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Don't Ask This Interview Question

Earlier this week, I read an article in which entrepreneur Mark Cuban predicted that interviewers would some day be asking applicants, "What skills did you add during the pandemic 2020?" I think this question is likely to be embraced by hiring managers, but, unfortunately, it's not a good question. As a human resources professional, I have three good reasons you don't want to ask this question, and four better questions to replace it. It's not a good predictor of future work The main point of the employment interview is to determine which applicants would be successful versus not successful if you were to hire them. Every question you ask in the employment interview should be aimed at identifying those who have the knowledge, skills, ability, and willingness to do the job well. While asking about what skills a person added during the pandemic could reveal individuals who are self-motivated, pursue continuous improvement, or are goal-oriented, it won't capture all of them. A number of highly qualified applicants very likely were not able to add a new skill in the spring and summer of 2020 for a variety of reasons outside of their control, including an increased workload, juggling full-time child care and working from home, mental and emotional challenges associated with the pandemic, or illness or family loss due to the coronavirus. In order to make the most effective hiring decision, you want to have a sufficiently large pool of qualified applicants from which to choose. By asking this interview question, you're shrinking your applicant pool in a way that makes it harder for you to identify high-quality applicants.

It could be illegal U.S. labor law protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics, such as sex, age, and disability. If the question about adding skills during the pandemic eliminates some groups from your pool of applicants more frequently than others without being job related, then it could violate the law. For instance, many working mothers had a larger burden of childcare while schools were closed, such that they could be less likely to have had time and energy to pursue new skills. This would disproportionally remove women from consideration, which is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Similarly, individuals with mental or physical health challenges may have been less productive during the pandemic due to a lack of access to therapy or medical treatment, and eliminating them from consideration could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. While asking this question doesn't explicitly distinguish among groups, the answers can have that effect, and thus, it should be avoided. It may send the wrong message Although the main point of an interview is for the organization to choose an employee, it's also a time for employees to make decisions about employers (even in a loose labor market). By asking a question about skills gained during the pandemic, organizations risk appearing to have priorities that may be out of line with what they truly value. Applicants who are looking for an organization that promotes health, security, and flexibility, may believe that an organization values productivity over employee well-being with a question about skills acquisition during a pandemic. Be mindful that the questions asked in interviews send a message, and that your organization's reputation can be influenced by applicant reactions.

Better questions to ask Hiring managers who ask applicants what skills they added during the pandemic are likely trying to learn how potential employees overcome challenges and handle stress or how self-motivated and goal-oriented they are. If this is the case, then it's better to ask about these things directly, rather than limiting your applicant pool to those who were able to do such things just during the pandemic. So, try these question instead to really tap in to what you're trying to learn.

  • Tell me about a challenge in the past that you have overcome.

  • What types of stressors have you experienced in prior jobs, and how have you managed that stress?

  • What are some skills that you have gained on your own in the past?

  • Tell me about an important goal that you have achieved and what it took to reach it?

Need help with better hiring? I'm hosting a FREE webinar in late summer 2020 on bias free hiring. Fill out my contact form on my website-- found here--to be sure you get one of the limited spaces. Or, get in touch to learn more about my development programs for hiring managers by e-mailing me.


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