Questions to avoid asking job interviewers

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Is the easiest way to spoil a fantastic job interview to not ask any questions, or to ask the wrong ones?

After all, both can undo all your hard work in an instant.

On the one hand, asking no questions at the end of an interview, especially when given the opportunity by the interviewer, puts you across as lacking curiosity, or arrogant. On the other hand, there are some questions simply to be avoided and others that require finesse.

“Asking the right questions at the end of a job interview is imperative,” says Kiera Webber, manager, finance recruitment at Morgan McKinley. “Not only does it allow you to explore whether this role is right for you, but it means you can prove you have intelligent, relevant questions and probe further into whether or not they believe you are a good fit.”

Therefore, the success or failure of a job interview doesn’t rest solely with the answers you give to the interviewer’s questions. The questions you choose to ask can also speak volumes.

Did I get the job?

Often, it’s not that the questions you’re asking are implicitly wrong, but that you’re asking them incorrectly for the situation. For example, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to know how well you performed in an interview, but, as Kiera points out: “The biggest no-no is asking ‘Did I get the job?’. Of course every hiring manager wants someone who is keen and enthusiastic, but do not cross the line into desperation. It may also put the interviewer in an uncomfortable position, as they may have more people to meet with.”

There are far subtler ways to determine whether you have done well in an interview, says Kiera. “Questions like, ‘how do I compare to the ideal person/profile for this role?’, allows the interviewer to indicate what he/she deems as your biggest strengths, while also drawing reference to any skills you may lack, giving you the prime opportunity to highlight your ability to pick up new skills quickly and efficiently.”

However, be careful not to fall into this trap: Interviewees are often tempted to ask ‘how do I compare to other people you have interviewed?’. “It’s natural to be curious but you should always focus on yourself and your own performance,” says Karen Young, director at Hays Accountancy & Finance. “Instead you can ask ‘is there anything about my experience that you are unsure about?’, as this gives you the chance to expand on the skills and knowledge you haven’t yet discussed.”

Salaries and promotions

Don’t let the fact you think the interview went well go to your head. While it’s good to show ambition and enthusiasm, asking ‘how soon you can win promotion’ is premature. An employer wants you to do the job they are recruiting for, and you need to show you want that job. “Instead ask more generally what prospects there are for personal and professional development by saying ‘what does success look like in the job and how will that be measured over the first twelve months?’,” says Karen.

Equally, you should avoid asking about salaries, payment structures and timeframes for salary increases altogether, as it can come across arrogant, as though you believe you’ve already secured the job. It can also undo all your hard work impressing an interviewer by making you seem one-dimensional and interested in only one thing – money! “This is a conversation best reserved for your recruiter who is better placed to negotiate on your behalf.”

Matt Weston, director at Robert Half UK, recommends avoiding these curious questions – for obvious reasons:

  • “Do I have to be at work every day?”
  • “How soon after I start can I take annual leave or sick leave?”
  • “Is there is a possibility to change the role so I don’t have to do x?”

“Peculiar or presumptuous inquiries such as these can quickly undermine an otherwise solid interview performance,” says Matt. “On the other hand, posing intelligent and informed questions shows the interviewer you’re a serious candidate while also helping you better determine if the role is right for you.”

Matt’s guide to smart interview questions

1.“While researching your company, I learned that [fill in the blank]. Can you tell me more about that?”

“Impress the hiring manager by making it clear you’ve done your homework. This question shows that you have an interest in a certain aspect of the company, and you have prepared related questions for your interview.”

2. “What types of training and development programs do you offer?”

“Companies seek candidates who are committed to continually expanding their skills. If applicable, mention several pertinent proficiencies you’ve gained through professional development programs in the past.”

3. “Why does this vacancy exist?”

“Some questions are less about strategically pitching yourself and more about eliciting details that shed greater light on the job and the company. For example, it’s a good sign if the previous person got promoted, or the position was newly created because the company is growing. If, however, there’s been high turnover, or your would-be predecessor is ‘no longer with the company’, consider these warning signs that warrant another question or two.”

4. “What do you enjoy most about working here?”

“Good interviewers will play up the advantages of working at the company, because they want to win you over. Asking this more personal question and getting the individual to explain why they are with the company can provide invaluable insights.

“Pay attention to how the hiring manager responds to this question. Was the answer delivered quickly, with detail and enthusiasm? Or was there an awkward pause followed by a vague, tepid endorsement? Remember: Your success in the role also comes down to your job satisfaction and how well you fit in with the company culture.”

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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