Published October 10, 2012
“So, do you have any questions for me?”
This common refrain toward the close of a job interview can make even the best of us stammer when the tables are turned. But with the national unemployment rate around 8%, sharp interview skills are more important than ever.
Whether or not you’re currently looking for a job, try your knowledge: Do you have the right questions to ask your interviewer?
The goal, of course, is to ask a few smart questions – thoughtful ones that show you’ve been paying attention and have done your homework when it comes to researching the company, and the specific job you’re after. At the very least, you want to ask something.
Most employers agree that, “No, I have no questions,” is the worst possible response. “The most frustrating thing for a recruiter is when you don’t have any questions at all,” says recruiter Abby Kohut of AbsolutelyAbby.com.
We asked professional recruiters to brief us on the top ten most common interview questions to scratch off our lists immediately–plus five effective ones to ask instead.
Questions You Should Never Ask in a Job Interview
1. Anything related to salary or benefits
“Company benefits [and salary negotiations] don’t come into play until an offer has been extended,” says Kohut. The same principle applies to sick time and vacation days. It’s best to avoid any question that sounds like you assume you already have the position–unless, of course, your interviewer brings it up first.
2. Questions that start with “why?”
Why? It’s a matter of psychology. These kinds of questions put people on the defensive, says Kohut. She advises repositioning a question such as, “Why did the company lay off people last year?” to a less confrontational, “I read about the layoffs you had. What’s your opinion on how the company is positioned for the future?”
3. “Who is your competition?”
This is a great example of a question that could either make you sound thoughtful … or totally backfire and reveal that you did zero research about the company prior to the interview, says Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter of CareerTrend.net. Before asking any question, determine whether it’s something you could have figured out yourself through a Google search. If it is, a) don’t ask it and b) do that Google search before your interview!
4. “How often do reviews occur?”
Maybe you’re concerned about the company’s view of your performance, or maybe you’re just curious, but nix any questions about the company’s review or self-appraisal policies. “It makes us think you’re concerned with how often negative feedback might be delivered,” says Kohut. Keep your confidence intact, and avoid the topic altogether–or at least until you receive an offer.
5. “May I arrive early or leave late as long as I get my hours in?”
Even if you make it clear that you’re hoping for a flexible schedule to accommodate a legitimate concern such as picking up your kids from daycare, Barrett-Poindexter advises against this question. “While work-life balance is a very popular concern right now, it’s not the most pressing consideration for a hiring decision-maker,” she says. “Insinuating early on that you’re concerned about balancing your life may indicate to your employer that you are more concerned about your needs and less concerned about the company’s.”
6. “Can I work from home?”
Unless it was implied in the initial job description, don’t bring it up. “Some companies will allow you to work from home on occasion once they see what a productive employee you are,” says Kohut. But an interview isn’t the time to be asking for special favors. Right now your top priority is selling them on you first.
7. “Would you like to see my references?”
“Interviewing is a lot like dating,” says Barrett-Poindexter. “It’s important to entice with your value and attract them to call you for the next ‘date’.” Offering up your references too soon may hint at desperation. Plus, you don’t want to run the risk of overusing your references.
8. How soon do you promote employees?
“An individual asking this question may come off as arrogant and entitled,” says recruiter Josh Tolan of SparkHire.com.
9. Do I get my own office?
This is an uncomfortable one, says Tolan. Of course you may wonder about it, but will something like this really play into whether you accept a career opportunity or not? If so, he says, it may be time to rethink your priorities.
10. Will you monitor my social networking profiles?
While a valid concern in today’s culture, this is something best left unsaid. “It gives the impression you have something to hide,” says Tolan. Play it safe and don’t post anything (especially disparaging things) about your company, co-workers or employers on Facebook, Twitter–or anywhere on the internet, really.
… Yes, even if you’re not “friends” with anyone at work. These kinds of things have a way of getting around.
Questions You Should Definitely Ask in a Job Interview
1. Can you explain the culture to me, with examples of how the company upholds it?
Asking for specific insight into the company’s culture is key. “Everyone will tell you that their culture is great, but examples prove it,” says Abby Kohut. This will help you decide if you want to work for them. At the same time, most interviewers are also trying to assess if you’re a good cultural fit for the company.
2. How have you recognized your employees in the past?
This is another example of a smart question that digs for specifics. “You want to be sure that your new company appreciates its employees,” says Kohut, and that the company values morale.
3. What excites you most about your job, and what do you like most about this company?
By nature, most people like to talk about themselves, so this question helps warm up your interviewer, suggests Barrett-Poindexter. It also provides critical insight into whether you’d be happy working with this individual or company. “If your interviewer’s answer excites you, that can further reinforce your decision to continue the interview process. If the response is lukewarm, it may give you something to think about before deciding to invest in a future here.”
4. I like to collaborate with team members and brainstorm ideas to help reach communal goals. Can you give me examples of collaboration within the company?
“This is a great question for team players,” says Josh Tolan. It not only shows that you have a quality that’s very valuable to the company, but it also gets down to brass tacks when it comes to company culture.
5. What are the most important things you’d like to see me accomplish in the first 30, 60 and 90 days of my employment?
This question shows you’re in invested in what you can bring to the company, and not just what the company can do for you. “Expect the answer to go deeper than just a basic skill set requirement,” says Jacqui Barrett Poindexter. “Hope that the interviewer will wander a bit, providing personal insight into qualities he favors–perhaps even offering nuggets of detail you can use to reinforce your value in the follow-up thank-you letter.”