You know the three rules of job interviewing: 1. PREPARE, 2. PREPARE, 3. PREPARE. But as you gear up for a great first interview with a potential employer, you may be so focused on what to do — that you may not give enough thought to what not to do. During your first interview, you’ll likely be asked if you have any questions. No matter how well you may have answered their questions, it is equally important that you ask your own questions masterfully. The interview is an audition. And asking questions is your opportunity to showcase your leadership skills, your ability to ask insightful questions and conduct yourself intelligently during high-stakes meetings, your knowledge of the company and the industry, and your career priorities. It is also a moment fraught with risks and potential pitfalls. Before your next interview, do your homework, write down your questions, and be sure you avoid the kinds of deal-killer questions we’ve listed below.
What does your company do?
Never, ever ask your interviewer for information that you’d already know if you had bothered to do a few quick online searches. That said, if your intention is to better understand the specifics of how the company functions, ask your question by prefacing it with what you do know about them.
How long before I can start applying for other jobs in the company?
Of course you’re wondering that! You’re a go-getter with big goals for the future. But if you ask that of the person trying to fill an open position, you have just portrayed yourself as someone unlikely to be committed to that job.
What will my starting salary be/ what is a typical raise?
Unless this is a volunteer position, you naturally want to know how much dough you’ll be bringing home. But you simply can’t ask about it here. Not yet. Remember: the employer wants to hire a person who is enthusiastic about the company, the nature of the work, and how they can contribute to the company’s success. Asking too early about how much the company is willing to pay you only makes you look preoccupied by the wrong priorities. That said, second and third interviews are a good time to have the salary discussion to make sure that all parties are aligned on the position level, and to be sure that continuing the interviewing process is a good use of everyone's time.
What are the benefits?
While benefits are important, difficult to discern from an online search, and can vary widely from company to company, the same logic applies here as to the salary question, above. Don’t worry. You’ll have plenty of time to negotiate this at a later stage in the process.
How much Paid Time Off will I get?
During this interview, you’re in charge of demonstrating your enthusiasm for being there. Don’t undermine yourself by looking eager to be away from the job before you’ve even started.
What’s your policy on personal emails/ personal phone calls/ internet usage?
Only ask these questions if you’re hoping to be perceived as someone who needs babysitting on the job. You’re not that person. Don’t make yourself look like one.
What is your attendance policy?
If you suggest that this is your priority during an early interview, you are positioning yourself as someone who has trouble making it to work reliably.
How do you manage performance problems?
If you’re interviewing for a management position – and you’d like to understand what process you would follow if someone on your team under-performed, fine. Go for it. But never ask about your own underperformance. You need to exude authentic confidence that this is a job you can handle and handle competently. Asking what happens if you fail sends a strong signal that you’re already planning to do poorly.
Do you do background checks or drug tests?
Never! If you have worries about what will show up on a background check, you’ll have to cross that bridge when you come to it. Yes, if there’s something ugly on your record, you’ll have some explaining to do. Script yourself carefully, convincingly and honestly for that. But don’t bring it up here. As far as drug testing goes: if you’ve got a problem with drugs that would prevent you from passing a test, then you shouldn’t be interviewing for the job anyway. You’d only be setting yourself – and the employer – up for heartbreak down the road.
Do not go into an interview without any questions to ask. It makes you appear poorly prepared, disorganized and disengaged. If the conversation has gone so well that all of your prepared questions got answered, say so. It’s a compliment to the interviewer. Then take a few seconds to carefully check through your notes. You’ll likely come up with a thoughtful, appropriate question. In fact, we have some tips to get you started. Here are six key questions to ask during a job interview.