5 Questions Headhunters Should Never Ask a Candidate

June 18, 2014

When Shawn Miller Gillam first started recruiting back in the early 1990’s for the investment banking and financial sector, the culture of headhunting was very different.

Back then, as a female headhunter, she’d have to suffer through four-martini lunches with men whose behavior toward the opposite sex wasn’t always professional. For example, she remembers, “they might drop the fact, that they’d prefer to have a single blond female in a particular role.”

But these days are over and now most people in the corporate world are working hard to avoid offending anyone or appearing biased. And that means, as a recruiter, there’s a lot of things that you just can’t say anymore.

Here are 5 things recruiters should never ask a candidate during an interview:

1. What year were you born?

“As headhunters, we’re not allowed to come right out and ask a candidate their age,” explains Gillam. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find out how old someone is, she says. Sometimes more mature candidates may leave the year they graduated off their resume, “but hiring managers often require that information is filled out, so I will have to go back to a candidate and ask them to please fill out all the information, including graduation dates.” She always tries to emphasize, that this information will not count against them.

2. Are you gay?

Whether someone is straight or homosexual is entirely irrelevant today, suggests Gillam, so even if you’re curious, you shouldn’t even bother trying to guess. “I had one candidate,” says Gillam, “who kept referring to his partner during his interviews, but it turns out he was talking about his wife the whole time.”

3. Are you planning on getting pregnant anytime soon?

Although some employers may have reservations about hiring someone who is pregnant, “you as a recruiter should not even ask if someone’s married or how many kids they are planning to have,” says Gillam. “If a candidate chooses to tell us, by writing on their resumes, ‘married with two kids,’ that’s fine, but we aren’t seeking out that type of information to our clients.

Although often a client may say to us that they prefer to hire someone who is able to travel a lot of the time, and then hint to us that it would be better to have someone in a particular role without a family, she says, “Obviously, we can’t discriminate.”

4. Do you have other shoes you can wear?

Sometimes candidates come in with ridiculous outfits but we cannot comment on that, says Gillam. “With the more junior candidates, often times they think they’re dressed appropriately but maybe their skirt’s a little too short. So we’ll give them indirect guidance ‘Hey, make sure you wear a nice pair of slacks with a low heel or a flat and a nice white crisp blouse.”

“With more mature candidates, you would expect that they know how to dress, and if they don’t, then that’s going to be their own downfall.”

And while recruiters aren’t allowed to directly comment on a candidate’s appearance, Gillam did have a client once who offered a candidate a position contingent upon him cutting off his ponytail. After some finagling, the offer was accepted.

5. Did you actually graduate from that school, or was it more like a foray into higher education?

We aren’t allowed to ask a candidate whether they really did obtain a degree from a specific college, Gillam explains. You have to assume that they are telling the truth. But she’s found that a lot of candidates do lie about their degrees. “They put that they graduated from such and such university in such and such year, and when you do the background check, they never graduated.”

In order to prevent this very embarrassing situation from happening, it’s important to stress to candidates that when they fill out their applications, including their degrees, they should be very honest, because if it turns out they have made an error, it’s going to come out later.

Are there any other questions that you think are a no-no during the recruiting process? Let us know at @HireOnLinkedin.

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