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2 Questions You Never Should Ask a Job Candidate … and What You Should Ask Instead

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We’ve all heard the popular saying, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” While that adage may remain open for debate, there is such a thing as a poorly worded question, which can pose a big problem for employers interviewing prospective employees.

Whether used to build rapport or vet a candidate’s ability to meet job requirements, some questions mistakenly can draw attention to an individual’s protected characteristics, as defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Even if discrimination was not intended, a candidate can make a claim in good faith if he or she believes discrimination occurred and cost him or her the job, as in the 1992 case of Stukey v. United States Air Force.

In this example, a female candidate named Linda Stukey was asked several gender-based questions during the interview process that were not asked to male candidates, such as her ability to work with men and her child care arrangements. When the job was awarded to a man, she sued and was awarded $89,371.24 in lost wages when the court concluded the Air Force Institute of Technology practiced illegal gender discrimination. After each party presented its evidence, the court found the “impropriety and sheer number of gender-based questions made it reasonable to conclude that the selection committee gave Stukey a low rating because of her sex.”

So how’s an interviewer supposed to get to know a candidate, gauge his or her ability to perform the job and comply with EEOC regulations? Very carefully … and by ensuring all interviewers in the hiring process ask the right questions. Below are two examples of seemingly innocent questions that may be problematic; we’ll also look at what interviewers could ask instead to get the information they seek.

“Are you hoping to start a family soon?”

Hold the mic on this one. Asking a question like this poses a problem because it violates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and elicits a response about the candidate’s personal life. Instead, if you’re looking to get to know more about who you’re interviewing, ask: “What are your hobbies outside of work?”

Aside from averting risk, such an alternative can provide you with a better sense of who the candidate is, as well as his or her interests outside the office. For example, you could learn the prospect serves as president of the PTA, meaning he or she possesses valuable leadership skills.

Or, if you need to assess the candidate’s ability to meet job requirements without inquiring about children, ask: “Do you anticipate anything that could affect your ability to carry out the responsibilities of this job in the future?” This risk-averse question is to the point and directly relates to how the candidate could meet the requirements for the job at hand.

“What language do you speak at home? What’s your nationality?”

Press the pause button here. Asking about one’s national origin could violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Instead, ask: “I see you currently (work/live) in (city/state). What’s your favorite thing about (working/living) there?” By doing so, you’re able to respectfully open a conversation to learn more about the candidate.

If you need to ensure he or she meets the job requirements, ask: “Are you legally authorized to work in the U.S.?” Since all candidates are required to answer this question during some phase of the hiring process, this can be seen as less intrusive.

Making sure the right candidate makes it through your door is important, but so does adhering to EEOC regulations. That’s why it’s essential all interviewers – from department heads and front-line managers to a prospect’s potential teammates – understand what they can and cannot ask. Learn more about interviewing candidates the right way by downloading our free interview guide.

Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.


Monica Johnson

by Monica Johnson


Author Bio: As Paycom’s client marketing specialist, Monica Johnson utilizes a mixture of marketing and human capital management knowledge gained from years of industry experience. A graduate from the University of Central Oklahoma, Johnson has been with Paycom since 2013 and has served in numerous roles during her career with the company. In her spare time, she enjoys baking, exploring Oklahoma City and sipping coffee, while reading a good book, at one of her favorite local shops.

Transform Company Leaders Into Engagement Ambassadors

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High employee engagement is linked to higher profits, greater productivity, lower turnover rates and a slew of other positive business outcomes. For years, HR leaders have worked to establish positive protocols and cultivate constructive environments to meet the shifting needs of a changing workforce. However, new research suggests engagement responsibilities should expand from the HR department to include the C-suite.

Why diversify?

Company leaders have a huge impact on employee engagement levels. According to the 2018 Global Leadership Forecast by Development Dimensions International (DDI), “leaders continue to wield the greatest single impact on workplace engagement.” When companies work from the top down to ignite innovation and excitement in employees, everybody wins.

A 2017 Harvard Business Review article praises managers who are able to deliver profits while creating a positive work culture: “Having the ability to simultaneously drive for results and practice excellent people skills is a powerful combination that has a dramatic impact on a leader’s effectiveness.”

Below are a few high-level priorities HR can focus on to invest in their leaders so employee engagement levels may rise companywide.

Anatomy of a leader

It turns out that a good chunk of company leaders understands the importance of engagement and purpose. DDI’s study found 71% of leaders viewed their role as “a custodian of the organization’s purpose.” Also, nearly 75% of those surveyed said they supported critical activities that aligned with the company’s goals.

Although many individuals hold upper-management titles, HR leaders need to identify dynamic leaders who are not only results-driven, but also value employee engagement. A few qualities to look for include:

  • positive communicators who compel vision and set clear, strategic directions with their written and verbal communications
  • achievement-oriented individuals who create a healthy sense of urgency, trust their teams, hold people accountable and set high standards
  • relationship-minded people who build relationships slowly and systematically while keeping old relationships healthy
  • coachable individuals who can both deliver and receive critical feedback with grace

Tools for success

Once HR identifies dynamic leaders whom they can utilize as ambassadors of engagement, they can equip them with the right tools to succeed. A few tangible ways to do this include:

  • making certain leaders are exposed to realistic challenges in order to prepare them for future ups and downs
  • clearly communicating business goals, as well as the case for employee engagement in internal communications
  • having periodic, positive callouts when leaders succeed in inspiring their teams
  • setting up mentoring programs where budding leaders have built-in accountability partners and can learn coaching techniques from the best
  • selecting senior-level managers as engagement catalysts to help build a positive culture, since change starts at the top

Employee engagement isn’t just for HR. Workers who consistently see upper management communicating strategically, supporting their teams and valuing each employee’s contribution, have a successful blueprint worth following. When HR and company leaders team up with both the bottom line and an engaged workforce in mind, victory is theirs for the taking.

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Jennifer Kraszewski

by Jennifer Kraszewski


Author Bio: Jennifer Kraszewski, Paycom’s Director of Human Resources, has more than 20 years of HR leadership experience, driving transformative, business-focused human capital strategies in high-growth industries to achieve efficiencies, compliance and employee engagement. Kraszewski holds a bachelor’s degree from Baylor University and an MBA from Oklahoma City University, and is SPHR- and SHRM-SCP-certified.

HR Manager SHRM18

6 Ways to Get the Most Out of SHRM18, From One HR Manager to Another

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From Sunday, June 17, to Wednesday, June 20, the largest gathering of HR professionals in the world will unite in Chicago for the Society for Human Resource Management’s Annual Conference & Exposition, aka SHRM18. From one HR manager to another, here are my key tips to getting the most from this year’s conference … and having a little fun as well!

1. Download the conference app.

Repeat: Download the conference app. This is the absolute best source of information because it helps you plan your sessions. In addition to keeping you organized, the app includes PowerPoints and notes from each session, even the ones you missed!

2. Do not miss the general session speakers.

There is a great lineup – did someone say Sheryl Sandberg and Jeb Bush? – and these sessions are always amazing. Personally, I can’t wait to hear Adam Grant’s session. If you aren’t up to speed on Grant, an organizational psychologist, check him out on YouTube and I’ll just plan on seeing you Tuesday at his session, “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.”

3. Do not miss these sessions, either.

As an HR manager, I am a steward of my organization’s culture, which is why I cannot miss Steve Browne’s Tuesday session on “Cultures That ROCK! Five Proven Ways to Develop and Sustain a Phenomenal Workplace.” I always enjoy the legislative updates and Sunday afternoon’s “Tsunami or Wave: The Washington Outlook for HR Public Policy,” from SHRM’s own Michael P. Aitken, is going to add so much value to my conference experience and compliance knowledge base.

4. Enjoy Chicago.

Deep-dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs and hot beef sandwiches are just the start of your Chicago experience, as architecture tours, Willis Tower, Hancock Tower, Navy Pier Park and Millennium Park await. In addition to growing your career at the conference, you’ve got to take a few moments and enjoy, in my opinion, one of America’s historical treasures, and the home of the Cubs and Michael Jordan.

5. Schedule your sessions, but be ready to improvise.

You are going to run into someone you know and miss the session you had scheduled. You’re going to get caught up in the expo hall and lose track of time. That’s OK, because you have to balance overscheduling with going with the flow.

6. Last, but not least, have fun!

We take over the city. More than 20,000 HR professionals come together for this conference and although it’s the exact opposite of how our profession can, at times, be portrayed in the movies, we know how to have a good time. Enjoy the after-hours events. Make it to the Pentatonix concert! Network with people you’ve never met. Collect swag from the expo hall and don’t forget to come by the Paycom booth (No. 250!) and visit me, as well as enter to win $5,000 toward a vacation anywhere in the U.S.!

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Chanse Moucka

by Chanse Moucka


Author Bio: Chanse joined Paycom in early 2016 focusing on Paycom’s internal HR compliance function. In addition to Paycom’s internal compliance function, Chanse also leads Paycom’s HR Business Partner team. Chanse has been in the Human Resources field for 13 years and is experienced in many aspects of HR, extensively in employee relations and compliance. Chanse holds a degree in Business Administration from Saint Gregory’s University and also holds his PHR from the Human Resources Certification Institute and a designation as a Society for Human Resource Management certified professional.

Mentorship Program

Why Your Business Needs a Mentorship Program

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It’s no secret that great leaders consistently place a high value on mentoring others. Mentors help budding leaders gain important insights, give them much-needed honest feedback and serve as a blueprint for success to their mentees. Sometimes these mutually beneficial relationships between more experienced, upper-management individuals and younger employees happen organically; other times, they may spring up by chance, through existing networks or even between supervisors and employees who just click together.

I can personally attest to the value of mentorship – in my career, spanning over 20 years, I’ve had many informal mentors. I was lucky to have great leaders who took a special interest in me and my development. Even though these relationships were not part of a formal mentorship program, they were transformative for me.

And if informal mentorship is beneficial, you can bet that formal mentorship adds value to the individuals and organizations participating. After all, formal mentoring programs can help avoid the risk of unconscious bias, and provide the structure needed to maintain the mentoring relationship even when both parties are busy. Here are a few reasons why I think they’re well worth considering.

Fruitful feedback

 You don’t have to take my word for it – compelling research from Development Dimensions International illustrates some of the key benefits of a formal mentorship program. Its 2018 Global Leadership Forecast represents the responses of more than 25,000 business leaders and 2,500 HR professionals in a range of industries. According to this study, businesses that implemented a formal mentorship program saw:

  • a 20% lower turnover rate
  • a more holistic understanding of the business from all employees
  • deeper connections and higher-quality networking opportunities
  • 46% higher quality leaders
  • an increased likelihood of wisdom remaining in-house
  • 23% more critical roles could be filled immediately
  • a silo breakdown between functional groups

A robust mentorship program is one way businesses can ensure that top talent stays, develops and thrives in-house while providing meaningful opportunities for senior execs to witness their tangible impact.

Millennials and mentorship

 The Pew Research Center recently noted that millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. They’re not just the largest chunk of the workforce; your high-performing millennials also will be either the future leaders of your organization – or someone else’s. And one theme keeps cropping up in conversations about what millennials value: mentorship.

In fact, a 2016 Deloitte study found that millennials who planned to stay with employers for more than five years were more than twice as likely to have a mentor (68%) than not (32%). And 20-somethings aren’t the only ones who value credible feedback and wisdom – workers of all ages understand the benefits. When well-executed, mentorship programs engage your millennial employees and elevate the entire workforce.

Success stories

 Some of the world’s most financially successful organizations have a formal mentorship program, including such Fortune 500 companies as GE, Intel and AT&T.

In GE’s “leader in residence” program, top executives rotate responsibilities. During their residence time, they spend a week mentoring, teaching and coaching managers and employees. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Raghu Krishnamoorthy, GE’s vice president of executive development and chief learning officer, said, “By giving leaders access to deeper levels across the organization, and, in turn, providing participants access to senior leadership, we have created greater cohesiveness throughout the company.”

AT&T leaders mentor their workforce in topic-based groups called “leadership circles.” Within these circles, members communicate both online and face-to-face. The program allows for a single mentor to take on a few mentees at a time, but in a group setting, two or more leaders can collaborate and mentor several mentees together. The groups are self-organized, free-flowing and champion tenets such as teamwork and trust. This program suits the telecom giant’s workforce needs, and AT&T saw an increase in the quality of peer-to-peer mentoring as a result.

No matter the size or scope of your business, formal mentorship programs offer valuable insight and opportunities for both the mentor and mentee. If a rising tide lifts all boats, mentorship initiatives that make space for honest feedback and meaningful connections can ensure everyone floats a little higher.

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Author Bio: Oden-Hall is an award-winning public relations, communications and marketing professional with over 20 years experience driving corporate strategy for Fortune 500 companies. Her Oklahoma roots and passion coupled with her global experience and creative flair have helped her drive numerous successful strategic initiatives. She joined the Paycom team as Chief Marketing Officer in April of 2012.

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