Questions to Ask and Not Ask on a Job Interview

Woman in an interview.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.

A Few 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?

Agree? Disagree? Share your experience or thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment!

Featured image courtesy of Tim Gouw – PEXELS.COM

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