The hiring process can be an intimidating prospect for job hunters, who must create persuasive sales pitches about their qualifications using resumes and cover letters, undergo multiple job interviews and beat out other qualified candidates. But the hiring process can also be strenuous for employers. Screening hundreds or thousands of application materials takes time and energy, and the company’s code of ethics must be employed to ensure a fair, ethical hiring process.
Some elements of the code of ethics during the hiring process intertwine with legal responsibilities. Laws preventing discrimination in the workplace also apply during the hiring process. It’s not only unethical to inquire about nationality, marital status, plans for having children, sexual orientation or religious beliefs—it’s illegal. Asking questions about how a female applicant plans to balance raising her children with work responsibilities isn’t permissible or fair, especially if similar questions aren’t asked of male applicants. Applicants may feel pressured to respond to questions for fear of appearing hostile or defensive, but that doesn’t mean they won’t take legal action against unethical questions later.
Companies may add other components to the code of ethics that don’t strictly fall into legal guidelines. For example, if the uncle of one job applicant sits on the interview panel, the company may decide to ask him to refrain from asking questions during the interview to prevent intended or unintended bias by providing encouragement or asking “softball” questions. The code of ethics might also apply when negotiating wages. For example, if an appealing candidate lists salary requirements far below the company’s budget for the available job position because of unfamiliarity with industry pay scales, the company might choose not to take advantage of the excessively low salary statement. Companies should also be forthright about job descriptions; it’s unethical to hire someone to fulfill stated duties with the intention of having her complete additional tasks not described at the outset.
Employees must also take responsibility for personal and professional ethics during the hiring process. Listing inaccurate or overstated information on resumes and cover letters presents a false image of qualifications and experience. Participating in interviews as “practice” for other upcoming interviews with no intention of accepting job offers wastes time and energy for employers.
Not adhering to the code of ethics during the hiring process can lead to negative results. Employers might find themselves in legal tangles if potential candidates sue because of perceived discrimination linked to unethical questions. Panelists who select candidates for hire because of personal connections or preferences may lose opportunities to place more-qualified employees in available positions. Employers who learned that workers behaved unethically during the hiring process by providing inaccurate information may choose to demote or dismiss those employees.
Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.