- Job interviews provide job seekers with an excellent opportunity to learn more about the organisation and role they’re going for.
- But asking certain questions during an interview might hurt your chances of landing the gig.
- Business Insider compiled some questions to cross off your list, and some good replacements you can ask instead.
Job interviews can get pretty stressful.
Not only do you have to answer the interviewer’s questions, but you have to come up with a bunch of questions yourself. Do yourself a favour and prepare some questions to ask beforehand. And think about what other queries you’re better off avoiding.
Here are some awkward or off-putting questions you should steering clear, along with some decent replacement questions you can ask instead.
Don’t ask: ‘What does your company do?’
Ask: ‘How would you describe the company’s culture?’
Talent Zoo EVP Amy Hoover said this question gives you a broad view on the corporate philosophy of a company and on whether it prioritizes employee happiness and development.
Or ask: ‘Who do you consider your major competitors? How are you better?’
This question is not for the faint of heart, but it shows that you are already thinking about how you can help the company rise to meet some of its bigger goals, said Peter Harrison, CEO of Snagajob.
Don’t ask: ‘What will my salary be?’
Hold off on the money talk.
“Candidates have to walk a thin line between gathering information they need about a company and assuming they are going to get the position,” Jesse Siegal, a senior managing director at The Execu|Search Group staffing firm, told Business Insider.
If compensation comes up naturally, that’s fine. But you don’t want to bring up the subject yourself during initial screeners.
Ask: ‘Can you tell me what steps need to be completed before your company can generate an offer?’
“Any opportunity to learn the timeline for a hire is crucial information for you,” Hoover said.
Asking about an “offer” rather than a “decision” will give you a better sense of the timeline because “decision” is a broad term, while an “offer” refers to the point when they’re ready to hand over the contract.
Plus, if you’re desperate to learn more about compensation, this question might prompt a discussion about how your pay will be determined.
Don’t ask: ‘What are the hours?’
Asking this question betrays a punch-the-clock mentality. It’s better to go over details like this once you have the job in hand.
Ask: ‘How would you describe the company’s values around work-life balance?’
It’s not unreasonable to want to know how many hours you’ll be clocking in every week. This is just a gentler way of getting to that topic.
Definitely don’t ask: ‘Will I have to work long hours?’
This one is even more of a red flag to interviewers than simply asking about your hours. It will almost certainly be perceived negatively.
Ask: ‘If you were to hire me, what might I expect in a typical day?’
Obviously this shows your eagerness about the position, Harrison said, but it also gives you a better idea about what the job will be like on a daily basis so you can decide whether you really want to pursue it. “A frank conversation about position expectations and responsibilities will ensure not only that this is a job you want, but also one that you have the skills to be successful in,” he said.
Don’t ask: ‘Will I have my own office?’
Does it really matter?
Instead, ask: ‘How has this position evolved?’
Basically, this question just lets you know whether this job is a dead end or a stepping-stone.
Don’t ask: ‘Can I make personal calls during the day?’
This one says that you’re not 100% focused on your work.
And definitely don’t ask: ‘Do you monitor emails or internet usage?’
This question will raise red flags — something you definitely don’t want to do in the interview.
Ask: ‘Do you have any hesitations about my qualifications?’
While this question puts you in a vulnerable position, it shows that you are confident enough to openly bring up and discuss your weaknesses with your potential employer.
Don’t ask: ‘How soon can I take a vacation?’
Planning your time off before you’ve even gotten the job sends the message that you’re not committed to the work.
Also skip: ‘Will I have an expense account?’
There’s really no reason to ask this in the interview. Plus, it sends the wrong message.
Ask: ‘If hired, what are the three most important things you’d like me to accomplish in the first six to 12 months at the company?’
The interviewer wants to hear what you can do for their company. “Think of every open position as a problem or pain point the company is hoping to solve with the right hire,” Amanda Augustine, a career advice expert for TopResume, told Business Insider . “The more you know about the hiring manager’s expectations and metrics for success, the easier it will be for you to tailor the conversation to demonstrate your fit for the role.”
Don’t ask: ‘When will I be eligible for a raise?’
This may tell the interviewer that money is the only thing you care about.
Ask: ‘What type of employee tends to succeed here? What qualities are the most important for doing well and advancing at the firm?’
This question shows the interviewer that you care about your future at the company, and it will also help you decide if you’re a good fit for the position, Vicky Oliver wrote in her book, 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions.” “Once the interviewer tells you what she’s looking for in a candidate, picture that person in your mind’s eye,” she said. “She or he should look a lot like you.”
Don’t ask: ‘Can I arrive early or leave late as long as I get my work done?’
Don’t try to make adjustments to the schedule before you’ve even been offered the job.
Ask: ‘How do you evaluate success here?’
Knowing how a company measures its employees’ success is important. It will help you understand what it would take to advance in your career there. Plus, the interviewer’s answer can help you decide if the employer’s values align with your own.
Don’t ask: ‘How quickly could I be considered for a promotion?’
Trying to climb the ladder? Well, you haven’t even been hired yet. You’re not even in the same room as the ladder yet! Focus on the task at hand, which is landing the job. If you want to learn more about whether the company promotes from within, scour LinkedIn.
Ask: ‘What have past employees done to succeed in this position?’
The main point of this question is to get your interviewer to reveal how the company measures success.
Don’t ask: ‘Who should I avoid in the office?’
This query won’t make you sound particularly well-adjusted. Don’t embroil yourself in coworker drama before you’ve even stepped foot in the office.
And don’t ask: ‘What happens if I don’t get along with my boss or coworkers?’
Avoid this ominous question. The interviewer may wonder if you’ve had problems with colleagues in the past — and they may even assume that you’re difficult to work with.
Ask: ‘Who would I be reporting to?’
It’s important to ask about the pecking order of a company in case you have several bosses, Oliver wrote. If you’re going to be working for several people, you need to know “the lay of the internal land,” she wrote, or if you’re going to be over several people, then you probably want to get to know them before accepting the position.
Or ask: ‘Can you give me an example of how I would collaborate with my manager?’
Knowing how managers use their employees is important so you can decide whether they are the type of boss that will let you use your strengths to help the company succeed.
And ask: ‘When your staff comes to you with conflicts, how do you respond?’
Knowing how a company deals with conflicts gives you a clearer picture about the company’s culture, Harrison said. But more importantly, asking about conflict resolution shows that you know dealing with disagreements in a professional manner is essential to the company’s growth and success.
Don’t ask: ‘Are you married?/Do you have kids?/etc.’
Never ask the interviewer any personal questions.
Ask: ‘What was your career plan before you got into this role, and how has that changed since you’ve been here?’
Most people love to talk about themselves. Toward the end of your conversation, try engaging your interviewer with a discussion about their own professional path. It certainly worked for Cameron Haberman, who, along with his twin Tyler, landed a gig at Apple.
Or ask: ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’
Becca Brown, the cofounder of the women’s shoe-care company Solemates, interviewed 20 to 30 job candidates a year in her various roles at Goldman Sachs. She told Business Insider she wished candidates would have asked her this question.
“I like this question, and yet no one ever asked it because it’s difficult to answer,” she said. “It’s an important question for anyone to be asking him or herself, and so if ever a candidate were to ask this question, it would have stood out.”
She continued: “I think this is a good question for interviewees to ask because as a candidate if you see where the person interviewing you is headed, you can decide if that trajectory is in line with your career objectives. While they don’t have to be completely correlated, it’s helpful for the candidate to have some indication of the interviewer’s direction.”
Also ask: ‘What’s one of the most interesting projects or opportunities that you’ve worked on?’
“I like this question because it gets me thinking about my own experiences, and my response changes depending on what I was or am working on — and in theory, should always be changing if I’m challenging myself and advancing,” Brown told Business Insider .
Brown said that by asking for a specific example, candidates can get a better picture of what the job entails and how people function in certain roles.
“I always liked getting this question because it would make me reflect on what experiences I was excited about or proud of at the time, and it would make me want to create more of these types of opportunities and experiences,” she said.
Don’t ask: ‘Do you check social media accounts?’
Job seekers should always assume that their prospective employers will find and view their social-media accounts.
And don’t ask: ‘Do you do background checks?’
This one may also make the interviewer suspicious.
Ask: ‘Is there anything else I can provide to help you make your decision?’
This simple question is polite to ask and it can give you peace of mind to know that you’ve covered all your bases, Hoover said. “It shows enthusiasm and eagerness but with polish.”
And ask: ‘Beyond the hard skills required to successfully perform this job, what soft skills would serve the company and position best?’
Knowing what skills the company thinks are important will give you more insight into its culture and its management values, Hoover said, so you can evaluate whether you would fit in.
Don’t ask: ‘I heard this wild rumor about the CEO. Is it true?’
You should never bring gossip into a job interview. It’s highly unprofessional.
Instead, ask: ‘How would you score the company on living up to its core values? What’s the one thing you’re working to improve on?’
Harrison said this is a respectful way to ask about shortcomings within the company — which you should definitely be aware of before joining a company. As a bonus, he said it shows that you are being proactive in wanting to understand more about the internal workings of the company before joining it.
Or ask: ‘I read this story about your company. Can you tell me more about this?’
Oliver said questions like this simply show you’ve done your homework and are genuinely interested in the company and its leaders. Just make sure it’s not a salacious rumor.
Don’t ask: ‘What are grounds for termination?’
It’s not a good idea to get the interviewer thinking about firing you before they’ve even hired you.
Ask: ‘What’s your staff turnover rate and what are you doing to reduce it?’
While this question may seem forward, Harrison said it’s a smart question to ask because it shows that you understand the importance of landing a secure position. “It is a black and white way to get to the heart of what kind of company this is and if people like to work here,” he said.
Or ask: ‘Can you tell me where the company is going?’
“If you’re talking to the leader of a company, that’s a great question to ask them, because they’re the best position to tell you that,” Robert Hohman, the CEO of Glassdoor, previously told Business Insider. “They should be able to articulate that really clearly. And it should be inspiring.”
And ask: ‘What makes people stay at this company?’
April Boykin-Huchko, HR manager at marketing firm Affect, told Business Insider that it’s always a good idea to get a broader sense of the company’s culture.
Don’t ask: ‘How did I do?’ or ‘Did I get the job?’
This one puts the interviewer on the spot. If you really want feedback, wait until you get the offer or rejection, and then ask in an email what you did well or could have done better.
Ask: ‘Who do you think would be the ideal candidate for this position, and how do I compare?’
Hoover recommended this question because it’s a quick way to figure out whether your skills align with what the company is currently looking for. If they don’t match up, then you know to walk away instead of wasting time pursuing the wrong position for yourself, she said.
Ask: ‘Is there anyone else I need to meet with?/Is there anyone else you would like me to meet with?’
Hoover said knowing if they want you to meet with potential coworkers or not will give you insight into how much the company values building team synergy. In addition, if the interviewer says you have four more interviews to go, then you’ve gained a better sense of the hiring timeline as well, she said.
Ask: ‘Will I have an opportunity to meet those who would be part of my staff/my manager during the interview process?’
Getting the chance to meet with potential teammates or managers is essential to any professional interview process, Hoover said. If they don’t give that chance, “proceed with caution,” she advised.
And, finally, ask: ‘Have I answered all your questions?’
Before you begin asking your questions, find out if there’s anything they’d like you to elaborate on. You can do this by saying something like: “Yes, I do have a few questions for you — but before I get into those, I am wondering if I’ve sufficiently answered all of your questions. Would you like me to explain anything further or give any examples?”
Not only will they appreciate the offer, but it may be a good chance for you to gauge how well you’re doing, said Bill York, an executive recruiter with over 30 years of experience and the founder of the executive search firm Tudor Lewis.
If they say, “No, you answered all of my questions very well,” then this may tell you you’re in good shape. If they respond with, “Actually, could you tell me more about X?” or “Would you be able to clarify what you meant when you said Y?” this is your chance for a redo.
Don’t ask: ‘How long are you going to take to get back to me?’
It’s understandable to be eager to learn whether or not you landed the job. But there’s a nicer way of asking this question.
Ask: ‘What’s your timeline for making a decision, and when can I expect to hear back from you?’
This one tells them you’re interested in the role and eager to hear their decision. “Knowing a company’s timeline should be your ultimate goal during an interview process after determining your fit for the position and whether you like the company’s culture,” Hoover said. It will help you determine how and when to follow up, and how long to wait before “moving on.”