How to conduct legally sound job interviews

job interviews

Employment law affects every stage of recruitment. Here, the IoD’s Information and Advisory Service (IAS) explains how to stay on the right side of legislation when conducting job interviews 

Whatever your opinion on UK employment law, it’s here to stay – and it can prove an uncompromising force when it comes to recruitment, including the crucial interview stage of the hiring process. So how can you establish the best possible methodology – one which not only lands the right candidates in the right seats, but also keeps you in line with recruitment legislation? Here are some essential questions to consider…

What constitutes unlawful discrimination?

Following the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against potential employees according to age, disability, gender reassignment, race, faith, sexual orientation, gender, relationship status or pregnancy. In practice, that means avoiding gender-specific terms such as waitress, handyman or salesgirl in job advertisements and descriptions, along with age-specific terms like young school leaver or mature.

Are there any exceptions? 

Employers can cite “objective justification” for differential treatment of potential staff: a construction firm advertising a job that is physically demanding may be able to insist on a candidate being able-bodied and fit, but a trendy boutique wanting younger staff to enhance their brand image may get shorter shrift from the courts. Meanwhile, it’s fine to express your wish for “an experienced van driver”, but insisting on a 10-year accident-free record will preclude anyone in their mid-twenties or younger from applying.

How can I fall foul of the Equality Act during interviews? 

In many ways. It’s crucial to avoid discriminatory comments or lines of enquiry: don’t ask a candidate their relationship status or whether they’re planning to have children imminently. Before interviewing candidates, draw up a detailed job description and standard interview form and assess candidates against these identical criteria. If a candidate alerts you to a disability in advance, avoid making assumptions about what they are capable of doing and instead ask them what adjustments they think would be needed. Look out for objective skills and competences, such as confidence, drive, level-headedness, leadership skills and affability – it’s fine to recruit on this basis.

What other legal considerations should I know about? 

Many people are astounded to discover that a contract of employment exists the moment a candidate verbally accepts a job offer, whether it is in writing or not. So it’s essential to make it clear at the interview stage that no job offer is being made there and then. However, in the subsequent job-offer letter, you must emphasise that the written terms and conditions of the contract will be provided later.

How can I protect myself from legal recourse? 

Keep all written records – notes taken during interviews, criteria templates, checklists and so on – so you can prove that you selected one candidate over another for good reason. Applicants are allowed to request such notes. Also, make sure you honour data protection obligations for all written records with measures such as destroying them after a certain period. An internal equal opportunities policy, written down and circulated to employees, will also be useful in the event of a discrimination claim.

Could the IAS help you?

The IAS provides IoD members with free business intelligence and advice to help them run their companies more efficiently and successfully.

The Business Information Service is able to investigate questions on behalf of members and supply them with valuable information ranging from market forecasts and industry trends to trading abroad and employee salaries.

The Directors’ Advisory Service provides confidential, independent advice from specialists on issues ranging from raising finance to board and shareholders’ disputes.

Members can receive prompt and confidential business, personal tax and legal advice through using the IoD’s telephone helplines.

IoD members are entitled to 25 enquiries a year to the Business Information Service
4 sessions with an IoD adviser
25 calls to both the legal helpline and the tax helpline

To find out more about the Information and Advisory Service, visit
Email here or call 020 7451 3100

About author

Christian Koch

Christian Koch

Alongside his work for Director, Christian has written features for the Evening Standard, The Guardian, Sunday Times Style, The Independent, Q, Cosmopolitan, Stylist, ShortList and Glamour in an eclectic career which has seen him interview everybody from Mariah Carey to Michael Douglas through to Richard Branson with newspaper assignments including reporting on the Japanese tsunami and living with an Italian cult.

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