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Iowa Workforce Development
Region 11
Successfully Interviewing Job Applicants

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Successfully Interviewing Job Applicants

How can you hire the most qualified person for the job while avoiding unlawful discrimination and also treating all applicants fairly and without prejudice?  By being aware of some “Do’s and Don’ts” for interview techniques and inquiries.

Discrimination in hiring practices is illegal in Iowa.  It is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, creed, religion, national origin and age.  The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires private employers with 15 or more employees to ensure equal employment opportunities to persons with mental and physical disabilities.  The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires government contractors and subcontractors to do the same while making “reasonable accommodations” for their disabilities.

Following is a short list of some questions that are considered discriminatory, and should be avoided:

  • Age.  The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits age discrimination against persons aged 40 and older.  The Iowa Civil Rights Act goes a step farther by prohibiting discrimination against persons aged 18 and older.

  • Arrests.  An arrest is no indication of guilt.  Requesting such information can discourage minority applicants and is, therefore, illegal.  If you ask about convictions, make sure the question is accompanied by a statement that a conviction will not necessarily disqualify the applicant from hire.

  • Availability to work on weekends and evenings.  This is acceptable if asked of all applicants, and it is a business necessity for the person to be available to work at those times.

  • Citizenship, birthplace and national origin.  The fair and advisable way to obtain this information is to ask:  “Are you EITHER a U.S. citizen or an alien authorized to work in the United States?”  The “yes” or “no” answer provides all needed information without disclosing if the applicant is a citizen or an alien.

  • Creed or religion.  Not acceptable unless religion is a bona fide occupational qualification.

  • Credit records.  Not acceptable unless job related.

  • Disability.  It is acceptable to ask if the applicant can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.  Make sure you have identified and provided the applicant with those essential functions before you ask the question.

  • Family status.  Acceptable only when determining if the applicant has responsibilities or commitments that would interfere with work schedules and if asked of all applicants, regardless of gender.

  • Height and weight.  Not acceptable unless job related.

  • Language.  Acceptable only if job related.  It is not acceptable to require a person to read and write English if the person can be shown how to do the job or instructed verbally.  It can also be acceptable if there is a risk of personal safety

  • Sex, gender preference.  Not acceptable unless it is a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ).

This is just a sample of issues employers should be aware of.  More detailed information is available in a publication entitled “Successfully Interviewing Job Applicants” online or available through your local Workforce Development Center. 

Detailed questions on equal employment opportunity can also be directed to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission at (800) 457-4416.  The district office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can be reached at (800) 669-4000.


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