20 Questions You Should Never Ask During a Job Interview

January 8, 2016

2:00 pm

You’re flushed, and your dress shirt sticks damply to the small of your back where it presses into a mildly uncomfortable wooden chair. Under the table, your right foot taps an indecipherable Morse code into the floorboards while you feel your excitement for the highly competitive job position increasing rapidly.

You are worried about whether or not you have prepared for this interview enough. Across from you, your interviewer – pretty, with a nose slightly pinched by her angular glasses – listens as you respond animatedly to some iteration of “what was a problem you faced at your previous employment, and how did you overcome it?”

Perhaps you are speaking a trifle too quickly, but you’re enthusiastic, peppering your responses with anecdotes and ideas that make your speech bubble like an exquisite champagne.

“Well said,” Alice comments on your last remark, reaffirming your hope of success, “that ends this portion of the interview. Do you have any questions for me?”

You fumble for an answer, implicitly understanding that you need to ask something. To stay silent would be to pass on an opportunity to show why you’re a good fit, or worse yet, to show that you’re not engaged by the company or interview itself, as if to say “I don’t have any questions because I don’t care.”

What should you ask? ‘What’s your favorite aspect of working at the company?’ No, they probably get that question all that time, that does nothing to differentiate you from the pack. And then the answer hits you, you’ll reverse that question, make it new and interesting.

“What’s your least favorite part about working here?” Yikes.

Suffice to say, you don’t get that job.

‘Do you have any questions for me?’ is a standard question in the interview process, and anyone looking for a job should have some prepared questions to counter with. Don’t make the mistake of asking bad questions like ‘what’s your least favorite part about working here?’ 

Instead, have pointed questions about the company or the position. A great way to have good follow-up questions is to have them based in the content of the interview itself. While it’s difficult to anticipate what questions will be asked, take a look at field-specific resources such as hiring guides and test interview questions. Whether you are a software engineer or a teacher, there are always common questions in the industry with which you need to be extremely familiar.

While doing your research, keep in mind that some questions are just plain bad. Here are some other questions not to ask in a job interview:

What is your company’s mission?

This question basically proves you did no research and don’t care about the company you’re interviewing for. Google this one before the interview instead.

What happened to the last person that had this job?

This isn’t really any of your business. Instead, ask about the position itself: is it new? how have the expectations for this position changed over time?

What is the latest gossip around the office?

This is a professional work space, not a high school hallway.

What’s your least favorite part about your employer?

Like my disastrous ‘what is your least favorite part about working at x company,’ don’t ask this question. Nobody likes negativity, and negative impressions can last longer than positive ones.

Do you do background checks?

If they do, you’ll find out, By asking, your interviewer will think you’re worried about it.

Did I get the job?

More often than not, the interviewer doesn’t know the answer to that, and even if they do, it’s an uncomfortable question. You’ll find out one way or another in due time.

What is the salary for this position?

This sends the message that you are more interested in the paycheck than your work, and even if that’s true, it’s not a message you want to send to employers.

Do I get my own office?

Pause and ask yourself if this really matters. If an office is a prerequisite to any job you’ll take, you may want to reconsider your priorities.

What’s your background?

The interview should be focused on you and your role within the company. Generally, the interviewer will tell you their role within the company, and if they don’t ask that is fine. But don’t waste time by asking for more information. It isn’t relevant to you and doesn’t help your case.

Can I work from home?

This question makes you seem anti-social and suggests you don’t work well with colleagues. If there are options for remote work, they will tell you about them without your prompting

Do you pay for overtime?

Rather than focusing on compensation, show your interviewer that you’re willing to put in hard work to get the job done.

What benefits / vacation days do you offer?

These questions are only appropriate to ask if you get the job. In the meantime, focus on getting it and proving yourself to your interviewer.

How casual is your company’s culture?

Asking about culture is okay, but be careful with phrasing. Words like “casual” and “relaxed” suggest that you don’t take your work seriously.

Is there public transportation nearby?

Again, this is a question you can find the answer for yourself, so don’t bother your interviewer with it.

How much help will I get in this position?

While the company may offer training programs or an advisor for guidance, don’t ask about it in the first round. It makes you appear incapable of being self-sufficient.

Does your company offer free coffee or snacks?

While on the surface, this can be a lighthearted question to bleed the tension out of the interview, this kind of question can backfire. It can make you appear miserly or that you’re trying to wring all the profit you can out of this opportunity at the neglect of belief and passion in your work’s cause.

Is there a probationary period?

Don’t plant the idea of a trial run in your interviewer’s head. Act like you will be fully committed from day one, and they will be more likely to consider you.

Would you like to see my references?

If they want them, they’ll ask. Otherwise, be confident. Believe that you can convince your interviewer that you are fit for the job. After all, you will be the one doing it.

Are the hours flexible if I get my work done and log in the required time?

Don’t ask for special treatment before you prove yourself within the job. You want to appear reliable, consistent, and flexible to your boss’s needs. Not the other way around.

How soon do you promote employees?

One job at a time, my friend. Don’t jump the gun and start asking about new opportunities before you have the first one under your belt.

Don’t trip up over these bad interview questions, and do your research about the company before entering its building for an interview. Preparation is key to success – but don’t make the mistake of over-preparing and bringing in a notecard full of questions either.

Be yourself, and treat the interview more like a conversation about professional topics. You’ll make it through alright and be hired before you know it.

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