Don’t Ask These Questions In a Job Interview

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You’ve heard the phrase, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Whether or not you believe that’s true, there are certainly questions that, when asked in the context of a job interview, can hurt your chances of landing the position.

Most job candidates prepare for interviews by crafting responses to potential questions. For every person who spends hours doing so, however, there’s always someone who doesn’t spend nearly enough time prepping to sit down with an interviewer. Without preparation, there’s a higher likelihood of asking a question that makes it clear you didn’t do the necessary research.

With that in mind, do your best to avoid asking the following types of questions:

  • “What exactly will I be doing in this position?”
    It’s not the greatest idea to ask a question that was covered in the job posting; it gives the impression that the candidate didn’t bother reading that posting in depth. Knowing the details of the position is a minimum expectation for an interview.
  • “Is this company public?”
    Such information is readily available on the company Website (or any financial-news site). Lack of due diligence can hint at a lack of resourcefulness, or a willingness to research; and given how many tech positions require research, that doesn’t bode well for actually landing the job. Most companies seek resourceful, independent self-starters who can effectively gather information without having to be told where to look.
  • “Can you tell me a little bit about the background check process?”
    Are you trying to hide something?
  • “How long before I can be promoted?”
    Candidates should avoid asking questions that make them look pushy or too eager to advance out of the position for which they’re interviewing. Yes, companies want go-getters, and nobody wants to hire someone who would be content with doing the same thing for their whole career. But asking whether you can get promoted right away shows a lack of commitment to the task at hand.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few best practices for asking intelligence questions, courtesy of career coach Kathy Caprino:

“Remember that interviewing is a two-way dialogue, conversation, and exploration, not a race to get placed. Candidates should approach it and prepare for it as thoughtfully and carefully (but with as much open curiosity) as they would if they were to sit down with someone that they might potentially consider engaging in a serious (perhaps long-term) partnership with, because that’s what employment is. “

In other words, ask questions that demonstrate:

  • Great functional expertise
  • A keen mind and work ethic
  • A focus on accomplishment
  • A willingness to bring passion, skill, and perspective to the position

An interview is far more than the candidate simply answering questions from the interviewer; the questions asked by the candidate can either make or break the hire.

Image Credit: Kzenon

Comments

17 Responses to “Don’t Ask These Questions In a Job Interview”

October 19, 2015 at 1:15 pm, Gary Wade said:

In 99% of the time, you should not ask what you’ll be doing, but while the basic skills required might be posted, there are some stealth postings where the application of those skills are not covered. I once applied for a Mac-related software engineer job at Amazon but all of the people I talked with were interviewing me for something in a completely different platform. Rather than waste everyone else’s time, I asked this question and was told it doesn’t matter what you’re hired for, you’d have the chance to move around once hired. I thanked the current person and said this wasn’t the position for me.

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October 19, 2015 at 2:43 pm, John White said:

Gary,

Thanks for sharing your experience. Great detective work in uncovering details regarding the position you applied for, rather than wasting your time interviewing for a position that was clearly not a fit.

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October 19, 2015 at 3:35 pm, Qamar Ali Khan said:

John,

It’s an exceptional and outstanding career advice.

I hope you’ll give something similar to the interviewers as well. Sometimes, their stupid questions compell the candidate to ask nonsense questions.

For example, when the interviewer asks,

“What’s your father doing or did?
How many brothers do you have?
What’s your elder brothers doing?
Are you married?
No, Why? (You say there are some very personal and domestic reasons) What are those reasons?
Why you did graduation from x university and Masters from Y?
This is a pen in my hands. Take it and sell it to me, considering me as a customer. How will you do it?

So John, sometimes such questions embarrass the candidate and they might be asking some irrelevant questions, like the interviewer .

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October 19, 2015 at 3:37 pm, Johnny said:

Since when do job descriptions give a 100% representation of the actual work and why is it a bad idea to get an understanding of what you might be walking into?

There was one project I worked on as a Systems Analyst. The job description outline things like writing custom reports, developing and updating interfaces between systems updating, user account setups, and updating system configurations do to business policy changes; actual development work where I needed to apply my brain power.

90% of that job was creating and terminating user accounts. It was tier 1 work a monkey can be trained to do. The process could have been automated but the client was not interested in doing that (Automating manual processes is what I do). There was very little opportunity to put my talents to use.

It was a good thing it was only a 6 month project because toward the end I was getting very bored with the whole thing and wanted to move on to something new.

Is the author of this article really suggesting it is better to rely solely on the job description, accept the job then quit 6 months later after you find out the job is a total waste of your talents when asking a simple question during the interview may have made that clear?

Another thing, if the interview is a two way street, and if asking a question covered in the job description is verboten, so should asking a question that is covered in the resume.

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October 19, 2015 at 3:52 pm, Trent said:

The bottom line is…do your homework. Know what you are walking into before you walk in. Research the company and preferably the interviewer beforehand.

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October 19, 2015 at 4:36 pm, Andy Books said:

Quite frankly, the interviewer will be expecting these kind of questions. Go the other way….ask something thought-provoking that they may not expect. Ask them to define, in their own words, the culture of the organization. Pay close attention to the answers. If they give you the corporate buzzwords without much thought, pin them down. Ask why they chose those words. Prospective employees have a bit of an advantage these days in that jobs are becoming more available. Use that to your advantage.

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October 19, 2015 at 11:31 pm, Dragon Jam said:

Ok, I once did ask “what exactly will I be doing?” after getting a job offer. I asked because I was getting conflicting impressions during the interview process. I still did not receive a clear answer.

I thought, what the heck, just go for it. Shortly into my job I discovered that I was not doing the type of work I thought I had been hired for. And I was not alone, it was a common theme for the company to mislead people. The VP would always ask during interviews “what’s your passion?” and then he would go on later in the interview to describe a job that matched your passions.

People at this company were lucky to last a year. So sure, maybe we shouldn’t be asking “what will I be doing?” because it’s obvious, but alas, sometimes it’s not obvious and one should pay attention to the warning signs. This particular job I took was the worst ever and could’ve been avoided.

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October 20, 2015 at 3:25 pm, Alyson L Abramowitz said:

Many job descriptions are very generic and the agencies which are often between us and the client know little more about the opportunity. Frequently I’m told, “you’ll learn more in the interview”. As someone who lives on both sides of the interview process, when I’m hiring I welcome you asking more information about the job, whether it’s the size of the group or the details of the project and it’s current state. It lets me know you are interested, especially when you follow up by showing how you best fit into the opening.

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October 20, 2015 at 4:08 pm, Eric said:

Bate and switch is a very annoying tactic used by some firms to determine your ability to adapt to change. I had scheduled interview for a “Web Developer” role working with one stack of technology at a MAJOR software development group. The recruiter went through several hours of prepping me for this interview. Within the first minute of the call with the lead developer, it quickly became apparent he was trying to interview me for a role I was utterly unqualified for working with a technology stack I had zero experience with. I said as much, and he got very pissed off with me. Bate-and-switch interviewing is very problematic because it is just a waste of time for all involved.

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October 20, 2015 at 5:25 pm, John White said:

Wow, great thread, thanks so much for all the responses. I agree with the commentors that are expressing that job seekers should ask questions about the position in the interview. My suggestion is that they ask high level questions regarding the position that demonstrate their expertise, and avoid questions that were clearly addressed in the job description that was posted.

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October 22, 2015 at 12:05 pm, AUDIOMIND said:

“What exactly will I be doing in this position?”

As job descriptions are generally loaded with indiscernible jargon, loaded terminology, and company specific detail, in my experience this has definitely been a good question to ask, perhaps phrased in a bit different manner.

1) “Can you describe a typical day in this position?”
2) “During my first two weeks, what exactly will I be doing?”
3) “What does success in this position look like in 6 months?”

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October 22, 2015 at 12:45 pm, John Doe said:

What it ALL boils down to is….companies lie, they lied in the 90s and they are still lying but what a double standard when they comb your resume with a fine tooth comb to make sure everything written there is accurate/or true but its ok for them to lie to you.

Employers have lied to me on almost every job I have had.

When I find out about and I always do it makes me angry. And then I remember Karma – what goes around comes around.

They lie to me and someone else is lying to “them” companies/ corporations. The truth is like oil it rises to the top.

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October 22, 2015 at 7:07 pm, Gary said:

I response to Qamar Ali Khan’s post, it is illegal (in the United States) to ask an applicant about marital status or if the applicant has any children. Questions about what a parent or sibling does or did have no relevance and are potentially illegal as well.

Do not let an interviewer pressure you into answering those types of questions. Instead, politely decline, stating that the question has no bearing on the position or your ability to carry out your duties. I would recommend stopping the interview at that point and then leave. If the company cannot instruct hiring personnel as to proper and legal interview questions, then one must wonder what other aspects of the law or ethics it sidesteps.

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October 23, 2015 at 9:52 am, Gayle O'Connor said:

I was actually asked how old I was in an interview. Completely took me by surprise. I did NOT answer.

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October 26, 2015 at 11:22 pm, mike z said:

A wise boss once told me: “In any job interview there are two liars in the room.”

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November 05, 2015 at 8:00 am, Marie said:

I would want to know exactly what it is that I’d be doing. Some companies, including the one I work for, do not use specific job descriptions related to job postings.In fact some job descriptions with their duties have nothing at all to do with the job posted.Only after being hired do they find out that what’s expected of them has absolutely nothing to do with the job they thought they were being hired for. Misleading to say the least…so I always say ask beforehand.

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November 08, 2015 at 9:00 am, Nightcrawler said:

I agree with you, Audiomind. I don’t think it’s a bad question; the problem is with the way it’s worded. “Could you describe a typical day for someone working in this position?” is a perfectly reasonable and thoughtful question to ask. Your other takes on the question are good as well.

To the other posters: While it is, technically, illegal in the U.S. to ask about marital status, children, etc., it happens all the time. I went on an interview last year where I was asked if I was married, how long I’d been married, if I had any children, if I wanted children, and how old I was. Yes, the entire interview was illegal, but it would have been my word against the interviewer’s. I simply never followed up after the interview, and I never heard from him again (if I had, I would have told him to get lost).

“Sell me this pen” is a bizarre question unless you are applying for a sales position. In that case, the correct answer is, “It appears that you are in the market for a pen. Is that correct?” That’s the trick: There’s no point in trying to sell the prospect something they have no need for. You’re supposed to determine their needs before launching your pitch.

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