/Nellie Akalp
Nellie Akalp

About Nellie Akalp

Nellie Akalp is an entrepreneur, small business expert, speaker, and mother of four amazing kids. As CEO of CorpNet.com, she has helped more than half a million entrepreneurs launch their businesses. Akalp is nationally recognized as one of the most prominent experts on small business legal matters, contributing frequently to outlets like Entrepreneur, Forbes, Huffington Post, Mashable, and Fox Small Business. A passionate entrepreneur herself, Akalp is committed to helping others take the reigns and dive into small business ownership. Through her public speaking, media appearances, and frequent blogging, she has developed a strong following within the small business community and has been honored as a Small Business Influencer Champion three years in a row.

Start & Run Your Business Right: Join Our Facebook Group and Partner Program

The process of starting a business is both thrilling and intimidating. There’s the exhilaration that comes from working through the details and making the dream a reality. And then, there are the business formation options and ongoing compliance requirements that often raise questions and sometimes cause confusion.

That’s why I’m hosting the “Business Formations & Compliance” Facebook group.

The group is a place where business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs can get insight on anything related to forming a business and complying with the rules to keep it in good standing. You can join for free, so there’s no reason not to take advantage of the expertise you’ll find there!

What Can You Expect?

We’ll cover a breadth of topics related to starting and maintaining a business that complies with federal and state requirements.

A few examples include:

  • Filing a DBA
  • Forming an LLC with an S Corp election
  • Incorporating as a C Corporation
  • Annual report obligations
  • Corporate minutes
  • Business name searches
  • Trademark filings

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. No matter what filing requirements you need more information about, I’ll be there to answer the questions you and other group members post.

You can also meet up with me on Facebook Live Fridays when I’m available in real time to offer tips and insight.

Also New: The CorpNet Partner Program

CorpNet has launched a Partner Program for accountants, bookkeepers, attorneys, business advisors, and other service professionals that wish to give their clients additional value. As our Partner, you can offer formation and compliance services to your customers—with all fulfillment and liability handled by CorpNet. Sign up for free today! Besides strengthening your client relationships, you’ll also get 50 percent of the profits from any formation and compliance services that you sell.*

Seize The Possibilities!

Join the Business Formations & Compliance Facebook group and check out our CorpNet Partner Program. Bringing insight, education, and the potential for additional income, these platforms offer opportunities for empowerment and growth.

*50% commission is based on our gross revenue – minus costs. The 50% profit sharing for partners is a limited offering for early birds. Please sign up now to be grandfathered and start earning right away.

How To Choose And Legally Use Your Business Name

The name you choose for your business will be one of your most powerful and valuable assets. As one of the primary ways customers distinguish you from your competitors, your business name wields a lot of power. The right name can help propel you to success; the wrong name can put you at a disadvantage.

Besides choosing a business name that:

  • Projects how you want people to view your business (e.g., edgy, professional, high-tech, academic, approachable, etc.)
  • Makes it easy for customers to identify what you do.
  • Is simple enough to be memorable.

I encourage you to have all your legal i’s dotted and t’s crossed when selecting a name.

How To Choose A Business Name That’s Yours To Use

Start on the right path immediately by making sure another company doesn’t already have dibs on the business name you’d like to use. If someone else has already claimed it, you could end up in legal trouble if you start using it online and printing it on business cards, checks, marketing materials, etc.

How can you know your preferred business name isn’t spoken for already?

Use a business name search tool or contact your state filing office to see if the name you want to use is currently claimed within your state. Also, I encourage you to use a trademark search application tool to see if the name is available in all of the United States. That will allow you to identify if anyone else has registered for, been granted, or abandoned a trademark for your name.

How To Make The Name Officially Yours

So, you say your name is available? Great!

Now it’s time to make it legally yours within the state you’ll operate your business. As I mentioned earlier, your name represents your brand. If another company offering similar products and services were to use the same (or a very similar) name, it could confuse customers and damage your professional reputation.

If you’re a sole proprietor or partnership, filing a DBA (“Doing Business As”)—also known as a fictitious name—to protect your name in the state doesn’t cost a lot of time or money. If you plan to use your own personal first and last name in your business name, you will not need a DBA. For example, Celia Washington wouldn’t have to register “Celia Washington’s Bookkeeping Services ” as a DBA.

By registering your business as a formal legal entity (Limited Liability Company or Corporation) in your state, your business name will automatically become protected in that state. Realize, however, that another business in another state could use your name there. Also, it’s legal for a sole proprietorship or partnership to use your name as a DBA in your state.

If simply registering in your state doesn’t put you at ease about your rights to your business name, I recommend you consider filing for a federal trademark. If the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants your trademark request, it will be illegal for others to use your business name in any of the 50 states.

Don’t Hesitate To Seek Expert Assistance

To avoid lost time and money when choosing a name and taking legal steps to protect it, I encourage you to consult with professionals who can guide and assist you. Consider seeking the input and feedback of branding experts with experience in zeroing in on a business name that will serve your company for the long term. Other helpful resources include attorneys who can advise you in making sound decisions and step you through the legal process of securing and registering your business name. And when you need to prepare the necessary documents to register your business with your state or file for a federal trademark, you might save a heap of time and money by using a reputable online business document filing service.

As you can see, choosing a business name demands more than just slapping words together. You need to devote some thought and time to it. But I assure you, it will be time and energy well spent. Remember, your business name has influence that could make or break your brand.

By | May 22nd, 2017|Naming Your Business|0 Comments

Share, Learn, Grow – Join The “Business Startup Experts” Facebook Group!

With a passion for helping entrepreneurs work toward fulfilling their dreams, it thrills me to welcome you to join the new Business Startup Experts group that I’ve started on Facebook. Its purpose is simple: To serve as a hub for startup experts of all types to exchange knowledge with one another and with new business owners.

I invite anyone who either has or is looking for insight on starting and growing a business. The following types of professionals and many others will find it an engaging place to showcase their expertise and make valuable connections:

  • Accountants
  • Business coaches
  • Tax advisors
  • Attorneys
  • Marketing and branding experts
  • IT consultants
  • Quickbooks advisors
  • Insurance professionals
  • Members of other business groups (like Business Rockstars, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Secret Entourage, etc.)

The Business Startup Experts Facebook group is a free membership forum where you can ask or answer business startup questions. It is where you will have access to premium, moderated content that can help you move your business forward.

In addition to informative, interactive posts, the group also holds Facebook Live online streaming events hosted by various types of business experts who will share their tips and answer questions.

As you’re more active within the group, you may have an opportunity to become a moderator. In that role, you can gain additional exposure as an expert in your field. And of course, aspiring entrepreneurs will benefit from being a part of the group. Eventually, the group will have experts in virtually every aspect of starting a business. What a powerful resource it will be!

Let’s get down to business—together! 

The more startup experts and aspiring entrepreneurs we have in the group, the greater it will empower all of us. Please visit the Business Startup Experts group on Facebook and request to join it today. Together, we can all become savvier, stronger business owners!

National Small Business Week: What It Means For You And How To Make The Most Of It

Sunday, April 30, 2017, marked the start of National Small Business Week. From that day through Saturday, May 6, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has organized a variety of events to celebrate small businesses and the impact they have on our national and local economies.

According to the SBA National Small Business Week website, “More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.”

I say that’s reason to celebrate! Don’t you agree?

We’re celebrating at CorpNet.com by offering  10 percent off of the cost of any complete business formation package this week only! Visit the CorpNet website’s home page and click the “Get Started” button to view the formation packages for your state. At checkout, use code CNSBW to apply your discount.

Other highlights of the week will include: small business award ceremonies; a live chat over social media with SBA Administrator Linda McMahon and Facebook’s VP and Chief Privacy Officer for Policy Erin Egan about how to start and grow a business; a road tour that kicks off in the Indycar town of Indianapolis and continues with stops in Arlington, Texas and ends in Fresno, California; and free webinars.

What Does This Mean For You?

In a word: Plenty!

As the SBA is promoting National Small Business Week, you can piggyback off the momentum and remind your customers about why supporting small businesses is the way to go.

  • Local small businesses typically hire local people from within their communities.
  • Local small businesses often seek to source raw materials from local suppliers, thus further stimulating the local economy.
  • Local small businesses tend to be vested in and give back to their communities in time, talent, and dollars to improve the lives of those around them.
  • Local small businesses build personal relationships with their customers and nurture a sense of community.

How Can You Get Involved?

For starters, check out the SBA National Small Business Week website for what’s happening each day from April 30 to May 6. Also, generate some buzz by posting about National Small Business Week on social media (hashtag #smallbusinessweek). And consider offering some special deals to draw people to your local small business. Even better, partner with other local small businesses in your area to cross-promote each other’s products, services, and special offers. That’s a powerful way to show your solidarity as small business owners.

A Time To Shine

SBA’s National Small Business Week is a perfect time to reflect on your business success and move onward to an even brighter future. And if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to move past kicking the tires and start your own business, what better time to take your first steps?

*Image from the National Small Business Week website*

What Can Employers Not Discriminate Against?

As a business owner, it’s exciting to hire employees and watch your company grow. But there are legal risks if you give job candidates and employees reason to believe your staffing decisions and policies are discriminatory.

The first step in avoiding a job discrimination lawsuit is to have a basic understanding of what you can’t discriminate against and the nature of the laws that prohibit employment discrimination.

You need to comply with all applicable federal and state (even some local) laws that protect people from job discrimination. So, in your employment ads, job applications, job interviews, background checks, social media account reviews, employment policies and anything else you do in your efforts to hire and maintain your workforce, you need to follow the rules. State laws vary, so make sure you do your research to find out which apply to you. Passed by Congress, signed by the President, and enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit various types of discrimination and affect employers everywhere in the United States.

Here’s a rundown of what you can’t discriminate against and the federal laws that protect individuals:

Race/color, national origin, religion, sex, and pregnancy Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents employers from denying employment based on the race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. It prohibits job discrimination against women because of pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical conditions. In addition, it makes unwelcome sexual advances and other verbal and physical harassment of a sexual nature illegal. The law also makes it unlawful to not offer equal pay and benefits based on sex, race, religion, sex, and national origin. Something else you should keep in mind is that employment policies or practices that apply to everyone might be considered illegal if they negatively affect the employment of people within the protected classes under Title VII.

AgeThe Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects individuals age 40 and older from being treated unfavorably based on age during hiring and employment by employers. It applies only to businesses with 20 or more employees, but some states have laws that apply to companies with far fewer employees.

DisabilityThe Americans with Disabilities Act protects qualified individuals with disabilities from being unfavorably treated in the workplace (including with regard to pay or benefits) and during the hiring process as a result of their disabilities. Discrimination protection also applies to applicants and employees who have a history of a disability (such as cancer that’s in remission) or because they may have a physical or mental impairment.

Genetic InformationTitle II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits discrimination against applicants and employees because of genetic information. It restricts employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, and certain other entities from asking for, demanding, buying, or disclosing individuals’ genetic information.

Standing Up Against Discrimination – Under all the laws that the EEO enforces, job applicants and employees are protected from discrimination and harassment as a result of them asserting their rights not to be treated unfavorably. Federal laws make it illegal to retaliate against job candidates and employees who take certain measures to protect themselves and others (for example: file a complaint, charge, investigation, or lawsuit; resist sexual advances or protect others from being sexually harassed; talk with a manager about discrimination or harassment, etc.).

Know The Rules And Follow Them

Besides knowing the laws and what they’re created to protect against, I suggest seeking the guidance of a trusted legal and/or human resources professional to ensure your employment practices comply. From making sure your job application doesn’t cross any lines to knowing the job interview questions that are illegal to setting salaries and benefit packages, you’ll find plenty of gray areas that may need specialized expertise. Having the peace of mind that your hiring practices are compliant with anti-discrimination laws is well-worth putting in a little extra time and attention when staffing your business.

Can An Employer Ask About Your Age?

If a job candidate is googling this question after a job interview at your company, you may be headed for trouble.

At both the federal and state level, anti-discrimination laws exist to prevent businesses from hiring or not hiring based on personal characteristics that are not relevant to an individual’s ability to do the job. Age is one of them. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects people who are age 40 and older from being treated unfavorably because of their age during the hiring process—and when employed. In 2016, 20,857 age discrimination charges were filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the government agency that enforces ADEA.

For private businesses, the ADEA only applies to those with 20 or more employees, but why put your business at risk? If you intend to grow your business, doesn’t it make sense to establish policies and procedures now to help ensure you don’t become a statistic and possibly face a costly lawsuit?

You need to pay attention to every aspect of employment:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Compensation
  • Work assignments and responsibilities
  • Opportunities for career advancement
  • Training
  • Fringe benefits
  • Layoffs
  • Firing

Any other terms or conditions of employment are also subject to age-related discrimination scrutiny.

While the ADEA doesn’t protect younger individuals from discrimination in the workplace, some state laws do. So, you could put yourself in a tricky situation if you in any way let the age of job applicants or employees affect how you treat people. Also, just because your business falls below the 20-employee minimum for ADEA to apply to you, you might be subject to your state’s age-related anti-discrimination laws. For example, individuals in Arkansas can file a claim against employers with a minimum of 9 employees under state law. And in Colorado, all employers, regardless of number of employees, must comply with the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

What can you do to help keep your business from violating the laws protecting against age discrimination?

Below are a few tips that can help:

  • In your employment ads, avoid language that could land you in trouble. (For example, “Looking for a young, energetic professional…”) Generally, ADEA deems it unlawful to mention age limitations, preferences, and outright specifications in job advertisements.
  • Be cautious when asking an applicant to disclose her age or date of birth. While it’s not explicitly prohibited, that type of inquiry will be closely scrutinized to ensure it wasn’t asked in an effort to deter older workers from applying for a position or otherwise discriminate against them based on age. According to the EEOC, “If the information is needed for a lawful purpose, it can be obtained after the employee is hired.”
  • Don’t establish company-wide policies or practices if they will adversely affect applicants or employees who are age 40 or older. [Note that liability might not apply if a policy or practice’s impact is due to a reasonable factor other than age (RFOA)].
  • Make sure your business’s managers and employees understand that age-related harassment is illegal when frequent or severe enough to cause a hostile work environment.

Realize we’ve merely glazed over the tip of the iceberg with the considerations above, so I encourage you to consult with a human resource professional and/or attorney for guidance and feedback on your hiring and employment efforts.

While avoiding a job discrimination lawsuit shouldn’t be a concern that keeps you up at night, it is something you need to be vigilant about through having sound standards, procedures, and staff training in place. I know you’ve worked hard to bring your business this far; don’t let sloppy employment practices stand in the way of your success.

How to Start an Accounting Firm

If you’re a CPA or an accountant, the transition from working for someone else to being your own boss has probably crossed your mind. Self-employment offers an opportunity to have more control over your own schedule, allowing you to better balance your professional endeavors and personal life. It also enables you to manage your firm the way you want to manage it.

Here’s seven steps to start your own accounting practice:

1. Select a business name

Think about whether you want to market your business using your own name (e.g., “Jane Smith, Accountant”) or create a business name (e.g., “Accounting You Can Count On”). As a solopreneur accountant, you might opt to use your own name because you and your brand are one in the same. On the other hand, choosing a business name might help you be perceived as well-established and experienced.

If you go with a business name, make sure it is available to use before you start printing it on business cards and other marketing materials. Check to see if the name is available in the state where you’re planning to operate your business by checking with your state’s secretary of state office. We have a free business name search tool here at CorpNet that can help, as well.

Also check to see if the domain name for your business is available (e.g., accountingyoucancounton.com). Sites like GoDaddy.com will let you instantly find out if there’s a suitable domain, and they will offer suggestions for alternate names if the one you want is already taken.

No one in your state is using the name you want? Excellent! Next, you’ll want to search the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to see if anyone has a pending request for or has successfully registered a trademark for the name. Don’t skip this step because you’ll land in legal hot water if you infringe on another company’s trademark.

2. Choose a legal structure and register your business.

The business structure you choose will affect your business from both legal and tax standpoints. Solo accountants and small firms often choose to register as an LLC (Limited Liability Company),  PLLC (Professional Limited Liability Company), or PC (Professional Corporation). As state constructs, these business entities are subject to different rules in different states. You can find the specific rules for accountants in your state via the CorpNet website or you can call the Secretary of State’s office in your state to get the details you need.

3. Obtain the licenses and permits you’ll need.

Regardless of which state you’re operating your business in, you’ll need some form of licensing to provide public accounting services. You will need to hold a CPA license and your firm may need a public accountancy license. To determine the requirements in your state, check with your State Board of Accountancy.

Besides CPA accreditation you may also need other state and local municipality permits, as well. They might include a general business operation license, a signage permit, and possibly a home occupation permit (if you’re operating your business from home. CorpNet can help you determine the license and permit requirements applicable to you, or you can check with your local government office.

4. Apply for a Tax ID Number

Also called a Federal EIN (Employer Identification Number), this allows the IRS to track your business’s transactions. LLCs and corporations are required to have an EIN and many banks will require that you have one before they’ll allow you to open a business bank account.

5. Open a bank account exclusively for your business.

It’s important to keep your personal and business finances separate—for both legal and tax purposes. In fact, that separation is mandatory for LLCs and corporations. After you’ve registered your business with the state and have your Tax ID number, you will have the information you need to open a business bank account.

6. Get insurance to protect your business.

Even though officially forming an LLC or incorporating your business will help to lower your personal liability related to business debt and lawsuits against associates, it will not protect your personal assets if action is brought against you due to your own actions. That’s why it’s a good idea to consider getting an insurance policy for peace of mind. Talk with a knowledgeable and trustworthy insurance agent who understands the needs of accountants and other businesses in the financial services industry. A reliable agent can guide you to the type of coverage that will best protect you, such as a Business Owner’s Policy (BOP), Professional Liability, Insurance, Data Breach Coverage, or others.

7. Know your business compliance responsibilities.

Registering your business is just the beginning. LLCs and corporations have ongoing requirements to keep their businesses in good standing. For example, most states require LLCs and PLLCs to file an annual report each year and show proof of a valid certification. Corporations have more corporate compliance responsibilities. Besides annual reports, they must conduct annual meetings, prepare meeting minutes, and meet other compliance requirements.

I know it can be tough to keep up with everything that’s required and when it’s due, so I recommend using the CorpNet B.I.Z. (Business Information Zone) compliance tool. It’s a free monitoring tool that can help you stay on top of your state filings and fees due throughout the year.

The steps to starting an accounting business aren’t overly complex. To make sure you launch your business on solid legal ground, you’ll want to make sure you do it right. Consider talking with a legal professional who can guide you and look to CorpNet to ensure your business forms and filings are done accurately and on time.

 

Avoiding A Job Discrimination Law Suit

Hiring the right people to be part of your team can greatly affect your business’s ability to succeed. It’s an important process—and a tricky one! When considering job candidates, you need to be careful or you could find yourself facing legal problems. If at any point during the hiring process you don’t comply with the federal and state (and even some local) laws that protect people from job discrimination, you risk having a lawsuit filed against your company.

When hiring employees, you must comply with all anti-discrimination laws. Even an unintentional misstep can cause major issues for your business.

Job Discrimination Complaints Happen: Don’t Become A Statistic!

The United States EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) received 91,905 complaints of discrimination in 2016. That doesn’t include any charges filed at the state or local levels.

If you want to avoid becoming a statistic, everyone involved in the hiring process at your company should pay careful attention to complying with anti-discrimination laws through every step of the hiring process. This includes hiring ads, job applications, interview questions, background checks, and review of job candidates’ social media accounts.

All of the above and any other aspects of hiring employees need to follow the laws the EEOC enforces, which prohibit various types of discrimination.

Keep in mind that what I’ll share here is to give you a sense of what you need to consider and learn more about. You should consult a human resources professional and/or attorney for more specific information and guidance.

  • Hiring Ads

Be careful in wording your job advertisements so they don’t imply any sort of bias. A few helpful rules of thumb include:

  • Use gender-neutral job titles. (Such as “sales representative” rather than “salesman” and “server” over “waitress”)
  • Avoid mentioning qualities that might imply you’re looking for or avoiding someone of a particular religious background. (For example, “traditional values” or “clean shaven”)
  • Keep age out of it. (Acceptable: seeking candidates with “fresh perspectives”; Not acceptable: seeking “young” candidates)
  • Don’t mention race, unless you’re participating in an affirmative action program. (And in that case, phrase it so that it conveys applicants can, if interested, complete a voluntary identification form.)
  • Be careful how you present the physical qualities needed in a job position so your hiring ads don’t discriminate against individuals with disabilities. Use specifics when stating physical requirements. (For example, “must be able to lift up to 30 pounds” rather than “must be strong” and “requires ability to travel between office locations” rather than “must walk to and from office locations”)

This is just a sampling, so I recommend you do your homework and get a professional to check your ad for compliance before you publish it in print or online.

  • Job Applications

Many states and some cities have set their own employment discrimination laws, which expand on the provisions of federal laws.

For example, “ban the box” legislation exists to help prevent criminal records from eliminating qualified applicants from being asked to a job interview.

To date, over half of the states in the U.S. have adopted ban the box laws, which outlaw questions like “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” and similar questions on job applications.

Also, keep your eyes and ears open about interest in legislation requiring removal of salary history questions from job applications. In January 2018, Massachusetts will be the first state to implement that law and other states and cities are considering similar legislation.

  • Job Interview Questions

As an employer, it’s important to recognize job interview questions that are illegal. You and anyone else on your team who will interview candidates needs to carefully formulate the questions you ask and take care not to overstep any legal bounds during interviews. At CorpNet, we have a standard set of best practices for interviewing job candidates, so our staff has clear direction when meeting prospective employees.

Steer clear of questions that guide job candidates into revealing information about their race, color, age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, marital status, disability, and genetic information.

Focus your interview questions on your candidates’ skills, behaviors, and work experience as related to the job position you’re interviewing them for.

  • Background Checks

When requesting financial or criminal background information, you must ensure you’re treating everyone equally. It’s illegal to only check the backgrounds of individuals you believe are of a certain age, race, color, national origin, sex, or religion or who have a disability or genetic disposition.

  • Review Of Job Candidates’ Social Media Accounts

As you well know, social media posts can shed much light on an individual’s personality, drive, and determination. As with background checks, you should have consistency in how you go about researching job candidates’ social media activity. Make sure you conduct your searches at the same points in the process for every prospective employee.

Keep in mind that the person you see online may not be a true blue picture of whom the individual is “in real life.” Rather than jump in and look at applicants’ social media accounts early in the process and unintentionally develop a mindset about the people you think they are, you might benefit from waiting until you’ve met them face to face. By doing so, you run less risk of being accused of selecting or disqualifying candidates based on characteristics like age, race, religion, marital status, etc.

With so many steps in the hiring process and points at which a slip-up could happen, it may seem intimidating to even consider bringing on employees. Take a deep breath! By educating yourself, seeking expert human resources and legal guidance, and putting procedures and standards in place at your company, you’ll be better prepared to hire with confidence.

By | April 14th, 2017|Business Operations, Hiring|0 Comments

Best Practices For Interviewing Job Candidates

Hiring the right people requires a sure-fire interviewing process. To effectively interview prospective employees, you need more than a little dedicated time and a list of questions; you need an understanding of how you can draw out the information you need about an individual’s knowledge and capabilities. You also need to tune into character nuances that might indicate how well a candidate will work with your team. And, of course, you need to do all of that without breaking any anti-discrimination laws.

Interviewing can be intimidating for not only prospective employees, but also for employers! By following some best practices for interviewing applicants, you can better ensure your interview process does the job well, allowing you to home in on that one individual who will be an exceptional fit for the position.

Get The Job Done Right: 6 Best Practices For Interviewing Job Candidates

  • Prepare.

Whether you alone will interview the job candidate or you decide to have multiple interviewers, everyone involved should prepare in advance.

Interviewers should know what experience, capabilities, and professional characteristics are critical to the job (it helps to rank them in order of most important to least important), so everyone is on the same page when assessing job candidates. Also, each interviewer needs to understand her role in the interview and have questions prepared that will draw out relevant information about the job candidate’s knowledge, skills, and experience. To do this, you all need to be intimately familiar with the job position’s requirements and the information a job candidate provided thus far (job application, resume, phone interview, etc.) that has awarded her an in-person interview.

  • Make It As Less Stressful As Possible.

To get things off to the best start, be on time. Making an on-time candidate wait around for you and other interviewers to finish up phone calls or run for coffee at the last minute will send the wrong impression and add to any nervousness she’s already feeling. Begin the interview on a friendly note with some casual small talk to make the job candidate feel comfortable and at ease. When excessively nervous, even an individual who is fully capable and competent will lose the ability to put her best foot forward in an interview. I would never want to count anyone out simply because of interview jitters. I’ve always found that breaking the ice with some light-hearted, easy-going conversation helps everyone relax and sets the stage for a productive exchange of information.

Also, set aside enough time for the interview so you aren’t rushing through it. If you’re constantly checking the clock, you won’t be concentrating as fully as you should be on the interview. Your applicant will sense that and may not answer questions in adequate detail because she doesn’t want to impose on your time.

  • Comply With The Law 

Federal and state anti-discrimination laws exist to protect applicants from biases of age, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, genetics, or disabilities. Everyone involved in the interviewing and hiring process should understand which job interview questions are acceptable to ask and the job interview questions that are illegal. Use questions that are focused on drawing out information about your interviewee’s skills, knowledge, and experience relevant to the job. That will help you avoid inquiring about personal situations and lifestyle preferences, which could raise suspicions of discrimination if a candidate isn’t hired.

  • Ask Questions That Allow The Job Candidate To Do The Talking.

The best way to learn more about a prospective employee’s capabilities, attitude, and professional style is to let her have the floor. Consider asking open-ended questions that solicit a more detailed answer than just “yes” or “no.” Also consider including questions that ask applicants to share about some past on-the-job experiences and hypothetical situations. These can help shed light on how well a candidate might deal with certain circumstances and challenges on the job.

Some examples of questions that might draw out meaningful responses include:

  • What interests you most about working for our company?
  • What did you like most about your most recent position with your former employer?
  • Describe a time when you had to share unwelcome but necessary news with a customer.
  • Tell us about when your presentation skills helped change someone’s preconceived ideas about something. How did you prepare for the challenge?
  • Suppose you were recently hired as a manager at a local restaurant. Every week, a certain customer comes in for lunch. And every week, that customer asks to talk to you to complain about the wait time, the server, or the food. How would you deal with this customer?

These types of open questions can help you gauge a job candidate’s communication abilities, problem solving skills, and professionalism. They will also help you get a sense for how an applicant may react under certain circumstances and how well she might adapt to your company’s culture.

  • Listen Well And Take Good Notes.

Minimize distractions so your attention doesn’t wander to other things while you’re conducting an interview. As your applicant is answering your questions, be fully present mentally when listening. And take notes. You may think your memory is good, but it’s probably not going to live up to your expectations! You’ll want to capture what you liked and didn’t like about how the job candidate responded to you. After interviewing multiple candidates, you’ll have your notes to refer back to as you assess each individual and decide whom you want to ask back to attend subsequent interviews.

  • Give The Job Candidate An Opportunity To Ask Questions

Remember, the interview process is also to help qualified candidates learn whether a position might be right for them. Be sure to provide ample opportunity for them to ask questions about the job responsibilities, your company’s policies, and the working environment at your company.

Interviewing, when done effectively, will reveal a lot about an applicant’s skills, experience, knowledge, and interpersonal skills. With proper planning and attention to the best practices I’ve shared here, your interviews can help ensure you hire the most suitable person for the job. For further guidance and to make sure you comply with all the legal requirements (thus avoiding a job discrimination lawsuit), consider enlisting the help of a human resources expert and/or attorney.  Doing it right from the start can save you time, headaches, and employee turnover and training costs.

Job Interview Questions That Are Illegal

As a small business owner, it’s important to understand which job interview questions are illegal. Laws at the federal and state level exist to protect people from being discriminated against during the hiring process. As an employer, you need to carefully formulate the questions you ask during a job interview. In our office, anyone interviewing a potential job candidate must follow a standard set of best practices for interviewing job candidates. Such practices are critical for avoiding a job discrimination lawsuit that could tear down the business success you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

So what types of questions should you steer clear from so your company doesn’t land legal hot water?

Generally, any questions that guide job candidates into revealing information about their race, color, age, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, or genetic information should not enter into your conversation. You also need to be careful about asking for criminal background information.

Several examples of questions you may want to avoid include:

  • Do you have a husband (or wife)? While you might want to ask this question to find out whether the candidate will have enough time to dedicate to the job, don’t ask this question. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, questions about marital status are frequently used to discriminate against women and illegally deny or limit employment opportunities. This type of question might also be construed as trying to get an individual to disclose gender or sexual orientation.
  • How many children do you have? By law, you cannot deny someone a job because they have children, are pregnant, or plan to have children sometime in the future. If the impetus to ask this or a similar question is to figure out how much time a candidate can devote to the job, then consider asking something like, “What hours would you be available to work?”
  • When did you graduate from college? Because this could enable you to figure out a job candidate’s age, you need to nix this question. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects prospective employees from being turned down because of their age.
  • What was the nature of your discharge from the military? The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects people from job discrimination based on their past, present, or future military obligations. You can ask a candidate about the skills and training they received during their military service but not why they were discharged.
  • Are there any religious holidays you honor? Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents employers from denying employment based on an individual’s religious affiliation. Don’t set your business up for trouble by asking this type of question, even if your intention is simply to get a sense for how much time off a job candidate might expect.
  • Have you been arrested at any time in the past? Federal law doesn’t prevent you from asking about a candidate’s criminal history, but using that information when making a hiring decision might violate Title VII. And some states have made it illegal to ask about arrest records or to wait until later in the hiring process to inquire about them. Generally, you can’t disqualify a candidate because of a conviction record, unless the offense directly relates to the nature of the job. For example, someone with a child molestation conviction could be denied an elementary school teaching position.
  • Do you drink socially? Although you might be asking in a friendly way to break the ice, this question could be trouble for you. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 protects qualified individuals who have had problems with alcohol abuse.
  • When did you last use any illegal drugs? This is a tricky one. Although asking job candidates if they presently use illegal drugs (current users are not protected by the ADA), you may not ask about past drug use.
  • What is your first language? Avoid this and similar questions that could be interpreted as a way to determine where someone is from or what their nationality is.

Realize this list of examples isn’t exhaustive and it isn’t meant as a substitute for legal guidance. But I do hope it will give you a better idea about the types of questions you should avoid when interviewing potential employees. Typically, you can play it safe by focusing your interview questions on asking about your candidates’ skills, behaviors, and work experience as they relate to their ability to perform the job position you’re filling. Also, do your homework so you understand the laws that pertain to you at the federal level and within your state. I also recommend that you consider seeking direction from a human resources professional and/or an attorney. They can assist you in developing or reviewing your interview questions so you don’t unknowingly break the law and put your business at risk.