What can you do if you believe a preemployment test is unfair or invades your right to privacy?

This can be a perplexing situation. Most job seekers fear that if they question a test and its relevance to the job for which they’re interviewing, they’ll be perceived as difficult or defensive, leaving a negative impression on their prospective employer.

However, Bill Banis, who has a Ph.D. in management and industrial/organization psychology and is director of university career services at Northwestern University, believes that job seekers have a right to ask an employer how the test or selection method is related to the job. Most interviewers should be able to give an explanation of why the test is used and how it relates to the job for which the candidate is interviewing. Keep in mind, however, that in order to maintain the integrity of the test, they may not be able to discuss its job-relatedness until after the testing process is completed.

“We advise our students that if they have a concern about a questionable practice in an interview, they should not jeopardize their candidacy,” he says. “They should come to me or one of the other staff, and we can inquire about the practitioner and circumstance without revealing [the student’s] name.”

For those job seekers who don’t have a career services office to turn to, Toni Kovalski, associate director of test development for the International Personnel Management Association Assessment Services Division, suggests calling the department that administered the test. Job seekers can express their concerns and request some explanation of the test’s job-relatedness. If the job seeker still feels that something was wrong with the testing or interview process, his or her next move will depend on the nature of the complaint.

If Banis learns that an employer is using an inappropriate or illegal preemployment test, he will address the situation with the employer. Sometimes illegal interviewing or testing methods enter the hiring process quite by accident.

Because of legal and other problems that can result from irrelevant or unfair tests (or tests that have “adverse impact”), be assured that many companies now choose their preemployment tests and interviewing techniques very carefully. In addition, career services professionals such as Banis often review preemployment tests that will be used with student job seekers before interviews begin. Checks and doublechecks are made on the reliability, validity, and job-relatedness of preemployment tests. As Kovalski points out, it is a waste of an employer’s time and money to administer tests that don’t give them the appropriate information about a candidate, which makes it unlikely that inappropriate tests will slip through the review process.


Do Interview Tests Invade Your Right to Privacy?

Rochelle Kaplan, legal counsel for the National Association of Colleges and Employers and a specialist in employment and labor law, points out that although students and job applicants may feel that preemployment tests are an invasion of privacy, investigations of matters such as criminal records or credit history are not illegal.

In the case of criminal records, your potential employer needs to focus on convictions, not arrests. Federal criminal records are generally not available to private employers, except banks. An employer is more likely to gain access to state criminal records if it can show a genuine need for the information.

When an employer includes a credit report in its hiring process, it must inform the job seeker in writing that a credit report may be used as part of the screening process. The job seeker must indicate in writing that he or she authorizes the employer to obtain a credit report. If you are rejected for a job because of a poor credit report, the employer must have a job-related reason for using bad credit as a reason for rejection.

If you have been given a psychological or personality test, your employer should request information from the exam that relates to position for which you’re applying. For example, if you have applied for a position as a bank examiner or auditor, the employer should request test results that relate to honesty or integrity rather than information on emotional or psychological problems that do not relate to your ability to do the job.

In all cases, your potential employer should be able to explain why it wants the information (how does it relate the job for which you’re applying?) and to whom it will be distributed. Access to your employment application and test results should be limited to those individuals who need the information to make an employment decision.

How to Behave in a Behavior-Based Interview

When Todd Lombardi sits down to interview a job candidate at Kulicke & Soffa Industries Inc., he has a list of very specific questions to ask, and he knows how to follow them up with more probing questions about how the candidate performed in past jobs and projects.

Lombardi, who earned a master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology from West Chester University last May, wrote his thesis on behavior-based interviewing. Now he’s a college relations specialist at Kulicke & Soffa Industries Inc., based in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, and he says his background has helped him understand an interviewing technique that has become increasingly popular and, according to both his research and popular opinion, more effective than traditional techniques.

“It seemed like the more structure and the more thought that was put into an interview, the better it was,” he says.

Lombardi says behavior-based questions are generally designed to determine if a candidate possesses certain “key competencies.”

“When I start any behavioral interview, I explain the process,” Lombardi says. “I say, ‘I’m going to be asking you for specific examples. I will be asking you for details, including names of people, dates, and outcomes.’ I really like talking to people about lengthy projects they’ve had to do–how their role evolved, how they handled time deadlines, pressures, and unexpected situations, and especially how they handled any adversity…Everyone’s got that kind of experience.”

Lombardi says that the best way for students and new graduates to prepare for a behavior-based interview is to dig up old research papers, to think hard about any difficulties encountered in summer and part-time jobs, and to recount the steps it took to successfully complete school projects and projects that were part of internships or co-ops.

“What I would recommend is for them to just kind of think through situations that have occurred, projects they’ve worked on, specific experiences they’ve had,” he says. “They should be able to talk about that in detail and be very specific. They should reread that term paper…A lot of it is just common sense.”

Following is a list of typical behavior-based questions, courtesy of Lombardi and The Ultimate Job Search Kit by Damir Joseph Stimac. Competencies sought by the interviewer are listed in parentheses:

1. Describe a situation in which you had to use reference materials to write a research paper. What was the topic? What journals did you read? (research/written communication)
2. Give me a specific example of a time when a co-worker or classmate criticized your work in front of others. How did you respond? How has that event shaped the way you communicate with others? (oral communication)

3. Give me a specific example of a time when you sold your supervisor or professor on an idea or concept. How did you proceed? What was the result? (assertiveness)
4. Describe the system you use for keeping track of multiple projects. How do you track your progress so that you can meet deadlines? How do you stay focused? (commitment to task)
5. Tell me about a time when you came up with an innovative solution to a challenge your company or class was facing. What was the challenge? What role did others play? (creativity and imagination)
6. Describe a specific problem you solved for your employer or professor. How did you approach the problem? What role did others play? What was the outcome? (decision making)
7. Describe a time when you got co-workers or classmates who dislike each other to work together. How did you accomplish this? What was the outcome? (teamwork)
8. Tell me about a time when you failed to meet a deadline. What things did you fail to do? What were the repercussions? What did you learn? (time management)
9. Describe a time when you put your needs aside to help a co-worker or classmate understand a task. How did you assist them? What was the result? (flexibility)
10. Describe two specific goals you set for yourself and how successful you were in meeting them. What factors led to your success in meeting your goals? (goal setting)

Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

At most interviews, you will be invited to ask questions of your interviewer. This is an important opportunity for you to learn more about the employer, and for the interviewer to further evaluate you as a job candidate. It requires some advance preparation on your part. 

Here are some guidelines for asking questions:
* Prepare five good questions. Understanding that you may not have time to ask them all. Ask questions concerning the job, the company, and the industry or profession. 

Your questions should indicate your interest in these subjects and that you have read and thought about them. For example, you might start, “I read in Business Week that … I wonder if that factor is going to have an impact on your business.”

* Don’t ask questions that raise warning flags. For example, asking “Would I really have to work weekends?” implies that you are not available for weekend assignments. If you are available, rephrase your question. Also, avoid initiating questions about compensation (pay, vacations, etc.) or tuition reimbursements. You might seem more interested in paychecks or time-off than the actual job. 

* Don’t ask questions about only one topic. People who ask about only one topic are often perceived as one dimensional and not good candidates.

* Clarify. It’s OK to ask a question to clarify something the interviewer said. Just make sure you are listening. Asking someone to clarify a specific point makes sense. Asking someone re-explain an entire subject gives the impression that you have problems listening or comprehending. For example, you can preface a clarifying question by saying: “You mentioned that at ABC Company does (blank) . . .Can you tell me how that works in practice?” 

A job interview is an opportunity for you to learn more about a potential employer. Indeed, what you learn from an interview may determine whether or not you want the job you’re interviewing for. The following are examples of the types of questions you might ask at your job interview.

1. “Can you please tell me how your career has developed at XYZ Corp. Would someone entering the firm today have similar opportunities?”

2. “If I work hard and prove my value to the firm, where might I be in five years?”

3. “I read in your literature that your training program is comprised of three six-month rotations. Does the employee have any input into where he will go at the end of each rotation? How do you evaluate the employee’s performance during the training period?”

4. “I read in Business Week that a major competitor of yours is increasing its market share in your main market. What plans does your firm have to regain its lost market share?”

5. “Can you describe for me what a work week is really like as a salesperson for XYZ Corp?”

6. “How many individuals complete your training program each year?”

7. “When does the training program begin?”

8. “What is the length and structure of the training program?”

9. “Do most trainees advance fairly rapidly through the program?”

10. “What career paths have others generally followed after completing the program?”

11. “How does the position and the department contribute to the overall company mission and philosophy?”

12. “What is a typical day (assignment) for a [ position you are applying for ] in your company?”

13. “What characteristics best describes individuals who are successful in this position?”

14. “Does the position offer exposure to other facets of your organization?”

15. “What other positions and/or departments will I interact with most?”

16. “To whom does this position report?”

17. “How much decision-making authority and autonomy are given to new employees?”

18. “How will my performance be evaluated?”

19. “How often are performance reviews given? By whom?”

20. “What are the opportunities for advancement?”

21. “Does your organization encourage its employees to pursue additional education?”

22. “How would you describe the organization’s culture/environment?”

23. “What makes your organization different from its competitors?”

24. “What industry-wide trends are likely to affect your organization’s strengths and weaknesses?”

25. “How would you describe you organization’s personality and management style?”

26. “How is the work environment affected by the organization’s management style?”

Illegal Job Interview Questions

Various federal, state, and local laws regulate the questions a prospective employer can ask you. An employer’s questions–on the job application, in the interview, or during the testing process–must be related to the job for which you are applying. For the employer, the focus must be:

“What do I need to know to decide whether or not this person can perform the functions of this job?”

Options for Answering an Illegal Question
You are free to answer the question. If you choose to do so, realize that you are giving information that is not job-related. You could harm your candidacy by giving the “wrong” answer. You can refuse to answer the question. By selecting this option, you’ll be within your rights, but you’re also running the risk of coming off as uncooperative or confrontational–hardly the words an employer would use to describe the “ideal” candidate.

Your third option is to examine the intent behind the question and respond with an answer as it might apply to the job. For instance, if the interviewer asks, “Are you a U.S. citizen?” or “What country are you from?,” you’ve been asked an illegal question. Instead of answering the question directly, you could respond, “I am authorized to work in the United States.” Or, if your interviewer asks, “Who is going to take care of your children when you have to travel?” you might answer, “I can meet the travel and work schedule that this job requires.”

Subject Illegal Questions Legal Questions
National Origin/
Citizenship Are you a U.S. citizen?

Where were you/your parents 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 question is okay, as long as this ability is relevant to the performance of the job.)
Age How old are you?

When did you graduate from college?

What is your birthday? Are you over the age of 18?
Family Status What’s your marital status?

Who do you live with?

Do you plan to have a family? When?

How many kids do you have?

What are your child care arrangements? Would you be willing to relocate if necessary?

Travel is an important part of the job. Would you be willing to travel as needed by the job (This question is okay, as long ALL applicants for the job are asked it.)

This job requires overtime occasionally. Would you be able and willing to work overtime as necessary? (Again, this question okay as long as ALL applicants for the job are asked it.)
Affiliations To what clubs or social organizations do you belong? Do you belong to any professional or trade groups or other organizations that you consider relevant to your ability to perform this job?
Personal How tall are you?

How much do you weigh? Are you able to lift a 50-pound weight and carry it 100 yards, as that is part of the job? (Questions about height and weight are not acceptable unless minimum standards are essential to the safe performance of the job.)
Disabilities Do you have any disabilities?

Please complete the following medical history.

Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations? If yes, list and give dates.

What was the date of your last physical exam?

How’s your family’s health?

When did you lose your eyesight? Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations? (This question is okay if the interviewer thoroughly described the job.)

NOTE: As part of the hiring process, after a job offer has been made you will be required to undergo a medical exam. Exam results must be kept strictly confidential, except medical/safety personnel may be informed if emergency medical treatment is required, and supervisors may be informed about necessary job accommodations, based on the exam results.
Arrest Record Have you ever been arrested? Have you ever been convicted of _____? (The crime should be reasonably related to the performance of the job in question.
Military If you’ve been in the military, were you honorably discharged? In what branch of the Armed Forces did you serve?

Making a Good Impression on Job Interviews

Here’s what you should keep in mind the day of the interview and immediately afterward.

Before the Interview
* Be on time. Being on time (or early) is usually interpreted by the interviewer as evidence of your commitment, dependability, and professionalism.
* Be positive and try to make others feel comfortable. Show openness by leaning into a greeting with a firm handshake and smile. Don’t make negative comments about current or former employers.
* Relax. Think of the interview as a conversation, not an interrogation. And remember, the interviewer is just as nervous about making a good impression on you.

During the Interview
* Show self-confidence. Make eye contact with the interviewer and answer his questions in a clear voice. Work to establish a rapport with the interviewer.
* Remember to listen. Communication is a two-way street. If you are talking too much, you will probably miss cues concerning what the interviewer feels is important.
* Reflect before answering a difficult question. If you are unsure how to answer a question, you might reply with another question. For example, if the interviewer asks you what salary you expect, try answering by saying “That is a good question. What are you planning to pay your best candidate?”
* When it is your turn, ask the questions you have prepared in advance. These should cover any information about the company and job position you could not find in your own research.
* Do not ask questions that raise red flags. Ask, “Is relocation a requirement?”, and the interviewer may assume that you do not want to relocate at all. Too many questions about vacation may cause the interviewer to think you are more interested in taking time off than helping the company. Make sure the interviewer understands why you are asking these questions.
* Show you want the job. Display your initiative by talking about what functions you could perform that would benefit the organization, and by giving specific details of how you have helped past employers. You might also ask about specific details of the job position, such as functions, responsibilities, who you would work with, and who you would report to.
* Avoid negative body language. An interviewer wants to see how well you react under pressure. Avoid these signs of nervousness and tension:
* Frequently touching your mouth
* Faking a cough to think about the answer to a question
* Gnawing on your lip
* Tight or forced smiles
* Swinging your foot or leg
* Folding or crossing your arms
* Slouching
* Avoiding eye contact
* Picking at invisible bits of lint

After the Interview
* End the interview with a handshake and thank the interviewer for his or her time. Reiterate your interest in the position and your qualifications. Ask if you can telephone in a few days to check on the status of your application. If they offer to contact you, politely ask when you should expect the call.
* Send a “Thanks for the Interview” note. After the interview, send a brief thank-you note. Try to time it so it arrives before the hiring decision will be made. It will serve as a reminder to the interviewer concerning your appropriateness for the position, so feel free to mention any topics discussed during your interview. If the job contact was made through the Internet or e-mail, send an e-mail thank-you note immediately after the interview, then mail a second letter by post timed to arrive the week before the hiring decision will be made.
* Follow up with a phone call if you are not contacted within a week of when the interviewer indicated you would be.

Common Job Interview Questions

By rehearsing interview questions, you’ll become more familiar with your own qualifications and will be well prepared to demonstrate how you can benefit an employer. Some examples: 

* “Tell me about yourself.”
Make a short, organized statement of your education and professional achievements and professional goals. Then, briefly describe your qualifications for the job and the contributions you could make to the organization.

* “Why do you want to work here?” or “What about our company interests you?”
Few questions are more important than these, so it is important to answer them clearly and with enthusiasm. Show the interviewer your interest in the company. Share what you learned about the job, the company and the industry through your own research. Talk about how your professional skills will benefit the company. Unless you work in sales, your answer should never be simply: “money.” The interviewer will wonder if you really care about the job.

* “Why did you leave your last job?”
The interviewer may want to know if you had any problems on your last job. If you did not have any problems, simply give a reason, such as: relocated away from job; company went out of business; laid off; temporary job; no possibility of advancement; wanted a job better suited to your skills.

If you did have problems, be honest. Show that you can accept responsibility and learn from your mistakes. You should explain any problems you had (or still have) with an employer, but don’t describe that employer in negative terms. Demonstrate that it was a learning experience that will not affect your future work.

* “What are your best skills?”
If you have sufficiently researched the organization, you should be able to imagine what skills the company values. List them, then give examples where you have demonstrated these skills.

* “What is your major weakness?”
Be positive; turn a weakness into a strength. For example, you might say: “I often worry too much over my work. Sometimes I work late to make sure the job is done well.”

* “Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?”
The ideal answer is one of flexibility. However, be honest. Give examples describing how you have worked in both situations.

* “What are your career goals?” or “What are your future plans?”
The interviewer wants to know if your plans and the company’s goals are compatible. Let him know that you are ambitious enough to plan ahead. Talk about your desire to learn more and improve your performance, and be specific as possible about how you will meet the goals you have set for yourself.

* “What are your hobbies?” and “Do you play any sports?”
The interviewer may be looking for evidence of your job skills outside of your professional experience. For example, hobbies such as chess or bridge demonstrate analytical skills. Reading, music, and painting are creative hobbies. Individual sports show determination and stamina, while group sport activities may indicate you are comfortable working as part of a team.

Also, the interviewer might simply be curious as to whether you have a life outside of work. Employees who have creative or athletic outlets for their stress are often healthier, happier and more productive.

* “What salary are you expecting?”
You probably don’t want to answer this one directly. Instead, deflect the question back to the interviewer by saying something like: “I don’t know. What are you planning on paying the best candidate?” Let the employer make the first offer.

However, it is still important to know what the current salary range is for the profession. Find salary surveys at the library or on the Internet, and check the classifieds to see what comparable jobs in your area are paying. This information can help you negotiate compensation once the employer makes an offer.

* “What have I forgotten to ask?”
Use this as a chance to summarize your good characteristics and attributes and how they may be used to benefit the organization. Convince the interviewer that you understand the job requirements and that you can succeed.

Here are some other job interview questions you might want to rehearse.

Your Qualifications

  • What can you do for us that someone else can’t do? 
  • What qualifications do you have that relate to the position? 
  • What new skills or capabilities have you developed recently? 
  • Give me an example from a previous job where you’ve shown initiative. 
  • What have been your greatest accomplishments recently? 
  • What is important to you in a job? 
  • What motivates you in your work? 
  • What have you been doing since your last job? 
  • What qualities do you find important in a coworker? 

Your Career Goals

  • What would you like to being doing five years from now? 
  • How will you judge yourself successful? How will you achieve success? 
  • What type of position are you interested in? 
  • How will this job fit in your career plans? 
  • What do you expect from this job? 
  • Do you have a location preference? 
  • Can you travel? 
  • What hours can you work? 
  • When could you start? 

Your Work Experience

  • What have you learned from your past jobs? 
  • What were your biggest responsibilities? 
  • What specific skills acquired or used in previous jobs relate to this position? 
  • How does your previous experience relate to this position? 
  • What did you like most/least about your last job? 
  • Whom may we contact for references?

Your Education

  • How do you think your education has prepared you for this position? 
  • What were your favorite classes/activities at school? 
  • Why did you choose your major? 
  • Do you plan to continue your education?