The three worst questions to ask in a job interview and what to ask instead
You know you have to ask questions in a job interview, right? It’s the rules. The interviewer is going to ask you all kinds of questions, during which time the conversation will hopefully become a comfortable back and forth exchange. The interviewer will then ask, “Do you have any questions for me?” And you must not say no to this, because that suggests you haven’t put any thought into the process and that you don’t really want the job.
What to ask? That’s easy peasy. Ask smart, thoughtful questions that show you are enthusiastic about the position and have done your due diligence accordingly.
What not to ask?* Anything that makes you sound self-serving or disinterested. Here are five terrible questions you might think are OK to ask in job interview that actually aren’t, and five that you should ask instead.
Don’t ask:”So, what does your company do?”
“You wouldn’t believe how many people actually show up and ask that question,” one hiring manager tells me. That’s crazy. It’s crazy to show up to an interview without having done at least a modicum of research into the company. By the time you get to the interview you should know what they do, what their products are, who their market is, who their competitors are, the names of the key people in the organization and whatever else you can find out.
Ask instead: “I noticed that [insert a problem the company has]. Have you considered doing [insert idea to fix it]?”
If you can pinpoint a key issue for a company and suggest a way that you in your role can fix it, you’ll increase your chances of getting the job exponentially.
Don’t ask: “What does this job pay?”
Of course you want to know what the job pays, but the interview isn’t about your needs. It’s about the employer’s needs, so that’s what you need to focus on. They’ll let you know what the job pays when and if they make an offer. Hopefully you already have some idea of what salaries are like in your industry. The only time you might want to ask this question before the offer is when you suspect that the company can’t afford you and the whole process might be a waste of everyone’s time. Then go ahead and ask. But if it’s just because you want to know, it can wait.
Ask instead: “Who aren’t you reaching and why?” My boss wrote a whole article about this question. Every company has that elusive group, possibly several groups, that they want to reach and can’t. Help solve that problem and you’ll be golden.
Don’t ask: “How much vacation time do I get?” You can’t start a job while already thinking about time off. Yeesh. Even worse, one person interviewing for a six-month contract position at Workopolis recently asked, “How much notice do you need if I want to leave?” Leave a six-month contract? If you can’t understand why asking that is a bad idea, there may be no hope for you.
Ask instead: “Who would I be working with?” Show an interest who you will be interacting with for 40 hours a week. Though you already got some sense of the company culture while doing your preliminary research, the answer to this question will hopefully tell you more.
There are all kinds of other questions you can ask. Just remember that they should focus on what you can provide, not what you can take, and on showing an interest in the company, its products, and its people. They should never be questions to which you could have gotten the answers with a little of your own research.
Someone interviewing for a job in my area, content marketing, might ask who their editor will be, or about the pitch process, the editing process, the number of newsletters that go out a month, the other marketing methods, where traffic comes from, whether the editor is looking for a certain brand tone or a new voice. Those are just some of the questions I would ask and expect to be asked of me.
You should know what questions to ask about a job in your industry. If you don’t have any questions, it’s probably not the job for you.
*My boss always points out when I write this sort of article that the list of things not to say or do in a job interview is actually endless if you take the statement at face value. Like you should not ask the interviewer “So, are you seeing anyone?” or if eating peanut butter out of someone else’s shoe in the lunchroom in your underwear is frowned upon. But, of course, I actually mean that these are the worst questions you could ask that you might actually ask. I feel like this should go without saying, like not to put a sexual assault charge on your resume, but maybe I’m wrong (again).