%) as women (22%) telling the interviewer how they felt.

Tim Goodwin, senior associate at Winckworth Sherwood, stressed, however, that most employers have the best intentions during interviews, and that cases of poor interview practice are rare.

"I think that most employers get it right during interviews. For those that don't it's often the result of asking relatively human questions, such as about a medical condition if someone has had to take a break from work. Similarly, being overly friendly and innocently commenting on a candidate's engagement could also have consequences. Smaller businesses with less HR support might not realise that this could be taken badly or be discriminatory," he said.

Ensuring that managers are properly trained and that companies understand the legal implications of bad interview processes should be priorities, Goodwin added.

"There will always be rogue managers who will ignore any training given to them, and they should be dealt with. But it should be taken incredibly seriously. The consequences can be astronomical, and employees who have been discriminated against are entitled to unlimited compensation.

"You can always do more training. It's not enough to sit managers in front of a D&I expert for an hour; there has to be a cultural change where everyone buys in," he said.

Ricky Martin, who set up HRS after winning the reality TV show The Apprentice in 2012, said that poor interview practices lead to inequality at work.

“It’s pretty shocking to unearth that such practices are happening every day in the hiring process. It is imperative British bosses are educated on workplace practice, to put a stop to such shocking interview practices that lead to unprecedented inequality," he said.

“Official training should be mandatory across all business sectors for anyone involved in the process of interviewing prospective candidates.

“It’s also really important a light is shone on what is and isn’t acceptable in the recruitment process to give prospective employees the best possible chance of success at the interview stage.”