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Interview or Interrogation: Where do you draw the line?

Olivia Bland’s account of her recent interview at a UK company has sparked widespread debate and provided an insight into some of the more unusual interviewing tactics used by employers.

According to reports, Olivia Bland was subject to a “brutal 2 hour interview”, in which the CEO tried to “intimidate her” and “assert his power”. She was called an “underachiever” before bizarrely being offered the job she had interviewed for, which unsurprisingly she turned down.

There is no exact science to conducting an interview, nor is there a stringent protocol that employers must follow. Provided that the employer does not breach a legal obligation, such as the anti-discrimination provisions within the Equality Act 2010, employers have freedom over both how they conduct an interview and the questions that they can ask.

Employers can also use a variety of techniques to find the best candidate for their specific business; common tactics include asking a candidate to sing a song or to tell a joke to see how they cope under pressure.  However, there are drawbacks to this freedom.

Even in circumstances where an employer does not breach a legal obligation, conducting interviews with candidates in an inappropriate or intimidating manner can have far-reaching consequences for employers in an era where social media is prevalent.  The situation surrounding Olivia Bland’s interview is case in point.

Employers whose interview techniques and recruitment processes are criticised in the public arena may struggle to attract talented employees in the future, not to mention the prospect of  embarrassing  the business and potentially  damaging its reputation. With that in mind, there are some basic steps employers can take to help avoid these types of situation arising.

ACAS guidance on interviews suggests:

  • interviews should be conducted by more than one person (where possible) to avoid unintended bias;
  • open ended questions should be asked, ie those that cannot be answered by a “yes” or “no”;
  • asking questions which may be considered discriminatory should be avoided, for example questions regarding a candidate’s religion, ethnicity, height/weight, marital status and lifestyle choices.

It is also advisable to put the same questions to all candidates being interviewed in the same order. This allows the interview to be conducted in an objective and structured manner which reduces the risk of the conversation straying into potentially inappropriate areas, such as the candidate’s personal life, or give the candidate scope to raise an allegation of discrimination.

Whilst the circumstances of Olivia Bland’s interview are thankfully unusual, employers should bear in mind that it is not just the candidate who is under scrutiny at an interview, but the employer itself as well. Remember: make the interview a conversation, not an interrogation.

For more information or any queries please contact Kirsty Cooke on K.Cooke@ashfords.co.uk

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