Don't Ask, "How Many Kids Do You Have?"
I often run into business people that want to question potential employees about their family status during the interview process. In other words, they want to know if the candidate has any children. They also want to ask about current childcare arrangements. They believe that parents, especially those of young children, make less reliable employees.
In my career, I had to discipline as many childless employees for attendance issues as those with children. My experience aside, if you want to know whether a person will come to work, on time, every day when scheduled, the first step is to ask that question.
Begin by describing the job and the attendance requirements associated with the position. For instance, "The successful candidate for the customer service position will need to be ready to answer the phone at 8:00 a.m. That's when our customers start to call. If we ar
e short-staffed at the beginning of the day, our customers have long wait times. This is not how we treat our customers. We need employees who will be here every day, all day and who only take scheduled breaks. Probably more than any other position in the firm, this role requires a person who will have near-perfect attendance."
Once you have described the requirements, ask the question. "Is there any reason why you could not be here every day, ready to start work at 8:00 a.m., and be here all day, each and every time we are open?"
When asked a direct question, most applicants will give a truthful answer. Those who have situations that would keep them from meeting your attendance requirements will most likely use this opportunity to disclose. If the candidate says that the attendance requirements are not a problem, you should dig a little deeper and ask them to describe a time when they worked under similar circumstances. In addition to asking the applicants, call former employers to verify attendance histories. Don't skip this step.
Finally, if you are going to ask this question, ask it of every interviewee. Remember, both men and women have outside obligations that can sometimes interfere with attendance. Keeping the focus on the job requirements, not on gender roles, will get you the information you want and need to make good hiring decisions.