Skip to main content

Conducting Lawful & Effective Interviews

Our talented students, like all prospective lawyers, come from diverse backgrounds. We urge you to consider and respect this diversity when conducting interviews. We hope the following information will assist employers in avoiding the use of illegal and/or inappropriate questions and will assure the fairness, integrity and productivity of the interview process.

When Interviewing Students

Provide an explanation to all candidates of your organization’s non-discrimination policies and support for candidate diversity.

Each student deserves equal respect and attention during the interview process - carefully review the resumes of your interviewees.

Try to recognize any preconceptions or assumptions you might have about an individual. This will help you to better evaluate each candidate fairly and impartially.

Whatever you identify as your interviewing “style,” use it consistently with all students.

While few instances of discriminatory conduct on the part of employers who use Penn Carey Law’s Office of Career Strategy services are reported by students, it remains a serious concern in the legal employment marketplace. It is important to remember that an interviewer, although perhaps not out of animus, can create a perception of insensitivity to difference with inappropriate questions and comments. This perception, even if not reflective of your organization, may then be spread to other law students to the detriment of all. To help prevent this perception of insensitivity, we provide examples below of irrelevant interview questions as well as some insensitive attitudes and assumptions, derived from EEOC guidelines and from the interview experiences of our law students. We appreciate your attention to these suggestions.

Inappropriate Interview Questions:

  • How long have you been disabled? Can you get out of your wheel chair?
  • What did your father do for a living?
  • Do you own your own home?
  • Are you the first in your family to attend law school or to get a degree?
  • Will you have adequate childcare for your children?
  • Are you married/single/engaged/divorced or dating?
  • Do you have or plan to have children?
  • Will your parenting responsibilities interfere with your professional responsibilities?
  • Would you move if your spouse’s employment required a move?
  • How old are you? How would someone your age fit in with other people?
  • Why did you choose an all-black college?
  • What do you mean you have a partner?
  • Where were your relatives born?
  • What is your religious preference? Which holidays do you observe?

Discriminatory Attitudes & Assumptions:

  • Singling out candidates of color to question them about racial conflicts in the news.
  • Suggesting that a candidate, because of a personal characteristic such as race or religious affiliation, may not feel “comfortable” due to the lack of others like them in the workplace.
  • Commenting on a candidate’s dress or appearance.
  • Commenting on a candidate’s accent (or expressing surprise at the lack of accent).
  • Assuming that the candidate you are interviewing is heterosexual or cisgender; joking about sex or sexual preference or gender identity.
  • Discouraging women from specialties considered “aggressive;” encouraging women to work in areas that are deemed “more suitable.”
  • Assuming or suggesting that a candidate attends law school due to some extraordinary admissions criteria; inquiring into the undergraduate grades or LSAT scores of people of color but not of other candidates.
  • Inquiring as to whether a candidate has ever been to a law firm office before, or suggesting that a candidate may never before have been in a professional environment.
  • Maintaining that disabled people who succeed are remarkable or extraordinary.

Interrupting Implicit Bias:

Implicit bias in interviewing is the unconscious tendency to judge a candidate based on stereotypes or presumptions, rather than objective criteria. This unconscious tendency may cause you to inadvertently disregard highly qualified candidates. Implicit bias can affect all of us, despite our best intentions. Here are some tips to help you to avoid implicit bias in the interview process.

  • Develop and stick to a standardized set of questions for all candidates.
  • Identify the criteria for selection in advance.
  • Resist the tendency to gravitate to common interests or experiences.
  • Avoid questions or comments that signal a cultural or political preference.
  • Take a short break between interviews so that you can approach each with a fresh state of mind.
  • Recognize and commit to the value that broad diversity brings to your organization.