7 Cringe-Worthy Interview Questions to Avoid Asking

Chances are you've prepared answers to a variety of questions an interviewer might throw your way, but have you spent equal time considering the questions you want to pose to a potential employer? What you ask (and sometimes when) can speak volumes about your interest and work ethic. Keep interviewers from cringing -- and possibly questioning your suitability for the position -- by avoiding these seven questions:

1. What does your company do?

Sure, an interview is a two-way street designed for both parties to learn about one another. Yet how can a job seeker prove he is the person for the position if he doesn't even know the basics about where he wants to work?

"I feel that if someone is coming to an interview, he should have some background about who we are and what we do," says Tina Kummelman, human resources business partner for Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore, Md. "Specific questions are great, but the overall blanketed question tells me someone did not do his homework."

Bottom line: Don't waste the interviewer's time by having her recite what could have been learned beforehand on the company's website.

2. How much does the role pay?

It may be the answer you're dying to know, but seeking this information too soon can make you look like you're jumping the gun.

"Just don't ask it. It sends the wrong message," says Chris Brabec, director of leadership talent acquisition for Western Union. Adds colleague Julie Rulis, senior recruiter with the talent acquisition team, "I believe this question should be saved for later stages in the interview process. Asking about salary or benefits in the first interview isn't the impression you want to leave with an employer."

A better idea: Do some research ahead of time to get a feel for what similar jobs are paying.

3. What are the hours of this position?

"This one question makes me cringe more than any other," says Paul Solomon, president of Solo Management, a New York-based executive recruitment firm that specializes in financial industry recruitment. "Wall Street managers don't want a clock watcher, so when I hear that question I know the candidate will not be the right fit."

Rulis agrees. "Although I understand why candidates are eager to know this upfront, it
can raise a question regarding their work ethic if asked too early in the process."

4. How many sick days do I get?

What goes through the interviewer's mind when hearing this question?

"We are in the business of developing leaders, not slouchers," says Gary Rich, president of Rich Leadership, an executive coaching firm in New York City.

Keep a potential employer from questioning your motivation (or your health) by looking this up in the employee handbook later.

5. How much time do I get off?

Like numbers three and four, this question can make a potential employer wonder if a candidate is more interested in getting out of work than contributing. It is especially frowned upon in fields requiring significant motivation from the get-go.

"A career as a financial representative is what you make of it. Your hard work helps determine your rewards. You have the ability to be your own boss, build your own practice and arrange your own schedule, while making a positive impact on your clients' lives," says Randi Michaelson, a director of recruitment and selection for the McTigue Financial Group in Chicago who recruits career changers to work as Northwestern Mutual financial representatives. "In the beginning, it takes time, energy and commitment, but successful financial representatives -- like successful entrepreneurs -- are able to enjoy work-life balance among other rewards."

6. If I'm hired, when can I begin applying for other roles within the company?

"This question makes it seem like the candidate isn't really interested in the job she is currently interviewing for -- that she really just wants a foot in the door," Rulis says.

While ultimately you might have higher aspirations than the position for which you are applying, remember that an employer is looking for the best person to fill an opening for what the company needs now, not in the future.

7. Do you do background checks?

If you don't have something to hide, you probably aren't going to bother asking this one. If you do ...

Rich sums up the feelings most interviewers have after hearing this question, "I definitely don't want this person on my payroll!"

Next: 10 Types of Interviewers >>

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I never had an interview that required asking about salary or benefits because it was always mentioned by the potential employer. Discussion of salary and benefits is rarely omitted because the potential employer has a salary amount to offer. If the applicant's previous salary and any salary expectations are higher than the employer can offer, the interview can end quickly without wasting the potential employee's time. It can also become an opportunity to expand the potential employer list by asking whether the interviewer knows of other companies which may offer similar positions.

September 28 2010 at 10:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had an interview in may of 2010, and the dude asked me why I think he should higher me? I said first of all the company I worked for folded up, and I never missed a day in 6 years, and I have got 6 out standing awards for my attendance. I'm a sales Manager for Goody's ours closed this year. This dude must have been really dumb or just stupid! Because I was applying for the same position at another Goody's in another town. He said that he will call me in 3 days. When he called me 8 business days later I Told him I got hired at Wal-Mart In the HR department thanks anyway. Some employers never never higher the best isn't that what they're looking for? Well this dude paste on up. ROFL!!!

September 26 2010 at 11:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Zaprasza's comment

I so agree with most of the comments! Discussing a salary range is very appropriate, and it is silly to waste the time of everyone by returning to multiple interviews only to find out the top end of the scale is far below what you can accept. I understand that in high corporate jobs there may be a lot of room to negogiate, but I work in the Social Services field and many times, non-profits do not have a lot of variation on the salary. It is what it is, no matter how much education or experience one may have. The same with hours - if they need you to work weekends or evening hours, that needs to be made clear up front!

September 24 2010 at 5:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Addison DeWitt

poor - NO - you ask them AT the interview. This column is WRONG! I worked for an executive recruiting firm on Wall Street. We always got that information upfront.

September 21 2010 at 4:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If outsourcing is the problem, maybe this is the time to leave the U.S. to get the jobs.

September 19 2010 at 6:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


September 19 2010 at 6:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to J SMITH's comment

What happens if he asks you to pull his finger instead?

September 19 2010 at 6:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nancy S.

I say... bring a fart machine and see how long they keep the interview going! haha

October 01 2010 at 12:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jack Mayhoffer

I have to laugh at all the comments about asking how much the job pays. It doesn't say to not talk about salary, it says don't jump the gun and ask too soon which is excellent advice. I've had people ask that question first thing before the interview even gets started. You have to take the time to sell yourself during the interview, THEN discuss salary. Any time someone makes their pay the most important issue (even if it is) by asking about salary first I never hire. There are too many other applicants who do a better job selling themselves by first telling me how they will benefit the company, and after that is established then salary and benefits can be discussed. Why should I hire you if you start the interview with what YOU want rather than how the company will benefit by hiring you? Like it or not that's just the way it is if you want the job.

September 19 2010 at 3:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jack Mayhoffer's comment

Mr. Smith and Matt,

I think most of the people who are balking about not inquiring about salary until later in the interview process have encountered what I call a "Delusional Employer". Delusional Employers often ask for high levels of education, multiple years of experience, embellish the job description, and give the job a title that indicates the position is at least management level...and, of course, never indicate a salary range for the position.

The frustration occurs when applicants such as myself go through a lengthy interview process and are offered the job (because we followed these silly rules and were patiently waiting to be given the salary range) and the salary is ridiculously low. Not being forthright about the salary wastes the employers time as well as the applicants.

These Delusional Employers can benefit from accurately portraying the position (e.g. Do not call the position Director of Environmental Services if the more accurate title would be Janitor), offering a salary range, and coming to terms with how much they are willing to pay vs. what that pay will buy them in terms of experience and education (e.g. Only paying $25k but the position "requires" a Master's Degree + 10 years experience).

I went through four interviews with a company and was presented with an offer of $35k...I currently make six figures. I had to avoid laughing out loud! Luckily, I was able to retain my composure, thank them for their time, but decline the position. Of course, they were surprised that I declined the position and asked why I was turning it down. I said (as diplomatically as I could), "The position you posted does not match the salary you are offering. I currently make over three times that rate." I stood, shook their hands, and walked out to their jaws hanging on the ground.

All of this could have been circumvented if they were forthright and realistic!

September 29 2010 at 3:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
William Rogers

First of all, Judylee, it seems appropriate for some fair minded person to get a high powered BB gun and shoot you in the ass everytime you attempted to go to the bathroom. 2nd, Sara the 'hiring' person; I bet you are constantly worrying that you, one of these says, are going to have to interview someone with a brain! OK, let's go slow - when one uses the cliche "try to think 'outside the box'' - they are immediately showing you that they cannot do what they just advised you to do. Now, if you have a brain, even a small one, you are strongly advised to not go to work for this person because they are pretty stupid. Except for the first thousand or so times that 'the box' thing was used, maybe 70-80 years ago, it is the best verbal example in all the world giving strong indication that the interviewer does not have a firm grasp on the whole 'communications thing'. It is a cliche; one cannot use a cliche to advise folks not to use a cliche. And then doubling down on the dumbness, they probably use that phrase a lot because they are under the impression it makes them come across as kinda cool and, you know,cutting edge. Of course, however, it has exactly the opposite effect Sara. You are probably a decent person so I will not be cruel and tell you what it makes you come off. . . as.

September 18 2010 at 5:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

More and more companies are withholding information like salary, hours,fringe benefits, etc. until they get a feel for how "needy" the prospective employee is. Let's face it, if you keep going back for interviews without knowing or discussing these issues, you are sending the message that you are willing to take whatever they want to give you. Sometimes (not every time) it is good to have a specific minimum range that you will accept. This should be balanced with location, benefits, etc.
Example: I did some credit/collections consulting for a company in Connecticut that really "got it". The CFO knew how bad traffic was during normal commuting hours and suggested that I come in early and leave early so my commute would be better. This shaved half an hour each way off my commute and left my late afternoons free. In turn, I reduced my fee a bit. Everybody got what they wanted. Win-Win!!

September 18 2010 at 2:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As an employment manager, I always told those I interviewed what the hours would be, how much we paid, and what the benefits were. If I didn't tell them, I would expect them to ask. What's the point of wasting our time if it's not a good fit?

September 18 2010 at 12:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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