When Smart Law Firms Ask Dumb Interview Questions: Marketing Departments Should Know What's Appropriate to Ask in a Job Interview-But They Don't Always

Article excerpt

For the candidate who recently applied for a marketing position at a mid-size law firm, the process had been fairly routine through the first few interviews. That is, until she met with one of the non-attorneys she would be working closely with in the new position.

"So," asked the interviewer, "what does your husband do for a living, that he would be willing to quit his job and follow you from the Midwest to the East Coast?"

Thrown off by the unexpected question, she stammered out an answer. It was only later that it sank in how inappropriate the question was in the first place: Her--husband's job, and whether she even had a husband, were completely irrelevant. When she mentioned it to a partner at the firm, he was taken off guard. This was, after all, a firm that practiced employment law, and the attorney recognized that the question was discriminatory.

The candidate ended up not being offered the position--a fact that, in retrospect, didn't really bother her, considering how uncomfortable she now felt around the person who asked the question. "You would think [those questions] wouldn't happen anymore," she says, "and especially at a law firm!"

Practicing What They Preach

If the HR director at a client's company asked such a question, most attorneys would insist on the importance of proper training for job interviewers. But law firms often fail to practice what they preach. According to the Georgetown Law Center, female law students around the country have reported that female lawyers at firms have grilled them about their plans to have children or how they intend to handle child care--questions that are clearly discriminatory.

As any good employment lawyer can tell you, the types of questions that can be asked in a job interview are governed by an alphabet soup of regulations, from federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to various state and local laws. Some out-of-bounds questions seem obvious, such as asking female job candidates whether they are planning to have children. Others can be less so. For example, unless a job specifically requires fluency in a foreign language, it is discriminatory to ask a candidate whether he or she speaks or reads another language. Answering such a question may reveal a candidate's ethnic origin or race, and that is illegal.

Employment lawyers can also tell you that a crime may not have been committed, even when an interviewer asks an illegal question. …