You know what most people hate? Job interviews. Why? Well, they’re a weird, manufactured thing where people sit in a room and one is trying to prove they’re the best and the others are trying to prove their workplace is cool. Awkward all around, right? Naturally, the instinct on the part of HR and hiring managers is to relieve the awkwardness and make the experience as pleasant as possible.Read More
We’ve all seen it: that sweet statement at the end of every job posting that tells everyone not to worry, that the people doing the hiring hold absolutely no bias whatsoever and will totally make every decision without regard to race, sex, national origin, disability status, sexual orientation, etc.
We all know that’s complete and utter BS, right?Read More
Recruiting and hiring would be so much easier if we were all robots. We'd achieve just the right balance of whatever it is we need, all without the feelings and patterns and habits that, more often than not, work against our success. I'm on a lot of HR-related discussion boards, and this question came up recently from a brand-new HR manager (paraphrased so as to avoid violating anyone privacy):
Is it legal to deny an applicant an interview because of bad grammar on an application? Writing and other clerical duties are core responsibilities, but the job description does not explicitly state the use of correct grammar as a requirement. However, I assume this is an implied requirement.
Seems easy, right? "Bad grammar" isn't a protected class under any discrimination laws I know of, and everyone wants an administrative assistant with an English degree. The answer to the "is this legal" question is definitely "yes."
Still, I learned something amazing at a training quite a while ago, and it's become the number one thing I have taken with me on this HR journey: We MUST challenge job requirements like "good grammar"--and the even-more-pervasive "comfort" and "fit"--if we are to begin the work of dismantling white (and able- and cis- and hetero-) supremacy in hiring. Comfort is the essence of the status quo.
Here's my response to the OP:
I agree it's usually legal, and sometimes appropriate, to reject someone for bad grammar. It sounds like this may be one of those situations--though you may need to look into "implied requirements" and think about how to make them explicit if they are actual requirements. Since you're new to HR and will likely have issues like this arise in the future, I'll add my advice about stuff like this:
I think it's important we challenge ourselves to examine whether we use grammar or other values as tool to weed out people who are otherwise qualified and just come from different backgrounds. For example, it may make upper management feel more comfortable to hire a [manufacturing position/sales manager/IT director] who speaks and writes like them. However, speaking the Queen's English is often not job-related and in many cases may end up working against equity and inclusion efforts. For example, using AAVE in a cover letter might be a no-go for an executive assistant who is expected--as clearly stated in the job posting--to draft official company press releases, but it shouldn't weed people out if they won't be creating "formal" external communications. In the end, it's up to us to push hiring managers and challenge them when values like "fit" and "comfort" and, yes, perfect grammar stand in the way of doing our best work.
So, the right question is usually NOT "Is this legal?" It's "Why are we more comfortable with Candidate A than Candidate B?" or "Why do we care if our IT administrator isn't 100% fluent in English?" or "What do you mean when you say he 'fits in' better with the team?"
When we choose comfort and fit and grammar and appearance, we're usually choosing the status quo. And guess what the status quo is! It's white male C-suites, young female secretaries, people of color only in the entry levels, and sky-high unemployment for trans folk and people with disabilities.
We can do better than "comfortable," so now I challenge you: How can you make your leadership uncomfortable today?
I had a great debate the other day (with my boss, incidentally) about why we ask certain questions as part of the recruitment process at my organization. In this case, we were discussing a new position--the first time we've asked applicants to share how (or whether) our mission of equity and inclusion is important to them. My boss, playing devil's advocate, worried that such questions cause us to stray from strictly evaluating the hard skills of an applicant. I think questions that force an applicant to share more than the usual cover letter business can offer insight into their thought process, writing skills, and career goals.
Asking questions that touch on diversity can be pretty scary for HR pros. The idea brings up fears of discrimination lawsuits if we end up hiring someone who is in an underrepresented group over someone who is part of the majority--or the other way around. Sure, these fears are based in reality; we all know of some company that got hammered because of an unlawful hiring practice. It's so much safer to just ask for a resume and standard cover letter, and get to know people in the interview.
Still, I'd argue that--carefully crafted--questions that challenge applicants to think about your organization's diversity mission can really help the best of the pool rise to the top. Please don't ask an applicant to answer "How will your background help Company B fulfill its mission for a diverse workforce?" Words like "background" might confuse the applicant into thinking you want them to tell you about their race or ethnic heritage--not what we want!
Instead, share the equity and inclusion section of your mission statement and ask applicants to explain how their experiences have shaped how they view such a mission statement. How would they critique it? If they were in charge, what are some actions they would take to help the company fulfill it?
Write the question. Rewrite it. Have a few people read it and tell you how they interpret it, how they'd answer it if they were applying. Revise.
Not only do these questions encourage applicants to share whether they feel such a mission is important--and whether they'll be an asset in acting to pursue it--they let you see an applicant's brain and creativity at work. Now more than ever, equity and inclusion are mission-critical for most businesses--let's be brave and relentless in our pursuit! As with almost anything, success depends on surrounding ourselves with the right people.