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What Not To Ask at a Job Interview

Eric Ciechanowski
By Eric Ciechanowski
Last Updated: September 03, 2020
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When you’re interviewing for a new job, asking certain questions can result in a job offer never materializing. Believe it or not, a skilled interviewer can glean plenty of information about you just from your queries. The type of questions that you ask can indicate your professional demeanor, how well you know the organization you’re interviewing with, your work ethic and your overall enthusiasm toward the position for which you are interviewing. Discover the questions not to ask in an interview, and also gain some pointers on what’s appropriate to ask.

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Questions Candidates Should Avoid

When asking questions during a job interview, there are certain categories that are landmines, which can effectively destroy any chance you have of a job offer. If candidates ask these types of questions, they are likely ensuring that their interview will fail.

One of these categories contains questions regarding obvious information that you should already know about a company such as, “When was this company founded?” or “What is the company’s mission?” Jana Tulloch, an HR Professional at Develop Intelligence offered some related advice for job interviewees: “Candidates should also absolutely avoid asking anything that would indicate that they have not done their homework on the organization or the job itself. It is easy to find out almost anything on the internet. Check Glassdoor or other sites for employee reviews; go to the company’s website and take a look at the strategic plan, accomplishments and how it’s governed. All of those things that will give you insight into their business and may even provide some good ideas on questions to ask that show you have done your homework.

Other types of questions candidates should avoid are those that require only “yes” or “no” answers.

Zachary Weiner, CEO of Emerging Insider Communications stated, “An interviewee asking simple, close-ended, yes/no questions tends to be a red flag in our eyes. The rationale is that we want to see engagement and an ability to engage others. The time period for an interviewee to ask questions is limited and an equal opportunity to see both their interest and interpersonal skills. Close-ended question asking tends to be reflective of a candidate who, rather than striving for engagement, is just taking a quick way out.”

Additional categories of questions that job seekers should stay away from include those that aren’t important to the essential duties of the job such as time off, pay rate and job perks. At this stage of the interview, it’s just not appropriate to ask these types of questions because it can give the interviewer a negative impression of you. We spoke with Zachary Painter, a career adviser and hiring manager at ResumeGenius and he agreed. “As a hiring manager, I’ve definitely come across some really bad questions from candidates. Here are a few that stuck out to me in past interviews with unsuccessful job candidates:

  • When do I start? This one is the worst. You should never presume too much in an interview, and this question does just that.
  • Is there any down time? You should be asking about the nature of the job, not if you get down time. This red flag of a question tells me that a candidate most likely has a lousy work ethic and that they already expect something in return before they’ve contributed to the company.
  • How long is lunch? This question is totally irrelevant and inappropriate for an interview. It also shows where the candidate’s priorities lie: they are more concerned about perks than the job itself. “

Finally, always avoid asking any questions that are related to any type of controversial issues such as politics and religion, such as, “I’m curious, are you a Democrat or Republican?” or “Since we work on weekends, how do you find time to attend church?” And, never, ever ask anything that is too personal or would make the interviewer feel the least bit uncomfortable such as, “What kinds of things do you like to do in your free time?” or “Do you have any kids?”

Be Prepared to Ask the Right Questions

While there are plenty of questions that fit into the category of what not to ask in an interview, that doesn’t mean that you should opt out of asking anything. According to Claire McTaggart, Founder and CEO of SquarePeg, “If you have an opportunity to interview, ask insightful questions that show your curiosity or interest in the business.

Typically, you’ll want to ask at least two to three questions that will impress your interviewer, so prepare at least four to six. There’s a chance that two or three of your prepared questions will be answered during the interview, so you’ll need some backup questions available.

Questions Candidates Should Ask

When preparing questions to ask at the end of the interview, you’ll want to focus on those that show that you are interested in learning how you can make a positive impact if you are hired. Ideally, you’ll also want to ask questions that will allow you to figure out if the company is a great fit for you.

A good example of a question is, “What soft skills are important to have in this position?” Since soft skills are related to personal attributes — social skills, people skills and communication skills — this will show that you are aware that academic and technical qualifications are not enough to succeed. At the same time, the answer to this question will give you insight into the company’s culture and what management values in their employees.

Another example is, “What would a typical day look like for an employee in this position?” This question shows your enthusiasm for the position and allows you a chance to learn more about the role.

Tulloch suggests the following question to show that you researched the company, “I noticed on your company blog you’re looking at expanding into X. Is this something this role might be involved in?”

Other appropriate questions include, “What opportunities are there for professional growth?” and “What methods are employed to evaluate success?” Both of these questions demonstrate that you are interested in excelling if hired.

Remember, it’s not whether you ask questions at the end of a job interview, it’s if you ask the right type of questions. Take the time to prepare some well thought-out, appropriate questions before you interview. Very few people can come up with impressive questions on-the-spot, so set yourself up to succeed. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your interviewer.

Whether you’re new to the workforce or an experienced professional, JobHero is here to help you make the most of your career. Come to us for thousands of resume samples, job-specific cover letter samples and many more helpful career resources.