Updated: Apr 23, 2019
I work for a staffing firm and have been given a list of “acceptable terms” to use to describe applicants in interview notes. As one might imagine, this list is very short. Our biggest dilemma is conveying in an appropriate way whether an applicant is unfit for certain jobs because of age, physical ability, etc. Another problem is zeroing in on an applicant’s ability to lift and to what capacity. Our current rundown isn’t much help. It includes: articulate, assertive, bright, conscientious, pleasant, well-mannered, abrasive, aloof, withdrawn, poorly groomed, neat, conservative. What are some precise terms for us to consider?
-- Lacking Definition, staffing industry, Moline, Illinois
Dear Lacking Definition:
Having done a lot of recruiting myself, I can think of a few “precise terms” for some of the people I’ve interviewed. But you’re really looking for terms that refer to job-related competencies--the skills, knowledge and attributes that qualify a candidate for a specific job. Let’s focus on that subject for now.
First and foremost, you must recognize that as a recruiting firm, you are bound (just like your client) to honor the many laws related to recruiting and discrimination. You should avoid vague or stereotypical adjectives in describing applicants, and stick to the competencies that distinguish solid performers from poor performers. As you begin a recruiting assignment, be sure to ask your client which competencies are essential to success in the job, and focus on them consistently as you interview candidates.
Words like “well-mannered” or “conservative” could mean different things to different people, so you should probably lose your out-of-date list of adjectives and switch to a new set of descriptors that refer to observable job-related behavior. Consider using a professionally developed list of competencies with behavioral definitions and corresponding interview questions to get up-to-date fast. You’ll find many ready-made behavioral interviewing packages available, and lots of consulting firms can offer you assistance in this specialized area of assessment, too.
Second, forget any concerns you have about individuals’ inability to do a job because of their age. As someone who crossed the magic threshold of 40 some time ago, I’d say you’re out of touch. Better open your eyes and read up on age discrimination.
Third, you’re also treading on thin ice if you’re trying to apply a generic “fitness for duty” screening technique. Instead, ask your client to define the physical requirements of the open position, and then ask the same job-related questions of each candidate.
For example: “Are you able to lift 30-pound cartons onto a conveyor belt at the rate of 75 per hour for seven hours each day with or without accommodation?”
If candidates say they can do this, accept their response. Don’t ask questions just because you’re curious, but don’t ignore an obvious disability, either. Give the candidate the impression that you’re looking for their ability to do the job, not for ways to eliminate them from consideration. If the candidate needs some accommodation, ask what would be helpful, and then pass that information along to your client. You’d be surprised how easy it is to make a job manageable for people who need some accommodation.
Finally, if you haven’t taken a course on interviewing and selection, now is the time. You’ll be more confident and effective--and your employer will be more likely to stay out of trouble with the EEOC.