Here in biology at Wash U, we interview for open faculty positions every year, usually. Now is the time we are doing this. It is really fun to meet these candidates, hear about their science, hear about what it is like where they come from, and explore common friends. These interviews last a couple days, or more if flights get cancelled. There are a lot of chances to talk together.
But this is not just talking with a friend. This is an interview. We are deciding which of our delightful candidates will be our colleague for life, or at least for the foreseeable future. The same rules apply to this situation which mixes formal and informal as applies in a very short interview.
There are things we cannot ask. My university has a handy list that we can refer to and they are generally the same everywhere. At the top of the list is we cannot ask about what prefix a woman prefers because this can reveal marital status, a forbidden question. For professors, this isn’t a problem, since they are all “Dr.,” I imagine. The list goes on to residence. We can’t ask if they live with someone for the same reason of revealing family information.
We cannot ask their age, race, or gender. We cannot ask their religion, citizenship, or national origin.
We cannot ask about family status of any kind, marital, child, child care, plans for future children. Not allowed.
We cannot ask for military service records, or type of discharge. We cannot ask the nationality, racial, or religious affiliation of any school attended. We cannot even ask how they learned a foreign language they speak.
We cannot ask for arrest or juvenile records, though we can ask about convictions. We cannot ask for references from clergy or any person that might reveal family or race and such. We apparently cannot ask if they have ever held an office.
We cannot ask for a photograph, whether they will work on religious holidays, anything about their physical make up. No questions on disability, though we can ask if they can perform the job. Basically, we can’t ask anything about things other than the job at hand.
But we can charm them with good news of how great Wash U is. We can tell them about the art museum, the City Museum, and the zoo. We can exude collegiality and have a great time.