IT Employment

Questions your interviewer doesn't want to hear

Curious about the number of vacation days you'll get or your chances for climbing the corporate ladder? Good questions, but the initial interview is not the time or place to ask.

Curious about the number of vacation days you'll get or your chances for climbing the corporate ladder? Good questions, but the initial interview is not the time or place to ask.

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I know all the job-search advice you hear says the interview is the time to find out if a job is a good fit for you, as well as to present yourself as someone who is qualified for the job. That's true. But determining whether the job is a good fit does not mean getting answers to the question, "What can you do for me and how quickly?"

Here's what I mean. The initial interview with the hiring manager is not the place to ask the following questions:

How many vacation days would I get? If you're already thinking about time off and you haven't even gotten the job yet, then what does that say about your work ethic? True, benefits like vacation days play a very important part in the worth of a job, but this first interview is not the place to ask. Wait until a second or third interview, or when the actual job offer comes, to ask. Do you require overtime? Same with this question. It's absolutely valid, but hold the question until later. Instead, ask "What's an average day like here?" What kind of health benefits do you have? Again, getting the answer to this question is a must, just not at this time. If you ask it in the initial interview, not only are you implying that you would settle for any job as long as your next root canal was covered, but some companies don't even like to release that information until they have a serious candidate. What are the chances for advancement? Think about it. You're a manager going through the exhaustive hiring process, and the person you're about to hire wants to know how long she has to do the job before she can move on to greener pastures. Not a good sign. (When I asked one candidate where she saw herself in five years, she laughed and said, "In your job." She meant it as some kind of trite expression of her admirable ambition, but it put me on my guard. I wasn't insecure in my own job status, but I also didn't want somebody standing around like the Grim Reaper waiting for my health to take a bad turn.)

In your initial interview, talk only about the job duties, expectations, and your qualifications. The bargaining chips come later.

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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.

97 comments
khenson
khenson

Job interviews are a two-way street. Either party would be doing themselves a disservice by NOT asking the questions to help them determine if the position is a proper fit. Therefore, I see nothing wrong with asking the questions listed in this article on a first interview if you are genuinely interested in the position and you want to make sure that other company policies are right for you. I do agree with the other posters who have mentioned that when you are not desperate for a job, you have much more bargaining power. As for the original author, I cannot imagine why you would feel that an ambitious new employee would be waiting for you to keel over and die just because she stated she wants your job in 5 years. How morbid is that? This young star could have been implying that she was primed to TAKE your position from under you even as you bask in prime health. From the tone of the article, I actually wouldn't be very surprised if she were successful in doing it too! Seems to me like she has more ambition than you do. In 5 years, she sees herself moving up --- while you see yourself as being in the same position, fighting off anyone else who poses a threat. I clicked on this article hoping to find some valuable advice. Didn't get it.

pyropakjim
pyropakjim

I think most of these are valid points, but I *do* want to know what the benefits are to make an informed decision. As another member pointed out, this was the one and only interview, so it was something I needed to know. Fortunately, the interviewer provided the information without my need to ask. I was then told to expect a 'yea or nay' letter in two weeks - I got an offer 3 days later, and the letter was dated the day after my interview. I suspected it would be sooner from the tone of the response I received from my "thank you for your time" email. You've got to deal with these things on an individual basis, and take your shots when you feel comfortable. Believe me, being out of work for 5 months due to corporate restructuring was no picnic. And the economy is still suffering; so I am VERY thankful!

kjmcsd
kjmcsd

Why are they bad questions? The later in your career if there is a demand for your skills and ability, then why not ask these questions? If someone calls me about a position, are not these valid questions to determine if I want to work there?

herlizness
herlizness

I'd have to agree with this advice completely; the curious thing is that over the years I've seen a number of interviewers raise all those issues on their own ... seems premature unless they're ready to make an offer on the spot

nskelton50
nskelton50

Your interview is the first point of negotiation. Why waste time negotiating with a firm that doesn't meet your expectations to begin with. I believe that Americans have given up so many of their rights, both in their civil lives and their private lives such as our right to work. I don't agree with any of the statements made in this review. I am an IT manager that believes that the interviewee has as much to offer as the business they're interviewing for. If I have the right to ask you "what do you have to offer us", you have the right to ask me what do we have to offer you. If you have fulfilled your obligation of getting an education and training, you deserve the right to ask about the things you expect from an employer. Today people have been brainwashed to believe that we should be lucky to be employed. Well, I'm from the generation that was taught that if you worked hard, got an education and training, you earned a job and the American dream. We need to take back control of our destinies and make this process a partnership with businesses, not monoploly by businesses.

rmirro
rmirro

I can see your point if the interviewee happens to have have unlimited time and resources regarding the interview process. However, it is critical for me to know if the position I'm interested in is really a good fit or not. If that information cannot be attained before the initial interview then I believe it is certainly acceptable to ask at that time. I know I don't have time to invest in multiple interviews that could span weeks just to find out the position is not a good fit for me. If I'm going to waste time, I'd rather do it in front of a TV while relaxing on a couch. :-) Of course those questions could be presented in such a way that the interviewer does not develop an incorrect view of why I am asking them. -Bob

bcutler
bcutler

The candidate that expresses interest in his manager's responsibilities is the candidate that deserves the job. Any smart manager should always be coaching his replacement, so that he, himself, can move onward and upward. The very nature of personnel management is: providing your team members with the tools and empowerment to perform their duties effectively and efficiently. A manager exists just as much for his employees betterment, as his employees exist to benefit him. And - any manager who feels threatened or 'on guard' about his role in the company, shouldn't be in a position to coach others, much less a strategic decision-making capacity.

R1scFactor
R1scFactor

I think this article neglects the value the potential employee puts on their time and overall worth. Personally, my job search happens while I'm still employed. If I'm transitioning out of a job that's not having the plug pulled, I have the opportunity to be more direct and picky about taking a new job. I've ALWAYS gotten better jobs when I was direct and picky. It is all about the point that I don't -need- the new job, though I'd like the new job. If a person doing an interview is less secure or more needy or even desperate, many businesses will offer lower wages, less benefits, etc. because they can get away with it. It happens. I've been there. I've also worked (in I.T.) with H.R. and heard the brag sessions about how they hired 3 people with the budget they had planned for 2 people - because they found qualified candidates who really needed to be hired. Not asking about benefits from the start is a crock. If benefits are a deal breaker, not addressing it up front is deceptive. Deceptive employees are what keep good people out of jobs. Studies show these are also the employees who are more often caught sleeping at work, stealing, and participating in other dishonest activities against their employer. Let's not forget that this is also what makes hiring new people very costly - wasting time interviewing. If a person interviews 3 times and does not address benefits (their deal-breaker) until the end of day 3, the interviewing people have wasted at least 2 full sessions on a lost cause. They have possibly wasted 3 full sessions if key sticking points were not addressed early into the interview. From this article, I'm reading that you would also encourage resume fluffing in order to get a job. I'd guess that you wouldn't blatantly say to lie, but that you'd condone braggart language about otherwise insignificant events, which treads heavily into deceptive practices. This is one article that I'm disappointed saw the light of day and makes me question your credibility for other articles. Thumbs down. Points lost.

ITchem
ITchem

What bothers me about these questions is why they need to be asked at all. If the hiring manager is any good they should be providing the information for the first three questions as part of the interview process. I have been the interviewer more than the interviewee and I know these are issues of interest so I provide the information up front. While my primary goal of an interview is to see what the interviewee can do for me, I also want to help them know if the position is right for them. The most frustrating thing that can happen in hiring is to go through the entire process, make an offer and have it turned down.

edcrosbys
edcrosbys

I think all these questions are completely acceptable, if restated. As someone being interviewed, I want to first determine if I meet the criteria they are looking for (can I do the job well), then I want to know if the jobs worth having (benefits, corporate culture, etc). The question of "where do you see yourself in..." is to determine ambition, those kind of answers, while brash, show you what you're looking for. More important question not to hear are: Wow, you provide laptops, who's responsible if they get stolen? I'm not sure if 15 sick days a year is enough, is that negotiable? How's the sexual harrasment policy here, I've had some issues before and want to make sure this place isn't stuck up!

wim.harthoorn
wim.harthoorn

Before asking these questions the question you should ask yourself is "have I been listening during this interview?". You should have picked up prompts and vibes about whether these questions are safe or dangerous. It's been a good few years since I last conducted interviews so things may be different now, but my reaction to being asked about vacation would have varied with the candidate. If a strong candidate asked that I'd take it as a sign they were thinking seriously about the job and that going through the process of making an offer wouldn't be a waste of time. With a weak candidate it would give me a cue to bring the interview to a close and the question would be moot anyway. The second worst turn off for an interviewer IMO is the candidate who is desperate (the worst is the cocky bar steward who thinks I'd regard it an honour to take them on). If knowing about vacation or health plans is really important to you, then ask - giving out the vibes that there are things you need to know but daren't ask is a killer.

clive.harman-smith
clive.harman-smith

""When I asked one candidate where she saw herself in five years, she laughed and said, ???In your job.??? She meant it as some kind of trite expression of her admirable ambition, but it put me on my guard. I wasn???t insecure in my own job status, but I also didn???t want somebody standing around like the Grim Reaper waiting for my health to take a bad turn"" Put you on your gaurd? Heck, get a sense of humour!

bryanmuts2000
bryanmuts2000

Well whilst I agree that these are contetious questions, sometimes I think it's necessary to ask some of these questions or else you will be getting a raw deal. For example I would ask the chances of advancement question, maybe with different phrasing. The reason being I need an explanation on how my career will grow. I don't want to have a pigym of a career.

makkh
makkh

"I'll do my very best to assist you reach director post, then I'll replace your current place" - ;)

pmwork1
pmwork1

From a 62 year old :-The interview IS not a trial. It is the basis of negotiation. The candidate is offering their sevices NOT trying to get the job at all costs ! In my field of Project Management it is important to be commercially aware. It would be silly to not show that you do not value your own skills.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

They ask yuo questions you don't want to answe and they shoudl expect questions THEY don't want to answer. I agree with timing though, it isn't always a great idea ot come out with questions but I found having an interview list myself shows that I am not just playign games and seeking some dough. I prefer to interview companies too. When asked if I have any questions, out comes the notebook and pen. I run down a list of questions that I ask all employers, including benefits, etc. Issues are a bit different here though, vacation time is not something the cpomnay gets to negotiate, it is mandated by BC EMployment standards, the employers don't get to play that game. Overtime, even if a salaried employee, is also payable unless an averaging agreement is signed and dated on the day you start. It also requires an annual update, so most employers will ASK for the odd bit of overtime but they sure as hell won't expect or demand it, nor can they let you go if you refuse to work overtime. Health benefits, are a given question durign an interview. If teh company can't deal with me asking how much money and what benefits do they offer, then Fk-k 'em, who the hell wants to work there if they are not forthright? Chances for Advancement: If i didn't heavily interrogate on that one, I'd be dead in teh water. I bore SO easily of work that is redundant, if I can't operate every aspect of the company in a few years, I'm not interested. Askiogn about advancement illustrates a lack of complacency, drive and eagernmess to move ahead in your career, in fact if I was interviewing and someone didn't ask about advancement, I'd set them to the bottom of the pile for not showing any motivation. As for initital job interviews, close the deal and don't worry about which questions to ask or not ask. if they have a lenghty process for hiring, multiple interviews etc. I always ask about that first and then start getting into WHO should I talk to about XYZ? If I can't speak freely with my potential employer, they are not on my potential employers list for long. I approach a company like entering a partnership, YOU have something I want and need (MONEY) and I have somethign you want and need (SKILLS). the playign field begins even and you both just interview each other. One thing I have learned over time is that if the ball is in the other persons court, you have no control. If the playing field is even or tilted toward your side you always win. Canada, yoos guys just gots ta love it.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I'd categorise that as a question you may not want to answer honestly. Given you need / want the job. If they want a go getter, telling them you will be happy to be a junior 1st line support for your entire career might not be wise. If they want a round peg in a round hole, telling them you are here to learn a bit, start up your own company and out rich Bill Gates by putting them out of business, is also not wise. The other questions are barely worth asking in the UK, we have statutary minimums an employer must meet. When I go for a job, I'm looking at what I'm going to get out of it. If that's not much, then I personally would like to know as soon as possible. Of course what I'm going to get out of it depends on my current circumstances. If I'm out of work, or becoming unemployable through lack of marketability etc. Then a chance to pick up a paychecque and get up to date might be more than enough to not mention my lack of enthusiasm for the role. Before you get all bitter and twisted about this, I've had several employers lie their asses off to get me onboard. All in all, if it isn't to mutual benefit, it isn't worth it, so all of those questions are ones interviewers should like to hear, they are answers in themselves. Good article, poor title.

jballen05
jballen05

I was once asked during an interview what happens if you die in a bad car accident

riverab
riverab

On your question: "When I asked one candidate where she saw herself in five years" IMHO if the interviewer/manager is someone that does enough to get by, then that person will fill threatened. If they are competent in what they do, they may not. A long time ago, I applied for a job and during the interview my future manager asked me what my goals were. I told him that I would like to have his job. I went home and that same day he called me and told me I had the job. A few days later I asked him why he hired me and he told me he was impressed with my experience and "honesty". He also said that because of the comment I made, that would push him to get better. I worked there for 5 years and we had a great relationship. Also, that job prepared me for the IT Manager position I now hold.

michaelsaltmarsh
michaelsaltmarsh

Best Question to ask ------------------------------------ Do you guys drug test here?

cdpitcock
cdpitcock

I've been both a worker bee and a manager, trainer and mentor. The measure of a master is not in how many minions s/he has, but in how many master s/he generates. I'm always looking for my replacement and my next step. ...and I'm an old broad.

stan
stan

If I'm looking for a top developer, I don't want to hear that they want to get into management. Its an entirely different field, requiring different skills. I want to hear about your commitment to learning new technologies and moving technology forward. If you want to be in management, apply for a management job.

bryanmuts2000
bryanmuts2000

Whilst It may seem that you are willing to help the manager, the point is you are employed to benefit the organisation and not just your manager and yourself. Besides the answer seems like your whole idea is just to reach the managers post. Sounds a bit quirky.

brian
brian

At first, it made me say Wow. It came across as someone who would be there to help me succeed. For some reason, it morphed into feeling like you'd be a boot licker/yes man/use me as a foot stool. Then, I had the creepy feeling you'd just as easily knife me in the back when I wasn't looking - "E tu, Brute?" Try this on: One of the reasons I am here today is because of the company's growth potential. I'd expect new opportunities to arise for me over time - such as managing (larger) teams and projects. In five years time, it's possible that you be in a Director's or VP's role by then, and you'd like to have someone capable to hand off your current responsibilities to.

perpetualjon
perpetualjon

I have no problem asking these sort of question at an interview. What else would they expect me to be there for? Fun? Heck no! I'm there for the paycheck and benefits. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or independently wealthy.

cylarz
cylarz

I have been told for years (by career counselors, job-searching sites, etc) that asking about the opportunities for advancement was supposed to be a "good" question to ask, not a bad one. The logic was that it demonstrates to the interviewer that you're sick of job hopping, and are interested in sticking around with the company long enough to apply what they've taught you. Almost every interviewer I've had has told me that they "promote from within." (Yeah, sure.) But if it's true, then there you go. Good companies should want you to learn and grow, and to take on bigger responsibilities. That having been said, I try to find a way to phrase the question that doesn't make it look like I'm expecting to get promoted right out of the gate. I also want to get across to the interviewer that my intention is to fully master the position for which I'm being interviewed before I would even think of trying to climb the ladder. To accomplish this, I might ask something like, "If I work hard and do my job well, where might I be in a year (or 2 or 5)?" Or simply, "What opportunities for advancement exist at this company?" Beware, however, of interviewers who may not answer honestly or who make it sound like promotion is easier than it really is. To get a clearer picture, try to ask someone else at the company about this, preferably someone who has already been aboard at least a year. Such a person would have less reason to lie or exaggerate than the interviewer would.

digitus1inOz
digitus1inOz

I am not marketing myself as a slave for whatever they wand & whatever they are willing to hand out. If they want my skills, knowledge, talent, etc THEY have to be good enough for me to want to work with them, otherwise.....they can settle for second-best because I am not available....

cholt2064
cholt2064

As far as I am concerned, the interview goes both ways... They want to find out if I would be a good fit for them and I want to find out if they would be a good fit for me. If they want me to sit in the same chair for 5 years receiving pay increases lower than the inflation rate then I want to know early so I don't waste my time on the second interview.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Agreed it often is a tough one. Five years is enough time to get one or even two promotions, and often its the point where one decides to either go deeper technically or go management. James

orbach
orbach

Answer: The company will go out of business because they couldn't do without me.

doaks
doaks

"I was once asked during an interview what happens if you die in a bad car accident" Answer: That is when you thank your lucky stars that you hired me because anything important to do with my job will be thoroughly documented and well-organized.

Matureman
Matureman

"I was once asked during an interview what happens if you die in a bad car accident." Answer: I would be hoping that someone would know the local number for 911.

rfolk
rfolk

"I would still show up for work but you won't be able to see me." What the hell do they expect you to say? "I'm dead and I don't give a crap about you or your company!" ;)

jfuller52402
jfuller52402

I was making an offer to a prospect who was eager to get started. When I said that she would have to take a standard drug test as part of the hiring process, she suddenly decided that she didn't want the job. I guess I need to add a new question, "Are you high?"

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

How do you guys feel about a felony conviction?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

do you have a bar on site. And what sorts of porn am I not allowed to download. :p

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

The "5 year question" discussion has been really interesting, At this point in my life, "Possibly retired" is neither unreasonable nor should it be unexpected but it does take a while to be able to use it convincingly! However, what really caught my eye was the emphasis on whether one should admit to wanting to climb a ladder. The U.S. Military's basic personnel rule, enshrined in federal law, is up-or-out: either get promoted - several times - or be discharged simply for not doing so. Since you don't hire a wing commander or fleet admiral off the street, there is some logic to this, but it makes a lot less sense in civilian life, particularly in a technical field. As some have already commented, being a gifted techie and a good manager are traits rarely found in the same person. Why would I not want someone who knew what he/she wanted to do and proved over time to do it in a way that benefited the company? Sure there are new skills to learn and new tools to employ, but that's the whole fun of this stuff. If a person proves to stagnate insofar as skill set or value to the company, there are ways of dealing with that, but not at the hiring point. Doctors, for the most part, practice medicine their entire professional lives; many teachers spend their lives in front of class rooms; why is such professionalism a bad thing for a technical person?

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

When asked, "why do you want to work here" I usually have a reason for chosing THAT particular company but I always add, "because I have to work and need a paycheck, just like everyone else." Seriously, why would I be applying for a job for anything BUT a paycheck? When I want to work for fun, I do my own thing, when I go to an employer it is for a paycheck. I don't mind not hiding the fact that money is a motivator, any employer that thinks you want to work for kicks is a moron anyway. Ask anyone here, if the paycheck stopped would you still go to work everyday? Nope. Again, if you are working at something because you LIKE it, that's a bonus but if there was no paycheck would you not do that same work by yourself?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

was about 15 years ago for me. :( Though I have been offered a few junior developer spots reecently so may be I could rewind my career and atart again. :p

timjgreen2
timjgreen2

None of the jobs that I am interviewing for at the moment would find it acceptable if I said I wanted to be in the same position in 5 years. And most of my bosses would expect to have moved on in 5 years, so they wouldn't be threatened by the response in the same way as the author was.

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

I'd tell them that I'd be sure to call in advance to tell them I wouldn't be coming to work tomorrow.

C4nadian
C4nadian

If I were to ask about testing your adrenaline and endorphine level to see if you exercise or not. Have you had sex recently "I'd like to test your hormone levels"? It's pretty easy to tell if someone is high on the job. What they do on weekends is their own business. Would you not hire someone who drank on Saturday nights? Would you party with them instead? I've worked a long time in the industry, am "clean" and have been for over seven years, but would never submit to a drug test on principal. If you don't like a person's performance fire them before the grace period is up... You never know... your super star could be high off a little one hitter, your BOSS could very well be high on cocaine...

gibsonrd
gibsonrd

Do you have an addendum page for felony convictions?

brian
brian

...If the courts decide to have me incarcerated for over 90 days, will the company help with the Work Release program? ...My sideline business needs additional bandwidth, is it OK to host my website in the company Data Center servers?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

boat rocker, so am I. The only people who are scared of us are lame brained pussies. Don't say this at an interview !

tuomo
tuomo

I have been thinking the same lately but the one problem, how to forget what you already know / have already learned? Especially today, in this very specialized world where you are not supposed to know (or think) but to follow specs and orders obediently (like a dog?) - even when you know that they will not work or will create a disaster? Seen that too many times or maybe have had the experience previously, whatever. I think the most difficult is to convince the corporate/company/interviewer that you will not "rock the boat" but work to the benefit of the company (or maybe to the benefit of the interviewer - mostly?) I still love the advice from my first CEO "you are here to advice and create value for business, not to labor - don't let anyone tell differently!", well, he was old fashioned and did grow the company at his time - a lot! Of course it was 24x7 job except on paper - what else is new in IT? And why would they otherwise even hire anybody? Headcount - Dilbert?

bcutler
bcutler

Toni - in your days as a hiring manager, how many people have you hired? How many have you promoted? When was your last promotion? And did you determine your replacement?

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

I was not "threatened" by the response. But there is a difference between saying, I would like to be in a position like yours and saying "I want your job." You could be perfectly competent but if someone wants to replace you, there are ways to do it. I don't want someone coming in on the first day with their eyes cast onward and upward. I don't want to have my position treated as a "foot in the door." I've never interviewed anyone who gave me the impression by not saying they wanted my job that they were willing to grow old in the position I'm hiring them for.

stan
stan

do you have a nap room?

Master G
Master G

...My ankle bracelet is $50 a week, does the company reimbursed that money? ...Is it Ok if I watch a movie while I do my job? ...Can we get a video game console installed? (