Improper Interview Questions and How to Handle Them

This post was provided by Claudia Allen, writer and editor at the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). NACE connects campus recruiting and career services professionals, and provides best practices, trends, research, professional development, and conferences.

When you interview for a job, your prospective employer will ask questions—on the job application, during the interview, and as part of the testing process.

While federal, state, and local laws prohibit discrimination in employment based on certain characteristics protected by law—race, sex, disability, or age—the focus of questions you are asked should be: What does the employer need to know to decide whether you can perform the functions of the job.

Here are some examples of legal and illegal questions:

Inquiry Illegal Questions Legal Questions
National origin/citizenship
  • Are you a U.S. citizen?
  • Where were you born?
  • What is your “native tongue?”
  • Are you authorized to work in the United States?
  • What languages do you read, speak, or write fluently? (This is okay as long as the ability is relevant to the job.)
  • How old are you?
  • When did you graduate from college?
  • What’s your birth date?
  • Are you over the age of 18?
Marital/family status
  • What’s your marital status?
  • Do you plan to have a family?
  • How many kids do you have?
  • What are your childcare arrangements?
  • Would you be willing to relocate if necessary?
  • Travel is an important part of the job, are you able and willing to travel? (This is okay if all applicants for this job are asked it.)
  • This job requires occasional overtime. Will you be willing to work overtime as necessary? (This is okay if all applicants for this job are asked it.)
  • What clubs or social organizations do you belong to?
  • List any professional or trade groups or organizations that you belong to that you consider relevant to your ability to perform the job.
  • How tall are you?
  • How much to you weigh? (Questions about height and weight are not acceptable unless minimum standards are essential to the safe performance of the job.)
  • Are you able to life a 50-pound weight and carry it 100 yards? (If necessary to the job.)
  • Do you have any disabilities?
  • How’s your family’s health?
  • Do you have any  genetic diseases?
  • Please complete a medical history.
  • Are you colorblind?
  • Do you see a psychiatrist for stress?
  • Are you an alcoholic?
  • What is wrong with your leg?
  • Do you take prescription drugs?
  • Have you ever been in rehab?
  • Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations?
  • Can you demonstrate how you would perform the following job-related function?
  • Do you have 20/20 vision (If this is a job requirement.)
  • What was your attendance record?
  • Will you need an accommodation to participate in the recruiting process?
Arrest/conviction record
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Have you ever been convicted of ___? (The crime named should be related to the performance of the job.)
  • Were you honorably discharged?
  • What branch of the Armed Forces did you serve?
  • What type of training or education did you receive?
  • Describe relevant work experience you acquired from U.S. Armed Forces as it relates to this position.
  • Do you go to church?
  • What is your religious affiliation?
  • What religious holidays will you take off from work?
  • Can you work on Saturdays/Sundays? (If relevant to the job.)

If a potential employer asks a question that are relates to protected characteristics, you have a few options:

  • You can answer the question. However, if you provide this information, you may jeopardize your chances of getting hired.
  • You can refuse to answer the question. Unfortunately, you may appear uncooperative or confrontational, and lose the job.
  • You can listen the question for its intent and respond with an answer as it might apply to the job. For example, if the interviewer asks, “Are you a U.S. citizen?” or “What country are you from?,” you could say: “I am authorized to work in the United States.” If the interviewer asks, “What are your childcare arrangements for when you travel?” you could say: “I can meet the travel and work schedule that this job requires.”
  • Special thank you to NACE for sharing their expertise. Need more advice? Check out our Job Seeker Advice board on Pinterest or view more Help Wanted blog posts.

Building the Skills That Employers Want

This post was republished from a Job Choices: Diversity Edition article authored by Hardy Brown II, with the permission of Claudia Allen, editor at the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). NACE connects campus recruiting and career services professionals, and provides best practices, trends, research, professional development, and conferences. Learn more about the NACE and DirectEmployers partnership.

When employers are looking to build their work forces, they almost always consider the diversity of the new additions to their organizations. A diverse work force is valuable because employers want viewpoints from all groups on how to grow the business to meet their targeted goals. With this in mind, how can you, as a job candidate, catch the attention of recruiters?

First, it’s important to know the attributes employers are seeking in top candidates. In a 2012 survey, employers were asked, “What are the top skills or qualities you look for in a new recruit?” As we examine the top four responses, do an honest assessment of how adept you are at each and how you stack up against your peers who are also looking to build their careers.

  • The ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization—Remember walking around campus and seeing signs seeking new members for various student organizations? For many students, club membership may be their first chance to build communication skills. As a member of a campus club, you will need to be involved and communicate its work and mission. Be mindful that many recruiters can tell if you joined a student organization just to have something on your resume and, if this is the case, your experience may be discounted. As a student leader, you can take on a project for a cause and follow it from conception to completion. You will set and meet goals, and along the way, you’ll interact with your peers on campus, faculty, staff, and possibly members of the community.

    I know this sounds simple, but developing strong communication skills can be as easy as getting involved! Join an organization that demonstrates your passion and share that passion with others. As a student (many years ago), I was chosen to represent my university and speak about the needs of students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Although I was nervous, I summoned up the courage and spoke in front of a crowd of 500. That experience was incredibly valuable, and I included it on my resume for almost 10 years.

  • The ability to make decisions and solve problems—One thing I hear from recruiters all the time is that students want responsibility, but they don’t have the decision-making or problem-solving experience necessary to grow a business. I know what you’re saying right
    now: “How can I get the experience, if no one gives me a shot?” I agree; you seem to be snagged in a Catch-22. Let’s look deeper into decision-making and problem-solving skills. Earlier, we spoke about joining a club. Now, we want to take things a step further as making meaningful decisions and solving difficult problems are important to your professional development.

    For example, a former student I know walked around campus each day and heard her peers talking about the need to fix up the student union. Students were frustrated by the building’s deteriorating condition. While online one day, the student saw a notice for a grant that would award a selected university up to $10,000 for a campus project. She organized a group of students, and used social media to reach out to alumni and members of the community. During a six-month campaign, she led the group that eventually won the grant, fixing the problem on campus. She now can talk about the steps she took to make decisions and solve problems, and relate how this experience makes her a good candidate for any position.

  • The ability to obtain and process information—This skill is the reason you sit through countless classes requiring you to regurgitate information on test after test. It may be mundane, but this builds character and allows you to grow as a student, sharpening your education. While most new recruits will be trained on what is needed to be successful in their careers, employers really do need to know that you are able to learn and grow from your experience. After all, there is a price tag associated with your training. Did you know that it costs an average of $6,000 to hire and train a new employee?

    How do you demonstrate your ability to obtain and process information during an interview? This one is easy: Your grades will tell the story. You can talk about how difficult business policy was as a capstone course and how you were able to review all the past courses over your tenure as a student and build a case that helped you receive an “A” in it. There is no better proof of your ability to obtain and process information than your academic achievements.

  • The ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work—When I ask my students their number one weakness, many of them (after a little prying) talk about procrastination. They go into drawn-out stories of heavy workloads and time commitments associated with the clubs in which they were involved. My answer is always the same: “You do know that the latest, greatest mobile device you own has a cool thing on it called a calendar.” We both laugh, but there is truth to what I say. Find the calendar system that best fits your needs and use it! Make sure you meet deadlines and honor commitments. Sloppy planning, organization, and prioritizing work may be evident during the interviewing process. Be disciplined and don’t let it become a problem that tarnishes your candidacy.

    Simple things like building these skills in a tight job market may be the difference between you or someone else advancing to the next phase in the interview process. As a student, it’s the little things—building your skills, networking, and being prepared for the right opportunity—that lead to great results during the job search.

Hardy Brown II is the executive director of the Black Voice Foundation in California, and developed The Opportunity of a Lifetime virtual case study development program. He works with diverse students and assists them with developing their career readiness skills. Brown is the past director of cooperative education and career services at Wilberforce University in Ohio.

Questions to Ask in the Job Interview

The following post was originally featured in Job Choices: Diversity Edition, a publication from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). You can view the original article in the digital version of the issue.

In the interview, you will be expected not only to answer questions but also to ask them. What you ask can be as important as the answers you supply. Steer clear of questions that could easily be answered with a little research. The interviewer may perceive you as lacking initiative or interest in the organization. Your questions should not be “throwaways” designed simply to fulfill the interviewer’s expectation. Ask questions that are based on the specific organization and job, that will provide you with important information and insight that can help you decide if this is a good match for you. You’ll score points with the interviewer if you ask thoughtful questions that demonstrate you interest and show you have taken the time to research the organization. Ideally, your research and your discussion with the interviewer will give you some topics to follow up on with pertinent questions, but here are a few to get your started.

  1. What do you do in a typical work day? In a typical week?
    This is a question to ask a hiring manager. It shows you are interested in life on the job in the organization.
  2. Why did you choose to work for this company?
    You can pose this question to a recruiter or hiring manager; this gives the person a chance to “sell” the company and gives you insight into why someone would want to work for the organization.
  3. How would you describe your company culture?
    This question provides you and the interviewer or hiring manager with another opportunity to determine if you and the company are a good match for each other.
  4. What is the natural career progression for employees with my skill set?
    This question shows that your are thinking about the future and hope to stay with the company.
  5. Does this organization have a formal mentor or coaching program? How is it structured?
    This illustrates that you are interested in being the best employee you can be.
  6. What kind of internal and external training do you provide?
    Again, this type of question illustrates your desire to excel in the job.
  7. What are the next steps in the hiring process?
    In addition, as your interview closes, be sure t restate your interest and ask for the job.

Caution: Be sure the answers to questions 5 and 6 are not available on the organization’s website or literature. If it is, you might ask a related question that delves deeper into the topic.

Special thanks to NACE for permission to share this article. Now we want to hear from you! What other interview tips would you share? For more information and tools, consider visiting our Pinterest board for job seekers!.

What Employers Want to See on a Resume

The following post was provided by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). NACE connects campus recruiting and career services professionals, and provides best practices, trends, research, professional development, and conferences.

When a new college graduate puts together a one-page resume (as experts recommend), every word must count.

An employer spends just seconds scanning each resume to decide if it’s going into the “interview” or the “toss” pile.

In addition to a solid knowledge of the new grad’s field (noted by earning a good GPA and participation in internships), employers are looking for grads who have a number of “soft” skills, according to a new survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Employers taking part in NACE’s Job Outlook 2013 survey say they look for a range of soft skills, including leadership abilities, initiative, the ability to communicate, and more. (See Figure 1.)

“Eight out of 10 employers who review the resumes of potential college hires are seeking evidence of leadership skills,” says Andrea Koncz, NACE’s employment information manager. “In addition, 75 percent of employers are looking for problem-solving skills.”

How does a new college graduate demonstrate these attributes? Here’s where outside activities and interests are important. Joining and holding an office in a profession-related organization, participating in intramural sports, and volunteering are some of the activities employers look for as evidence of a student’s taking the opportunity to learn those skills.

Figure 1
resume attributes

About the survey: The Job Outlook survey is a forecast of hiring intentions of employers as they relate to new college graduates. Each year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveys its employer members about their hiring plans and other employment-related issues in order to project the market for new college graduates for the current class and to assess a variety of conditions that may influence that market.

From July 25, 2012, through September 10, 2012, data were collected for the Job Outlook 2013 survey. A total of 244 surveys were returned—a 25.2 percent response rate.

The Job Outlook 2013 report was published in November; NACE will update the hiring outlook for the Class of 2013 in April.

About NACE: Since 1956, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has been the leading source of information about the employment of college graduates. For more information, visit www.naceweb.org. NACE maintains a virtual press room for the media at www.naceweb.org/pressreleases/.

Interview Tips: Do Your Homework on the Employer

Before going to an interview, do you research the employer? Gathering information about the employer before your interview can help you further convince the interviewer that you are right for the job. Listen to Marilyn Mackes, the Executive Director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, as she shares some interview tips around how research can differentiate you from the other candidates.

Key takeaways:

  • Do homework about yourself, prospective employers and the opportunities employers have for you
  • Always look for new ways to use technology to market yourself
  • Most significant thing – be able to communicate that you know something about the employer, what the work is and that what you have to offer matches the expectations of the employer

To see more interview tips, visit our Job Seeker Advice Pinterest board. Ready to start you job search? Visit US.jobs!

Internships, Co-ops, Practicums, and Externships: What’s the Difference?

The following post was provided by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). NACE connects campus recruiting and career services professionals, and provides best practices, trends, research, professional development, and conferences.

Internships, Co-ops, Practicums, and Externships: What’s the Difference?

Student work and observation experiences go by a number of different names, including internships, co-ops, practicums, and externships. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what an experience should be called—definitions can vary among schools and employers. Following are some general definitions.

Internships are typically one-time work or service experiences related to a students major or career goal. The internship plan generally involves a student working in a professional setting under the supervision and monitoring of practicing professionals.

Internships can be paid or unpaid and the student may or may not receive academic credit for performing the internship.

Cooperative education
Cooperative education provides students with multiple periods of work in which the work is related to the student’s major or career goal. The typical program plan is for a student to alternate terms of full-time classroom study with terms of full-time, discipline-related employment. Since program participation involves multiple work terms, the typical participant will work three or four work terms, thus gaining a year or more of career-related work experience before graduation.

Virtually all co-op positions are paid and the vast majority involves some form of academic credit.

A practicum is generally a one-time work or service experience done by a student as part of an academic class. Some practicums offer pay, but many don’t. Almost all are done for academic credit.

Externships/job shadowing
An externship or job shadowing experience allows a student to spend between a day and several weeks observing a professional on the job. Such experiences are unpaid, however some colleges and universities pick up travel and/or living expenses. Externships and job shadowing experiences are generally not done for academic credit.

For additional information, visit our Career Resources page or Job Seeker Advice board on Pinterest.

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