IT Employment

Questions you should never ask in an interview

When an interviewer asks if you have any questions, that is not the time to see what you can get from a company.

A lot of people are solidly prepared to answer questions of a hiring manager during an interview. Unfortunately, many job candidates are not as prepared to ask interviewers questions. The questions you ask a hiring manager are very important and weigh heavily in their ultimate decision on whom to hire.

Making sure you are asking the right questions can be a tough task - candidates need to be aware that this remains part of the test, not just a fact finding mission for them. Creative staffing firm, Vitamin T, has seen some truly bizarre questions asked in interviews.  Some that might definitely send the wrong message to a prospective employer actually pop-up with alarming regularity. Susie Hall, president of Vitamin T, sent these examples of questions asked that she considers off-limit:

  • How quickly do I accrue vacation time?
  • How often can I work from home?
  • Do you pay for parking (cell phones, car allowance, sodas, gym memberships, etc)?
  • Can I bring my dog to work?
  • How often will I get paid?

Ms. Hall says, "Bottom line: An interview should be about what you can give to a company, not what you can get from a company. Save those questions for the offer stage, after your prospective employer has determined you're the right person for the role. 'Selfish' is not on the shortlist of any desired skills list I've ever seen!"

So, what kinds of questions should you ask? First, you should do your research on the company at which you're interviewing and ask questions about it, e.g., "I know that you're currently concentrated in the xyz product. Where do you see the company taking that in the next few years?" But beyond company specifics, you need to find out how good the fit will be for you. Ask questions like the following:

  • How would you describe the responsibilities of the position?
  • How would you describe a typical week/day in this position?
  • Is this a new position? If not, why did the previous employee leave?
  • Is travel expected?
  • Is relocation a possibility?
  • What is the typical work week like?
  • Will there be overtime?
  • What do you like about working here?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

105 comments
Free Webapps
Free Webapps

This artical has many blurred lines. LOL! On the border of being silly in my opinion. I've asked all those questions before with the exception of the accrued vaca... Well maybe once because I had a prior planned trip paid in full prior to me having to look for new line of work.

But the rest I asked. Here's why (the only dumb question is the one not asked if you truly dont know)

-Work from home: sometimes things come up and if position is salary based, its a valid question

-Parking/cell/allowance: if the position is local travel (field service) and you have to use your vehicle and/or requires u to be on-call. Every job I had that required me to be on-call paid my cell

-Bring dog to work: last 2jobs I had during the interview process, I noticed dog bag stations around the property. Looked like a park environment. I asked about it. My exact question, "I noticed dog bag stations around here. Are you pet friendly?". Well one job was and the other wasnt. Still a valid question but depends on surroundings.

-Pay periods: Who doesn't like to know when they get paid. Its called budgeting.

-

dzx11
dzx11

I don't understand why questions regarding pay are such a taboo subject. The reason you work is so you can get paid! There's nothing wrong with asking how often you will be paid is because some people budget and they want to be able to start working that out and knowing whether they are paid fortnightly or monthly will affect that. What the hell is wrong with that? Sheesh.

paul
paul

Don't understand the question about how you will be paid. All salaries in the UK are paid monthly directly to bank accounts. Only exceptions are for very low level jobs with very small businesses, like corner shops or sole owner tradespeople.

tarose.trevor
tarose.trevor

I have to disagree with this ... pay & conditions are one of the primary factors by which an applicant for a role can determine whether or not they want to spend any further time pursuing it ... and if, for any reason, they have not already asked those kinds of questions prior to the interview, then they should absolutely do so at the interview ... because to fail to do so, is to waste their own time AND the employers time, if their expectations are outside of the budget assigned by the business ... and any employer who doesn't appreciate this simple fact, is not thinking straight

rickgtoc_z
rickgtoc_z

I agree with Toni about when to ask about pay and benefits.  Set the hook before weighing the fish.  This is not about kow-towing to some corporate idea of your being a servant to the machine.  The interview is where you sell your skillset.  It may sound venal, but just like the car salesman, you want the buyer to be so in love with the product that they'll do what they need to to make the payments.  You don't make that car sale by starting with asking to see the buyer's credit score and W-2, and whether or not he/she plans to bring the car back to the dealer for service.  That information will come out, but it's useless until the buyer wants the product.  Same with the interview.  You and the employer have shown some mutual interest in getting to the interview, but until the employer wants you enough to make an offer, you don't have the power to negotiate anything.  Odds are that you already know generally what the compensation package will look like (salaried, hourly, contract, and what the major benefits are).  If not, you have some pre-interview homework to do.  Your questions should be targeted toward making the employer believe that their business will be far better off with you in their employ than without.  If you accomplish that, you may have some leverage in pay or certain perks or benefits.  And the interview is your shot to make that happen.  Until then, the employer has all the power.

steven
steven

I completely disagree with the article.  While the questions listed to ask are good, the questions not to ask must be asked... not in some blatant way, but diplomatically. And not when the offer is ready to be made.  And the statement that, "An interview should be about what you can give to a company, not what you can get from a company" is bad advice. When a candidate comes in to be interviewed by me with a list of questions they have for me, that is a good sign.  There is a long distance between asking a lot of questions, some self-serving, and being "selfish". This is exactly why I don't write short articles... you can't do justice to an important topic like this in five paragraphs.  Actually, more harm than good is done with an article like this.

lowe323
lowe323

Strongly disagree. This is exactly the time to ask questions about benefits and policies.  You should phrase them more tactfully, but it is absolutely the appropriate time.  This is a business negotiation that goes both ways, not charity.  When you go into an interview you are there to learn about and evaluate the prospective employer as much as they are evaluating you.

khannah
khannah

I have to endorse Toni's last suggested question - "What do you like about working here?" When our company was interviewing for a new CIO about 10 years ago, one candidate asked this question. The interview team all gave various answers, but the main thing was that we remembered the guy who asked this question. He got hired.

Also, when I was interviewing at the same company (about 15 years ago), I came up with what I think was a great way to ask the "overtime" question. I asked, "Is this a 'nights and weekends' kind of place?" Everyone liked the question, no one was offended, and, well, I got the job...

butkus
butkus

Some of them should be asked. Depending on the salary scale. You don't want to start searching for a new job after a few months because of the extra $200 a week you pay for parking/tolls/fees to get there. My son travels a lot and he need to ask who pays for the parking at the airport for 4 days. He gets an allowance for meals, but it doesn't fully cover them, so some of that comes out of his pocket. I worked for a Catholic University (1990's).. got paid once a month !

pod_star
pod_star

. . . at an interview to be a Solicitor: "Do you always prosecute in cases of staff pilfering?"

GarryPonus
GarryPonus

I've never been a big fan of asking lots of questions at interview (or as interviewer, being asked lots of questions at interview). While I acknowledge it demonstrates an interest in the position, I tend to be of the view that a good candidate should do a fair bit of homework before the interview. I absolutely agree that discussing pay at the first interview is not the way to go.

kitekrazy
kitekrazy

Me doing your grocery shopping for you without a detailed list. If I buy milk maybe I didn't know you prefer 1% over fat free, chicken products over turkey products. Companies have gotten lazy in the hiring process.

Vinster1
Vinster1

Employers have trampled workers' rights for too long. It's about time someone slapped them down for it.

SmilingGuy
SmilingGuy

I have been wondering if the answers in the interview are the most important aspect to hire a person. Usually, people would give you the answers they think you like. The ones who can provide the best answers may not the best fit.

patg00
patg00

If it's the hiring manager etc, these are probably okay. If it's HR, how else are you supposed to know these things? Wait until you've wasted everybody's time and multiple interviews when any one of the questions you're not supposed to ask could be a deal breaker? Not everybody needs the first offer.

jerryr_z
jerryr_z

The answer was "You get loans from the bank". End of interview

scotth
scotth

I'm not sure about asking, "If not, why did the previous employee leave?" Reason being if the previous employee left because of the working conditions (excessive hours, relationships with boss's and/or other employers), the interviewer is likely to evade the truth.

mkogrady
mkogrady

Working from home may not be a taboo question since many IT staffers are usually on call and equipped to work remotely. Framing the question about after hours support and remote access may be a better approach. Asking if the company reimburses for Home Internet Usage may be fair too. If the company expects "A,B and C" and you are willing to provide that value, then paying,using and reimbursing for "A, B and C" is fair game.

nordergute
nordergute

This might be good advice in USA, but here in Sweden the given advice is always that you should inquire not only as to what you can do for the hiring company, but also what the company can do for you. The articles here at techrepublic point only in one direction: techrepublic endorses corporate fascism. But hey, who's surprised? Not me.

poisson59
poisson59

I once asked the exact question "Will there be overtime" and the answer was "No". However, the question should have been "Will overtime be paid ?" because the answer was "No, overtime is not paid". Lesson learned.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

Chew gum. Dress like a slob. Ask for a drink. Display your aborigine tats and piercings. Should be completely unnecessary. Why is it necessary? Is this behavior part of the MEllenial culture?

phmonk
phmonk

This was apparently lost on some of you in your rush to criticize. The hiring manager is usually the person you'll be working under. It is not necessarily the person who holds the purse strings or defines the compensation package. For questions about compensation, you ask HR. You ask the hiring manager about what the day-to-day experience is like. If you've only worked in very small operations, maybe you can be forgiven for not knowing the difference. However: "Ms. Hall says, “Bottom line: An interview should be about what you can give to a company, not what you can get from a company."" Sound byte garbage. A prospective employee is entitled to ask questions about what they stand to gain professionally and personally from any employment arrangement. They want to know how their current skills will be used and valued and what opportunities there are for learning new skills and growing their career. Again, employment is a mutual arrangement. We shouldn't forget that recruiters are paid by employers, so it's not surprising they tend to over-represent the employer's agenda and minimize the candidate's. Wouldn't it be refreshing if employers and candidates approached one another from positions of mutual respect? I've seen both ends of the spectrum. People in general are just so stupid a lot of the time.

Gisabun
Gisabun

I never ask about pay in the first interview unless it comes up by the interviewer. Benefits, though, is different.

purpleglobeguy
purpleglobeguy

Hah, that's so topical. Did the author spend a whole 5 minutes writing this? I've seen columns with better stereo instructions. Top recommendation: USE YOUR BRAIN DURING INTERVIEW.

Cicuta2011
Cicuta2011

Shame on you...Only an idiot woud ask those questions!

james
james

It looks two me like there are two different ways of looking at this: the 'upfront' exchange between equals, and the 'hold your cards close' get what you want and worry about the other guy later. Myself I'm more of the 'upfront' type. I'm going to ask the questions I feel I need to know and want to work for a company that feels the same way. Others are definitely the 'whatever it takes to get in the door' type. Holding back questions that until you feel you've 'got them where you want them' and where they've made an investment in time and effort towards wanting to hire you -- to me that sounds like your trying to take advantage of them. I don't want to work where I'm worried about them taking advantage of me, or I'm constantly trying to take advantage of them (either in my eyes or theirs). I want to work someplace where both sides are looking to mutually benefit each other, not who can get the best of the deal, but each to their own. There are people who are out there only looking out for themselves, but each to their own. As for me, I'll be upfront and trying to be an asset anyplace I go -- as long as they do right by me they'll have the benefit of a good employee. If they don't, well I've never had a hard time finding a company that does want one...

steven
steven

I've interviewed many people for both low-level and high-level positions and I've been interviewed. I've never been an interviewer nor have I been interviewed by someone, in which interviewing a person who knew what they wanted and was willing to respectfully ask for it wasn't greatly appreciated. The timidity represented in the article above does no one any good. There is a wide gap between appearing selfish and wanting to know the environment you might be stepping into. Unless one is extremely arrogant, it is easy to stay off the "selfish side". I once walked into an interview with five pages of questions I wanted answered. The interviewer was so impressed I was hired two days later. The key is to match the interviewer and then ask your questions within the context of the communication relationship that you have established. Whoever does this controls the interview and it works every time.

TsarNikky
TsarNikky

Any halfway decent interviewer should have, at least, brought up and answered the first question; and the second question, if appropriate to the position. As for the second set of questions, question seven has to be answered; with questions four and five answered if appropriate to the position. Interviewers giving only partial information do the company a big disservice.

frylock
frylock

... I probably don't want to work for them anyway.

bt6192
bt6192

In the interview I have at my new job, I did ask about a realistic salary ceiling, to compare with what I would have if I had stayed with my old company. I agree with phlcidrolin, sometimes you also have to put the pressure on the employer to sell the company to me as well.

rynosaur
rynosaur

This little paragraph is a great example of what is wrong with corporate America: [quote]Ms. Hall says, Bottom line: An interview should be about what you can give to a company, not what you can get from a company. Save those questions for the offer stage, after your prospective employer has determined youre the right person for the role. [b]Selfish is not on the shortlist of any desired skills list Ive ever seen![/b][/quote] I will not work for a company who see me as a commodity (again) Ms. Hall and Ms. Bowers should be ashamed of reinforcing the notion that our innate desire for self-preservation and happiness should be a demerit condition for unemployment. Once the Tech Sector gets hot again, talk like this will be laughable and 'The Talent' will be treated as such, so until then; a heads-up is good, but a rap across the knuckles is oppressive.

Paul_Hardin
Paul_Hardin

As one who has been on both sides of the hiring table, I totally agree with Ms Bowers. I want to hire a person (and be a person) that has a vested interest in the company. If the first thing out of my mouth says, "What's in it for me? What are my perks?" that hardly communicates an interest in the welfare of the business. Note that she doesn't say such questions should go unspoken, she just says they should wait for a second interview, or the "negotiation" phase of the hiring process. To try to get such details "out of the way" on a first interview sends the wrong message; to think you're "saving time" by asking about perks in a first interview almost guarantees you'll save time--you won't get called back! Patience in such matters is indeed a virtue.

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

I got a bite on my application to a very large aerospace company in the Pacific Northwest I won't mention and I will fill out the electronic paperwork. My question is this: I don't really want to work for them, but given the circumstances I wouldn't be able to turn down an interview. I am horrified at the prospect of coming out of retirement, but would like to leave my options open. I'm pretty sure with my age alone, they wouldn't consider hiring me, but just in case -- please give me some really subtle questions that aren't really obvious (like the excellent ones in the blog entry) that I can use to have them drop me like a hot rock. Many spring to mind like: Will I be able to discuss my work outside (company name here)? Is a past bankruptcy a problem? Do you actually hire people from (my last place of work)? (My past employer) doesn't allow anyone working for them currently to give references: Can I use people they've fired for my references? (My last job) was so stressful because management lied to me that my psychiatrist gave me 7 weeks off to recover from them (true story) -- would that be a problem here? I would appreciate any other suggestions, since you folks here are really smart and creative. I know, I know -- I shouldn't borrow trouble and it's probably a non issue since they may not give me an interview, but I like to be prepared just in case. Thanks.

oz penguin
oz penguin

I agree with phlcidrolin you are not attending a lecture, it is two way conversation where you must determine if the company fits you, just as much as they want to know if you fit the company

kpoole
kpoole

Why did the last person leave? What if they were caught embezzling? I really, as someone who interviews, would not be comfortable with that particular question. It stands the chance of putting the interviewer in a defensive position, especially if there were bad blood with the previous individual in that position. All you should expect to get, at the most, would be "they decided to explore other opportunities". Not, in my opinion, a question that accomplishes anything positive.

mckeerc
mckeerc

If you're hard up for a job, I would agree with this advice. If you are an experienced professional who wants to have a balanced and enjoyable career I think it's important to set expectations up front. Obviously there is a tactful way to gain the same information besides blundering your way through rapid-fire self-absorbent questions and I think that's what the author was really getting at.

sys-eng
sys-eng

There are many comments here about the interview process being between equals and such. When you live in an area where real unemployment is about 20% and over 400 applicants for most professional jobs, there is no equality in the interview process. The hiring company holds all the cards.

sdkfljg
sdkfljg

never wait. ask the questions you want answered. jobs are NOT just about the employer. if you have any skills and you're qualified for the job, ask. if asking an important question (to you) keeps you from getting the job, is it really the job for you? are you a good fit for them? important... yes. is the job a good fit for you? probably more important in the long run if you're looking at a career position as opposed to a job to pay the bills. employers should be happy that you're asking questions. to me it should say, "i'm looking long-term at this job." of course, today's work environment tends to look at people as disposable, but that also lends itself to a culture of failure, low goals, low expectations and shoddy output. it's takes quality to produce quality. companies cannot succeed in the long term with such an environment. in the end, what do you think you're worth?

jeltez42
jeltez42

An interview is a tryout for you and the company. Some like to use the first date analogy. How an employee gets paid is very important and should be asked. How much one would be compensated is a no-no until you are asked by the person interviewing you. The interview is as much about what you can do for the company as it is about what they will do for you.

thefixerofthings
thefixerofthings

I agree with Anders Eriksson comment [i] first the applicant that is trying to market him/herself as a good employee, second the company trying to market itself as a good employer[/i]. You have to find out if the company is a good employer; a lesson I learned for not asking "How long did the person in this position work for the company" and/or "How many people have held this position in the past 10 years" I found out the hard way in the past 10 years 5 people have held this position. That meant that the average person only lasted 2 years before they were replaced. All due to the director and manager made their life horrible. If I would have asked that question in the beginning I would have found out before hand there was an issue with management and/or leadership for there to be such a high turnover in one position. Point is, don't feel like your in a desperate position that you will accept anything, interview the leadership because you are going to spending allot of time with them in the future.

SheFixesThings
SheFixesThings

Sorry, I disagree with most in this article. While I'd never ask if I can bring my dog to work unless I needed him as a seeing-eye dog, I think it is viable to #1 get the salary ranges and vacation/holiday expectations established before any interview takes place. The "experts" claim that we shouldn't be working for money but working because we LOVE working for this particular employer...BullHOCKEY b/c I'm sure 90% of the people in this world only work because they like to eat, wear clothes, and not live in a cardboard box in January in Chicago. If the company isn't going to even deal me with something reasonable, then it's not worth the effort b/c most of us will be spending 70% of our lives at work and want to be compensated fairly; #2; why not ask if WFH is allowed? Again, if the said company wants a dedicated, hard-working individual like me and isn't going to allow me to give me flexibility so that I can maintain some sort of work-life balance so I can at least take my kids to the doctor or see a soccer game, then it pushes me to move on to find someone who will. Eventually companies do wise-up and realize that by being sticklers, they are losing good talent, which in the end becomes more expensive than trying to work together.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

No sometimes we defend... Lawyer = get paid no matter what

tech-on-the-job
tech-on-the-job

@GarryPonus You don't want to discuss pay at the first interview, but HR apps don't mind asking about expected pay before an interview is even granted? In today's world, the HR/employer wants to hold all the cards and does not want to be anything close to a "partner" in the job search. Not good.

Why waste everyone's time if you're not willing to fully disclose expectations of the job? You just end up hiring a candidate who will be back on monster.com in 3 months after he/she discovers the truth firsthand.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

As the interviewer, I should think you would want to get the pay questions out of the way early. Why waste your time on two or three interviews, only to discover that your chosen hire is expecting a pay rate of half-again the maximum you are offering? As the job applicant, I sure don't want my time wasted on two or three interviews, only to discover that the offered pay rate is 2/3 of what I was expecting.

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

Bringing your parents to the interview. Don't think it doesn't happen: You can count on Generation Whine for all sorts of things we'd never think to do.

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

And here I was adding to your list of questions you shouldn't ask. As for bringing your children to work... I remember the 4 year old programmer's son with ADHD chasing around the computer room like a wild man and just for fun, pulled the fire alarm and dumped $6,000 worth of Halon. When operator grandma brought her children into the computer room, they were left unwatched and went around randomly typing on the keyboards to servers. I had to drive in and bring the HP3000 back up. Twice. In two different years. Management cast a blind eye. Which would lead me to ask the question during the interview: Do you allow children into the Data Center? If you ask me, all children who are allowed to come to work should go through a security screening first, just like the employees -- and a drug test too. Times have changed. Of course, you can ask, but....

jonrosen
jonrosen

@sys-eng That really depends on one key factor. If you're already working or not. If you have a job and want out for some reason. You're already working. You may not love it, but you have a paycheck. Therefore the company you're applying to doesn't hold all the cards. There's at least a small if not good chance that THEY WANT YOU for some reason. Hence, there is a good bit of equality.

Now then, if you've been out of work for two months... That's a different story, and yes, they definitely hold the cards.

dzx11
dzx11

@sdkfljg Exactly. People who write up this interview advice seem to forget that interviews are just as much about the employer assessing your suitability for the job as it is for you to figure out if the company and the position are the right fit for you. Having open communication never hurts.

vandalii
vandalii

@NickNielsen Sorry, wrong answer, IMO. Usually the interviewer isn't in a position to talk (i.e. commit to) salary at that point. In fact, when I'm interviewing someone, I'm not even aware what my boss is willing to pay so is moot question.

Where I work, we have a position "window" for the opening that allows for position meeting minimum requirements (min. pay of X), maximum position including the minimum requirements + "wanna haves" (max pay of Y) and a spectrum between X & Y. Could vary from a Jr. engineer (minimum skills needed) to Sr. engineer to Principal engineer, etc. Focus should be positioning oneself in the best light possible to maximize the eventual offer. As stated elsewhere, once the offer is made, you now know what the minimum they're willing to pay for that position with your skillset and you work from there.