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Candidates, Avoid Asking These Questions When Interviewing (And Ask These Instead)

Getting a job isn’t easy. You need to find the right one with the right company, make sure your resume is good enough to grab their attention, and then present yourself well during the interview process to make the employer want to hire you. The interview process (phone, in person and video etc.) is largely taken for granted. People often misrepresent themselves, undersell themselves, take for granted that they will be getting the job, are overly confident, show up late, and say the wrong things.

This post is going to focus on ten major things candidates say or ask that they shouldn’t during an interview, and what to say or ask instead so you don’t put your foot in your mouth and make yourself appear less desirable to your prospective employer. (Note: Every one of these questions has been asked by candidates who have interviewed with me.)

1. Don’t say this: My previous/current boss (or company) was/is terrible.

This comes off as negative and will make your potential new manager think that you will one day say this about them. Never good.

Say This Instead: I am looking for a change of environment and to work for a manager (or company) with a better work-life balance and who genuinely appreciates my efforts.

2. Don’t ask this: Can I work from home?

This makes you appear less motivated and looking for an easier workday. Most telecommute or partial telecommute arrangements [unless otherwise specified or it is a 100% remote role] are earned after a period of working in the office.

Ask this instead: What is your policy on remote and hybrid work, say in the event of a family emergency, inclement weather, etc.?

3. Don’t ask this: How much does this job pay?

Compensation is a very important part of the interview, and it can be a delicate topic to discuss. Jumping right out and asking so bluntly can come off as aggressive or that you are taking this job just for the money.

Ask this instead: What is the total compensation plan for this position and does that include benefits, stock options, tuition reimbursement, etc.?

4. Don’t ask this: When can I expect a promotion?

Never ask this question this way. No one wants to interview someone who they think wants to quickly replace them, or is more focused on future roles, rather than the one they are interviewing for.

Ask this instead: Is there upward mobility available within this department?

5. Don’t say this: If I get the job, I won’t be at work for the last two weeks of January.

This can come off as you calling the shots way too early in the process. Everyone has vacations planned. Just make sure you let the interviewer know the correct way.

Say this instead: Just to keep you informed and to be proactive, if you select me for this role, I have a pre-planned family vacation during the last two weeks of January.

6. Don’t ask this: What do people do for fun around here?

This can make you seem like too much of a social butterfly who is focused more on having fun than working. It is important to get a feel for the team’s dynamic but make sure you ask appropriately.

Ask this instead: Does the team have a good social relationship with each other? Are there group building activities that happen regularly?

7. Don’t ask this: How many other people are you interviewing for this role?

Everyone wants to know about their competition but make sure you ask it the right way.

Ask this instead: Would you feel comfortable telling me how many other candidates you are considering for this position?

8. Don’t ask this: Why is this position open?

This can come off as accusatory when asked this way. You will need to know if you are replacing someone or if this role is new. Try and ask it a different way to illicit the best response.

Ask this instead: Is the need to fill this role due to a backfill or is it a new role for the team/company?

9. Don’t ask this: How fast are you looking to hire for this?

Even if you’re interviewing for other roles this can come off as pushy. Asking the question this way will make the interviewer feel that you are trying to rush them or call the shots. There is a much better way to phrase this question.

Ask this instead: I am very interested in this role, the team, and your company and it is my first choice, but I have been approached with other opportunities and wanted to know what your time frame is for filling this position?

10. Don’t ask this: What am I supposed to wear to work here?

Unless you work for an employer who makes you wear a uniform, dress code options can be ambiguous. Make sure you find out how to dress the professional way.

Ask this instead: What is the required dress code in the office?

In closing, interviewing can be nerve wracking for many people and changing jobs is a very emotionally charged event. People go into the interview with the best laid plans and often, nervousness and/or emotions get in the way of you saying what you really want to say; and once it’s out there, it cannot be taken back.

You only get one chance to make a first impression so make sure you are well prepared and mentally and emotionally ready to answer (and ask) every question possible. You don’t want to shortchange yourself by leaving information on the table that can help you prepare for your next big career move.

Stay calm, be prepared, and make sure you present the best version of you possible during the interview. Happy job hunting.