What Not to Ask on a Job Interview

job interview Recently I wrote an article for job seekers about the types of questions to ask during an interview and I realized that I had hardly touched on the issue of "what not to ask".

Here is a list of questions that I recommend you do not ask in the first interview. Consider the more appropriate questions (and comments) I've provided.

What is the salary for this position?

As mentioned above, this question is premature. Hopefully you already have a general idea, based on the job title your applying for and online research for what others in similar roles are being paid. Based on these figures you should know that you're not wasting your time interviewing for a job that will not match your budget requirements.

When do you expect to make a decision?

Instead you might ask more general question about how their typical selection process works. For instance, you could ask, "Are there typically several rounds of interviews before selection is made?" This will give you a rough idea of how long the selection process may take.

What does this company do?

You should know the answer to the question before interview begins. A more appropriate question would probe deeper into the company's unique strengths and positioning (for example, "I know you excel in providing XYZ to your customers-has the company thought about also providing ABC?").

Did I get the job? When do I start?

If they think you are the lead candidate, they'll likely tell you about the next steps in the process. If they mention this, simply let them know you are very interested in the opportunity, and look forward to next steps in the process.

What does the benefits package include? When can I take my first vacation days?

When you are offered the job, you'll find out. If there is something specific that is a deal-breaker for you, it is a good idea to ask HR about that specifically (not the hiring manager). For example, some people will ask about health insurance before asking the interview if it is a critical part of their decision.

Do I really need to have Requirement XYZ as listed in the Job Posting?

There's a chance you don't need it, but the company likely put it in the job posting for a reason. If they ask you about it first, you know they really care about it. If they don't, it may not be too important and you should leave the topic out of the discussion.

How many hours will I be expected to work? Do I have to work weekends/overtime?

You don't want to give the impression that you are planning to put in as few hours of work as possible. Instead you might ask what a typical work week is like.

How long would I expect to wait to get promoted or transferred?

This question implies you are not happy with the position you are interviewing for. Instead you might ask what the typical growth opportunities are for people in this role.

When do employees get salary increases?

Similar to the previous question, this question implies some kind of mismatch between your needs and the job being discussed. Regardless of the answer, the next raise could end up being sooner or later due to company performance. You need to be satisfied with the current salary to interview for the job.

What is it about my resume that got me this interview?

Although it is good to know what they consider your strengths, you sound like you're not confident about your qualifications or trying to manipulate the interview. A better question to ask is "What characteristics and strengths do you feel the ideal candidate has?"

Other general rules of thumb:

  • Don't ask questions that start with "Why." Many of these questions sound as if you're questioning their expertise or decision-making. Asking "How" prompts a discussion you may learn more from.
  • Don't ask multi-faceted questions. Keep your questions limited to one point per question. Simple is better.
  • Don't ask questions that have a simple answer like yes or no or a number. Those questions may indicate you didn't do your homework on the company or don't really have a strong desire to work there.
  • Don't ask questions that will make the interviewer uncomfortable. Your goal is not to make yourself appear smarter than them. You want to have a good conversation where valuable information is exchanged.
  • Don't ask about beliefs or values in the interview. If offered the job, and you feel strongly about something, you can take this up with Human Resources to make sure you will be comfortable in the job.
  • Be careful about asking personal questions. Only ask questions that would be considered public knowledge, like what high school or college they may have attended (not necessarily dates attended). These questions are only useful in an interview if it allows you to make a better connection with the interviewer.

Next: What Type of Questions Should You Ask in an Interview?

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I have a 4.5 hour interview, plus a 1 hour assessment test, yet I can't ask what their pay for the position is? I have a good job. I'm a programmer, with experience, and great results. You have got to be out of your mind to tell me I need to waste almost 6 hours of my time because its not socially acceptable to ask the pay for the position.

Terrible article. I always ask about hours, pay, working conditions, and if speaking with the person who will be my boss, I will challenge them to see how they react. I also ask to speak to a current employee privately, or I find one on LinkedIn and message them.

October 08 2012 at 11:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yawn...more of the same old same old we've bee hearing for years, made to sound like it's a new revelation. The THREE things that I figured out long ago about job interviews and landing a job are: First, be yourself (dont't try to hustle the interviewers, they will see through it). Second, if a Company is evasive about or will not tell you an approximate salary or pay rate for a job, or is offended by your asking, they are very likely hoping to hire someone for MUCH LESS than the job is worth (i.e.- what their competition pays for the same job) and will deal with raises and promos in the same "cheapskate" manner. Third, have someone on the inside or someone with direct influence on the hiring decision-maker give you a strong recommendation. I've landed more jobs this way than any other.
The other thing I have learned is that HR departments largely get in the way of and decrease the likleyhood that you will ever get to talk to the hiring decision-maker in person. They are the self-appointed gate-keepers of the "hiring process" and serve only to complicate and damage it.

December 24 2010 at 6:17 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tinacn's comment

Amen, Tinacn! I interviewed w/ HR dragons five times at a major company, all the while, they KNEW they were going to fill the position/s with internal canditates. They just used me as someone to check off their little list and say "we interviewed this many external candidates", so we're compliant. What a complete waste of my time.

December 24 2010 at 6:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have been down the road many times looking for a job in areas of the country that were hardest depressed, But my getting a job was not asking questions, just said i am out of work, need a job and will be on time work hard and care less about time off,,,,
You can get all those answers after you are hired and if you dont like the answers ,,quit,,,,but then if thats important you realy dont need a job,,do you,,smile
The days that you were expected to stay with the company for life and your children have long past,,,All they want to know is what you can do for them now....

December 24 2010 at 5:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike G

In reference to not being considered for a job because you are not bilingual is a major slap in the face to every hardworking English speaking American Citizen. Anone that chooses to live or work in this country should be MANDATED to learn and speak the English language. it's an outrage that American Citizens can be held back due to the factor. In AMERICA we speak the ENGLISH language and anyone entering this counrty to live and work should do the same..ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!!!!!!!

December 24 2010 at 4:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike G

In reference to "not being" considered for a job because you are not bi lingual is totally ridiculous. It's a crying shame that a US citizen applying for a job in the United States of AMERICA can sometimes not be considered because they do not speak a foreign language. Anyone that chooses to live and work in this country, the great old USA, should be mandated to learn the English language...Does anyone else agree???

December 24 2010 at 4:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hamzat Muyideen

I have been working in a company for over a yr now, but i think i made mistake, i meet the ownner of the company 5years ago, he used to call me to do something for him and also gave me money after he send me an enra, that is the part of the money that i used to finished the part- time programme that i was running then,after he called me to come and working in his office as, office assistance which i aggred after third time, but he asked me how much can i paid you but i told him that is like my brother and has been help me for years,but my contribution over the amount am collecting and the all sort of work they sent me i have tried to discuss it with him he always says we talk later, now am thinking of leave the work or what can i do?

December 24 2010 at 4:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
i want a good boss

The whole job market is crazy. I agree with the list mostly. I know if you are in a bad situation with a tyrant boss, which seems to be occurring more and more in these tight days, it feels terrible. I also think this article is geared toward assuming the HR person you are interviewng with is a professional. That is not generally the case. I can say HR has been by far the weakest department in most companies I have worked in and as a hiring Director am often shocked in their apathy and lack of knowledge. We have a sitaution where I am now where the entire HR department was let go one day except one person who was a greenhorn generalist, because the VP disagreed with the bi-polar CEO. The analyst is now the VP after the fallout. The lack of knowledge and experience is appalling. They did get lucky and hire a very good generalist recruiter but I see her bailing if the economy turns. The entire process flowing is based on the knowledge and care taken by the HR rep and many don't even understand the requirements of jobs they are interviewing/recruiting for. You will know when you get one of these as they are very general and disengaged, almost robotic. The other issue is the resume. If you are seasoned with great experience and documented accomplishments people hiring are intimidated by the experience unless they are stellar and confident in themselves and this is less than 50% of the time. I interview generally with SVP's or Vp's and it is clear when they are intimidated so I back it off a bit. The tell tale sign is when recruiters call and are so enthused about your experience and their knowledge is far in excesss of the general HR staff, then you go in and some goofball with no clue hired as VP from another industry interviews you. I think HR teams need to evaluate the interviewers more and see why qualified candidates are not hired.They should also come up with a better process to weed out the yes men or asskissers as others have referred to it. It is about ROI and benefit from the employee's contribution, not if everyone loves you. This thought is why America is in the shitter. I have a VP now who has no idea what his direct reports are telling him most genrally. He then has 1:1 with CEO and misrepresents or advises him incorrectly and we find ourselves spending hours documenting things and justifying things in a bullshit waste of effort unfortunately. I hire people for thier knowledge and skills and try to pay for these skills appropriately so I have continuity and expertise surrounding me. Too bad half of the hiring agents don't do the same. There is a terrible shift in the workplace going on. It is almost become like a slave trade or at least bullying. I hope to find a place where my contibution of $8 million dollars to the bottom line in 13 months will be valued. I distance myself from the negative feelings I have and prepare mentally to project a positive image even though the situation I am in is terible. A company with high turnover in upper level, higher comp positions should recognize the culture may be a problem, but an analyst turned VP who could not even get past a manager interview elsewhere will never rock the boat. Dumb down your conversation if you see you are beyond the interviewers scope and range of knowledge although do you think you will be happy working for an idiot? If you can grin and bear you are better than I but if you have no job I see and understand the plight. God bless the American worker.

December 24 2010 at 2:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've worked at my job for 15 years. Three new hires were just added to my department. All three in their interview mentioned a planned vacation. When they were hired they were granted their vacations. One of those new hires one has been here for six months and was given two weeks off through Christmas and new years. I don't get it. If someone is getting a new job vacation plans should be cancelled and they should expect that being low man on the totem pole they'll work the holidays at least the first year. Oh no. Seniority means nothing here. I've been here the longest and I'm working Christmas and New Years. I wanted to work Thanksgiving but was given it off.

December 24 2010 at 2:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Melissa's comment

People pay good money for vacations. Most the time they can't get their money back. Would you really cancel a trip and lose money? More than likely not. Why not try seeing it from their point of view?

December 24 2010 at 3:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have been unemployed since November of this year.. I get out there with my resumes and send them out hoping to land a job or even an interview. There have been a few times I would get an interview and be told " we will call you " I had been on one interview where I was told I would be a good fit for this job and they would call me the following week. I never received the call, and then decided to stop by to give the person who interviewed me a " thank you gift " she explained to me that they decided to hire someone who had more experience. The place I had worked at before they laid me off called to tell me they just don't have the funds to hire me back . Next week I have an interview for a part time job, it has no benefits but it will allow me to keep looking for full time employment and hopefully I will find something soon. I do everything I can to get out there and network, send word of mouth and find every contact I get in touch with to see what's available. I even call employment agencies that have my resume on file to see if there is anything . I am hoping that I will land something soon. Everyone tells me its the economy or its a bad time right now, I still remain focused and keep a bright outlook during my search.

December 24 2010 at 1:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rebecca's comment

How old are you? I do wish you luck and this is an open forum;
so asking out of curiousity. Atleast you understand the economy
is bad. Some of these comments are outrageous..".just ask certain
questions and benefits????" Good luck with that. Not you personally,
just in general. Good luck rebecca, it sounds like you're doing
all you can. I've been taking any kind of job that will hire me and
since 2008, nothing has been permanent. Bad luck? or Middle-age?

December 24 2010 at 2:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jimmy the Man

Unless you're ready to give a job (H or B) you ain't gonna get a job.

December 24 2010 at 1:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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