Questions to Ask and Not Ask on a Job Interview

Woman in an interview situation.This happens all the time during job interviews.  So far, the candidate has been doing quite well, given good answers, and seems bright.  Then, near the end of the interview, we reach the point where we ask, “Do you have any questions for us?”

Wait for it…

“No; no questions,” the candidate replies.

Really?  There is absolutely nothing the applicant wants to know?  This person is ready to quit his or her current job and come to work here, yet doesn’t have a single question about the job… or anything else?

The candidate may not be asking any questions because he or she:

  • Does not have a deep enough knowledge about of this line of work to even have any questions.
  • Has decided this job is no longer of interest and just wants to get the heck out of here.
  • Thinks they already know everything there is to know about this job and the organization.
  • Doesn’t really care about this specific job. Maybe the person just wants a job – any job – or is desperate to escape their current one.
  • Is overly timid or shy, and maybe lacks social skills.

Ouch!  Do you really want to leave the interviewers with any of those impressions?

I have seen this situation play out time and time again.  Still, each time it happens, I feel bad for the candidate.  Plus, there’s that usual look of disappointment on the faces of the other interviewers.  Asking no questions – or asking the wrong questions – is a bad way to wrap up an otherwise good interview.

What NOT to Ask

I recall interviewing a person who had only a single question.  He asked, “I really like my vacation time.  What is the absolute soonest I could take a two-week, paid vacation?”  No kidding. That was his only question.  I don’t know whether or not he ever got his vacation, but if he did, it was while working somewhere else.

Since you’re smart enough to be reading Career Lantern, I’ll assume you would never ask anything so ridiculous.  Yet, applicants do seem to ask some pretty goofy questions at times, maybe without even realizing it.  Think about the questions you plan to ask.  How do they sound to the person on the other side of the table?  What do they say about your knowledge and interest in the job?

Avoid questions which might imply your only real interest is the pay or some other perk of the job (travel, employee discount, etc.).  Be careful, too, to not ask a question which is too basic or for which they might feel you should already know the answer.  You sure don’t want them thinking, “Wow. This applicant doesn’t even know that?” Sure, you want to learn things about the job you need to know to see if it is right for you. However, avoid having all the questions one-sided and focused only on what you will get out of it.

Should I Talk Money and Benefits?

No, especially if this is the first interview.  Unless the interviewers start a conversation about pay and want to discuss it right then and there, don’t ask.  Typically, unless they are going to hire you on the spot, this is not the time to dicker about money.  If you are lucky enough to be offered a position, there will be time later to discuss dollars.  Besides, you will be in a much better position to bargain AFTER they have decided for sure they want you for the job.

What if the interviewer does start talking about pay and benefits?  Check out the Interview Coach by Carole Martin.  She has some helpful responses to pay-related questions in case the interviewer begins discussing the matter.  Even though the subject may never come up, you need to be prepared anyway.

Sometimes, the interviewer may advise you of the stated entry-level pay rate for the position.  Telling you this number might merely be a requirement they must follow.  It is not necessarily an invitation to start wage negotiations.  What if you are already making more money?  Do you have education, credentials, and experience beyond the bare minimum required? If so, the starting wage you were just quoted probably sounds low – maybe way too low!  Don’t worry about it at the moment.  In such cases, the interviewer knows full well you will likely expect – and deserve – more than the bare minimum entry-level wage package.  Again, telling you the “usual” starting rate of pay may simply be a formality.  In rare situations, it could also just be a negotiation tactic intended to give you a lower wage expectation.

Will They Steer You to HR?

Remember, too, not every interviewer may have the authority to negotiate or have the final say on the actual pay you will be offered.  The hiring manager may need to justify to Human Resources (HR) any proposed starting pay which is above the minimum level.  Often, the manager may even need to do this in writing and send it to HR and/or to those higher up in management.  HR will make the manager explain why you should be paid anything more than just the minimum base rate of pay for the position.  The goal of HR is to get the best people, but at the lowest possible yet reasonable rate.

Often, interviewers will defer questions about benefits to their HR staff as such matters may be very complex.  Benefit packages can and often do vary based on the position, level, union, or any number of other factors.  The interviewer may not even know all the details and certainly doesn’t want to make a mistake.

The company HR person will likely be happy to discuss the various benefits available, sometimes even before a position is offered.  They see this as a chance to sell you on the idea of how great it would be for you to come to work here!

What About Those Canned Questions?

Be careful about asking many of the “canned” questions found all over the internet. If you screen through a few dozen of these questions, there might be a few keepers, but use common sense.  Although others may disagree with me, I think you should avoid a question such as, “Could you describe the culture here?”  Get real.  The interviewer is not going to tell you, “It’s really bad here,” or, “You must backstab to get promoted at our company.”  Most likely, they’re just going to tell you it’s great.  Besides, how would you know if they are telling the truth?  The interviewers have probably heard the same old, tired, generic questions from the last three applicants. Don’t you ask them, too!

What Should I Ask?

Ask questions which show you have a deep interest and knowledge of the work, and that you are up-to-date in the field.  Show your passion for good customer service and a concern for meeting the needs of the organization.  This will do more for you than asking boring, generic questions.  In her article Best Questions to Ask in a Job Interview, Alison Doyle has a simple but excellent recommendation which will help ensure you do not forget to ask anything: make a list of questions to ask at the interview.

Also, limit the number of questions you ask to just a few, perhaps three or so.  These should be questions which the interviewer can easily answer with a brief response, but with more than just a yes/no. This is not the time to get into a long, in-depth discussion, unless the interviewer clearly wishes to do so.

Examples

The questions you ask will, to some extent, depend on the career field, position, and level.  Here are a few examples which may help you to think of your own:

  • Process Related: “How are work requests handled? Do clients submit requests by telephone, email, or through an online system?”
  • Process Related: “Are the materials warehoused here or ordered from suppliers as needed?”
  • IT Systems Related: “What bedside clinical charting software do you use at this hospital to enter orders, track patient data, and obtain test results?”
  • Customer Service Related: “What turnaround time do you typically provide to customers?”
  • Equipment/Tools/Machinery Related: “Regarding the equipment used here, do you use an ACME 2000, GX-4000, or another device?” (Naming specific brands or models helps reinforce that you have knowledge of the field.  Make sure you actually know the equipment, as they may then ask you about your experience with it!)
  • Training Related: “Could you describe the training process here for new representatives?”
  • For a Management Position: “If I am hired as the manager, what do you see as the top three priorities you would like addressed first?”
  • “Is this a new position?  May I ask how this vacancy came about?”
  • “Does this position require travel? If so, how much?”
  • “To whom will I be reporting?”
  • “How many other people in my position work in this area?”
  • “How soon do you expect to make a hiring decision for this position?”

The Interview Goes Both Ways

There is another benefit to asking solid, position-related questions.  The answers you hear will help you decide whether or not this organization is a good fit for you.  Based on what you hear, you may even decide you do not want the job or to work for this firm.  Interviewing is, after all, a two-way street!

Ok.  Let’s try it again… “Do you have any questions for us?

What will you say?

 

 

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Featured image courtesy of Tim Gouw – PEXELS.COM

Boost Your Career the “Write” Way

The word "vaccination" misspelled several times before being replaced with "shot."Do you like your job but feel your career isn’t advancing as quickly as you’d like?  Sure, you’re good at what you do, yet the higher-ups don’t seem to notice, do they?  Plus, most of your coworkers are probably good at what they do too, so what makes you special?  How can you give your career a boost?

Making yourself stand out from the crowd can be a real challenge.  This may be true even though you have all the ingredients for a great career: the right degree, good experience, excellent skills, and a great personality.  But, somehow your momentum seems to have stalled a bit. Perhaps you’re even thinking about changing employers, hoping maybe that will jump-start things.

Whoa! Hold on there a minute! Before making such a drastic move, first consider one of the best-kept secrets you’ll ever hear:

Today, the writing skills of most people are generally so poor that all you have to do is write reasonably well and you will be noticed.

Don’t panic.  Notice I said “reasonably well.”  You do not have to be the next Ernest Hemingway or J.K. Rowling of your workplace.

What? That’s it? Before you dismiss this notion as overly simple, stop and think about it. How many emails do you receive each day with poor wording or bad grammar?  Some are downright embarrassing!  These e-duds may not only come from coworkers, either.  You’ve probably seen a few from those higher up the food chain who should know better.  Well, at least you would think they should.

Bad Writing is Everywhere

Like weeds in a lawn, bad writing seems to be spreading. Crimes against good writing aren’t limited to emails.  Look around. You will see glowing mistakes in reports, signs, PowerPoint presentations, and almost anything else.  I remember seeing a large sign in my city for a business which provides manufacturers’ representative services.  If you are not familiar with such firms, they go out and sell on behalf of manufacturers who do not have their own sales representatives.  A very critical and highly visible service indeed!  Sadly, the sign actually read “manufactures representative” services.  Yeah, they couldn’t even spell the service they claimed to provide!  Consider another sign I saw at a local convenience store which sells liquor. They must have been sampling their own goods when they advertised that they sell “liqour.”

But, my all-time favorite goof is the copy for a pre-movie ad shown at a local theater. Sponsored by an auto repair shop, they claimed to be “your alternative to honest and trustworthy service.” Uh, wait a minute…  Shouldn’t that be your alternative “for” honest and trustworthy service?  As stated, the ad actually suggests you should take your car to them instead of another shop if you want to get ripped off!

Nothing New

The strange thing is, most people in the workplace think they write well.  Or, at least adequately. Yet, my experience is exactly the same as that of other managers and many college professors.  In general, the writing skill level of students and applicants, as well as current employees, has been on the decline for some time now.

In fact, it has become so bad, many companies have had to resort to remedial writing training for their employees according to an Inc. article by Kaleigh Moore.  She writes, “A study from CollegeBoard, a panel established by the National Commission on Writing, indicates that blue chip businesses are spending as much as $3.1 billion on remedial writing training–annually. Of this budget, $2.9 billion was spent on current employees–not new hires.”

In some cases, people with even a master’s degree cannot write a coherent paragraph.  Another common no-no, most of their sentences each begin with exactly the same word, over and over.  Still others regularly misuse common words such as “their” and “there,” or “it’s” and “its.”  There is no apparent rhyme or reason to the types of flaws which appear, or why.  While some might like to blame texting or social media for the decline, I’m not so sure.  This trend started well before smartphones were the norm, my BFF.  LOL!

So What?

You may be thinking, “Big deal. I’m not trying to get a job as a writer.”  Sure, maybe you’re an engineer, chef, buyer, nurse, accountant, geologist, banker, technician, or whatever.  Writing may not be one of your “core” tasks.  Plus, maybe you never took any writing courses in high school or college beyond what was required to graduate.  Besides, you may not even like to write. So what?

Here’s the problem.  Nobody works alone in the solitude of their own job.  At a minimum, everyone interacts with a boss.  Maybe clients as well.  I’ll bet you probably also deal with people in other work areas or outside companies.  The one thing which connects us all and enables a workplace to function is language.  If you cannot communicate effectively with each other, there’s going to be problems.  From there, the situation gets both worse and more personal.

Does Your Writing Inspire Trust and Confidence in You?

You likely have to interact with lots of people outside of your specific area of expertise.  The truth is, they don’t have your skill set and you don’t have theirs.  But, they do need to be confident that you know what you’re doing.  However, what happens to your credibility if they read something from you so poorly written that it suggests otherwise?  If you are ineffective at communicating your ideas, needs, plans, etc., how can you expect others to respect or trust you?  Think about the sign for the manufacturers’ representative firm mentioned earlier.  They couldn’t even manage to get something as simple as their own sign right.  Would you trust your sales and financial future to these people, to have them go out and represent your company?

A blog post by the Lexington Writing Firm about poor writing states, “Your good ideas and hard work become clouded. When readers see that you don’t know the difference between ‘affected’ and ‘effected,’ they are less likely to buy into your new idea or respect the work you put into a project.”

Be honest.  What does your writing say to others about you?

Shooting Yourself in the Foot

For starters, poor writing skills may cause you to blow an interview and not get the job or big promotion in the first place.  In the Inc. article by Kaleigh Moore cited earlier, Moore goes on to say, “Employers are already being proactive about weeding out poor writers from the hiring process. The CollegeBoard data showed that 50 percent of respondents take writing into consideration when hiring professional staff and 80 percent of corporations with employment growth potential assess writing during hiring.”

This is not news to me.  For years, for certain positions, I have sometimes used a writing exercise as a part of the job interview process.  Nothing fancy.  No tricky grammar test. I just hand the candidate a paper which describes a work situation and ask them to write a brief memo in response.  That’s it.  However, you would be shocked and horrified by some of the replies.  (Also be sure to read my post here on Career Lantern regarding skill tests.)

Others Agree

Think I’m being fussy? Check out Kyle Wiens’ Harvard Business Review article I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.  According to Mr. Wiens, “Grammar is my litmus test. All applicants say they’re detail-oriented; I just make my employees prove it.” In his experience, Wiens has found that “…people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labeling parts.”

What if you already have a job?  You’re still not off the hook when it comes to bad writing.  In a Forbes article entitled How To Improve Your Writing Skills At Work, Etelka Lehoczky writes, “Poor writing skills aren’t just upsetting you; they may be hampering your career.”

Clearly, when it comes to furthering your career, poor writing skills won’t cut it.  It is a situation where you are your own worst enemy!

What Next?

Suppose you know writing is just not your strong suit.  However, you do want to reach that “reasonably well” level of writing mentioned earlier. What can you do?  You will be happy to know that MANY resources are readily available.

Check out the How To Improve Your Writing Skills At Work article mentioned previously. Lehoczky has assembled a useful collection of excellent and practical ideas, as well as online resources for improving your writing, such as Grammarly.

A Few More Suggestions

  • Start looking at your writing with a critical eye. If you are the least bit unsure about the use of a word, hyphen, etc., check it out. The number on online writing and grammar websites is virtually limitless; many are hosted by colleges.
  • Prefer a book? Dig out and dust off your old “writer’s handbook” from college.  Don’t have it anymore?  Amazon carries countless books, many of which are inexpensive.  Two which come to mind are The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and Painless Grammar by Rebecca Elliott.  Depending on the nature of your writing, and especially if it involves research or includes a large number of references, you may want to consider one of the various style manuals available. One such example is the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).  Many colleges now require their students to use a particular style manual as the standard for any papers submitted.
  • Do you have a trusted colleague, administrative assistant, or mentor who you know is excellent with writing and grammar? Such an individual may be willing to discretely preview your writing and offer suggestions for improvement.
  • Be careful about trusting the built-in spelling and grammar checkers in your word processing software. While they have become better over time, I find that they still sometimes offer some pretty goofy and erroneous suggestions.  Check out their recommendations before blindly accepting the proposed changes.
  • Bookmark and regularly use a website such as dictionary.com. Not just to check spelling, but to make sure you are using the right word and using it correctly. Do you find you tend to use the same words over and over in your writing?  Both bad and boring! One click and you go to their thesaurus.com site where you will find suggested alternative words.

Really Need Help?

Perhaps your employer offers writing classes as part of an employee development program. Not only are such classes likely free, taking them shows your employer you are serious about improving your skills. If no such classes are offered, check out a local college. Sure, this might sound like a lot of time and work, but we’re talking about your career here!

Finally, just as with sports or musical instruments, practice makes perfect.  Write whenever you can.  Volunteer for projects which involve writing. The more you write – and check your work – the better you will get.  Who knows? You might even start to enjoy it!  Plus, your career will benefit as people start to notice you are one of the better writers!

 

Agree? Disagree? Share your experience or thoughts?

Click “Leave a Comment” at the top right of this post (or at the bottom on mobile apps).