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The question

What limits are there to the kinds of questions that can be asked in interviews, and how can you address them without shooting yourself in the foot?: Specifically, I'm thinking about questions such as: What do you feel is an acceptable number of days to be absent in a calendar year? What do you think is a legitimate reason to miss work? Is there anything that would prohibit you from consistently coming to work on time every day of the week? If we were to ask your previous supervisor, what would they say about your attendance and job performance? If selected for this position, what kind of example would you set for dependability?

The answer

These are interesting and not necessarily the most appropriate questions to be asking in a formal interview situation. They can certainly be asked. However, interviewers would want to be aware of the intention and impact of asking them. I will respond from both the interviewer and the interviewee perspectives, where applicable.

One wants to be clear as the interviewer of the intent of asking a question. What do you want to elicit from the interviewee? The interviewer will also want to be aware of what impression you are giving interviewees of the company, its culture, values and practices in asking particular questions. Likewise, the interviewee wants to be aware of what type of impression he is giving an interviewer(s) about him/herself by asking particular questions.

Over all, these five questions give the impression that there is or may be a problem with absenteeism and the amount of sick time in the organization. The interviewers will want to be aware that the interviewee will be wondering why the interviewers are asking all these questions. The interviewee will be asking him or herself the following questions:

  • Is there a problem with absenteeism in this organization? If so, why is that – stress levels in the organization, work environment, commitment to the organization and job issues?
  • What is the organization doing about this attendance problem?
  • How do they treat their employees?
  • Are there trust issues in this organization? If so, is this really the organization that I want to work for?

On the interviewer's side, if an interviewee asks too many questions with respect to attendance, then that will likely raise a number of questions for the interviewers such as:

  • Why is this interviewee asking these questions about attendance?
  • Is there a problem with absenteeism in his/her previous positions?
  • Could there be a problem with attendance if we hired him/her?
  • Is there some reason why they are not able to attend work regularly? And, if so, is this the type of candidate that we want to hire for the position?

From the interviewer's perspective, they can simply ask for the interviewee to give an example of dependability in his previous positions. The interviewer can also ask "Is there any reason that we should know about that would keep you from fulfilling the responsibilities of this position?" They can also ask the interviewee's references about his/her attendance, dependability, and ability to carry out the functions of his position in the reference checks. This will avoid raising potential concerns with the interviewees. During the interview, the interviewers can also state that dependability and commitment to the job are some of the values of the company.

Job candidates do not want to be asking about companies' attendance policies in formal interviews. They will want the interviewers to be left with the impression that they are dependable, reliable and will commit fully to the prospective position. The interviewee can simply check out the company's attendance policy online, or if it is not posted, then when offered the position they can ask the human resources official about the company's attendance policy.

Bruce Sandy is principal of and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting in Vancouver.

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