5 Questions You Should Never Ask in an Interview

February 15, 2017

You’ll find countless studies telling you that quite often, recruiters or interviewers tend to cross candidates off their list if candidates aren’t dressed appropriately, don’t show up on time, don’t know enough about the company they’re interviewing at or don’t seem enthusiastic enough.

Of course, those are a given – and they’re hygiene. If someone is serious about a job, they’ll dress properly, research the company and the work they do, show up on time and be courteous and eager for the role. Beyond that however, there are a couple of things that candidates often forget, something that I’ve experienced in countless interviews.

The importance of asking the right questions to your interviewer during the various stages of the interview process should not be underestimated. The questions you ask in an interview showcase a lot about how you think as a candidate, but more importantly, as an employee. They reveal what your priorities are, what you’re looking for in your next role, and paint a very clear picture to your interviewer and potential future employer.

According to research conducted by OI Global Partners, apart from the regular hygiene reasons as to why candidates don’t get the job they’re looking for – not asking the right questions falls in the top ten reasons. In my mind, not asking the right questions, essentially translates into asking the wrong questions instead.

Trust me, as someone who has perhaps interviewed more than 100 people over the course of the last few years from very junior to senior positions, the interviewer is most keen and looking forward to the questions that the candidate has to ask about the potential role, and the company. The wrong questions tend to put off the interviewer and Hiring Manager, to the point where candidates with the right skills that have expressed the right amount of intelligence end up being crossed off the list.

 

The following is a list of questions that need to be asked at the right time, and in the right context. These are sensitive, important questions that need to be given thought, and therefore candidates have to be very careful about when they ask these questions.

 

1. What are the working hours here like?

Asking how long you’re potentially going to spend at work each day, and how much time you’ll have left at the end of the day comes off as a signal to the Hiring Manager that you’re already thinking about heading out of the office at the end of each day, without actually being assured of a position in the office in the first place.

Your future employer doesn’t want a clock-watcher, someone who operates based on the rule that they’re expected at work between 9 AM and 6 PM, and any time before or after that is considered “extra”. This is the sort of question that you should ask people from your network who are already working at the company, previously worked at the company, or would know of someone who works at the company.

In the event you can’t hold yourself back from asking this question, and are someone who absolutely does not want a job that requires you to go the extra mile, you should structure your question in a more intelligent manner, such as, “I’m an avid basketball player, and for the last eight years I’ve been spending Tuesday and Thursday evenings on the court, do you think I’ll be able to continue with that?”

When should you ask this question? : A question about working hours should either be asked during a second conversation with the interviewer, or someone that you know works at the company, or has worked at the company before. For those that are paid by the hour, or are looking to have two or more jobs – make this very clear in your initial conversation, and ask the question with that context.

 

2. What are the benefits and perks you provide?

This is one of the questions that you should either wait for the employer to bring up, and then probe into, or you should wait until you’re in the final round negotiating your salary, and therefore – benefits. There’s a right forum to ask this question, and by all means – this is an extremely important question to ask, but at the right time.

In the event this is one of the questions you ask during the first round of your interview process, or during your first interaction with the employer – the sense that they get is that you’re looking around at different places and the benefits and perks are one of the major considerations you have when making choosing which company to join.

When should you ask this question? : A question about benefits and perks should be asked during the negotiation phase of the interview, when there is an offer on the table and the interviewer is talking to you about salary. It’s smart to package a conversation of benefits along with a conversation of salary, and negotiate.

 

3. How often do reviews occur?

This is a tricky one, and usually – the intent behind this question is different, but the wording comes out wrong. Asking about when and how often reviews occur can be a sign of one of two things – the first is that you’re not quite happy with the level of the position you’re interviewing for, and are therefore wondering how quickly you can move up from it.

 

The second, is that you’re looking to move quickly up the ladder, and you’re driven by a regular increase in salary and title, and are looking for a place where reviews take place every six months, or less.

In the event your intent is to ask about your career trajectory and what the future holds for you, there are different ways of asking that question. Show intent of loyalty and commitment to the company, by asking questions like, “After five years with the company, what would I need to have accomplished for you to call me a successful hire?” or “Over the next 12 to 24 months, what KPIs will I be evaluated on?”

When should you ask this question? : In the event the interviewer brings up career progress and a path in the future, it’s the right moment for you to talk about reviews. In an alternate scenario, a question about how often reviews are conducted should be asked if you’re uncomfortable with the job level being offered to you, or the salary being offered is something that you don’t agree with.

 

4. When will I hear back from you?

This is one of the questions that has caused a lot of debate when I’ve brought it up with colleagues and people from the industry. A lot of them feel that candidates that ask this question are forward-thinking, hoping to move the process along and showing strong intent for wanting the role and are showing how eager they are.

In my mind, and a few others, at times it shows a little bit of impatience, as well as trying to pressure the company into providing them with a timeframe.

 

Quite often, simply stating, “I look forward to hearing back from you” should be enough to have your interviewer respond with a timeframe, letting you know who you’d be meeting next and at what point, or in the event you’re further along the interview process, they’ll give you a timeframe. In the event they don’t, hold off for a week, and if you don’t hear back from them, drop them a line to showcase your eagerness for the role and the desire to move forward – should that be in the company’s plans. If they don’t reply for another week after that, label them as unprofessional and move on.

When should you ask this question? : This question needs to be phrased smartly. When you’re leaving the interview room, you should remark on how you’re eager to hear back from them soon, and looking forward to the next steps. In the event you don’t get an answer – if you feel that you’re running on a tight timeline, prod the question by asking how soon that might be.

 

5. What are the most common complaints people working here have?

If you’re shaking your head and scoffing at this one, you’d be surprised how often this question comes up. A lot of people below the age of 30 are extremely apprehensive about where they want to work, and instead of doing their own research about more “sensitive” issues about organisations, they tend to ask them during interviews.

Let’s be honest, workplaces have changed, people have become far more honest. At times, interviewers will straight up tell you about the challenges you’re likely to face in your role and what your potential obstacles might be. Companies are well aware that people today are not scared to stay for a few months in their roles, and if they feel the reality of the work they’re doing doesn’t match up to what they thought it would, they won’t think about clocking in a year, they’re comfortable making a shift only after a matter of months.

 

In the event you do hear something negative about a company, be sure to look at the chart above to understand just how common that issue could potentially be, and that the company you’re researching might not be the only one facing it, and therefore it shouldn’t become a reason to not join the company, but understand that many organisations face this issue, and to be prepared to battle it or work around it.

When should you ask this question? : In this manner and in this phrasing, perhaps never. If you’d like to ask this question, you should either speak to someone currently working at the company or someone that has previously worked at the company, or you should ask your interviewer what kind of challenges you’re likely to face in this role.

Asking the right questions however, is far more important that not asking the wrong ones. There are plenty of interview questions that you should ask, all geared towards output, planning, forward thinking, and understanding your interviewer’s and potential future company’s objectives. Here are a few questions you should always ask, in the event that they haven’t already been answered during the course of your interview.

 

  • What would my day to day responsibilities and tasks look like?
  • Where does the company plan to be in five years’ time, and what would my role be to help the company achieve that?
  • Besides quality output and the right work ethic, what personal traits does the company value the most in individuals?
  • Beyond the skills that you’ve asked for in the job description, are there other areas in terms of skills or expertise that the company is looking to plug gaps in?
  • What is the company doing differently compared to the competition, in order to stand out in the industry and hold an advantage?

 

While blanket questions and templates are good to have in mind, the most important thing to keep in mind is to use your common sense during the interview. Let the conversation flow, and insert these questions as and when applicable. Don’t try and force these questions in, and don’t ask them in the event the interviewer has already answered the questions in some shape or form – it may look like you’re simply crossing off items on a checklist.

 

By Avtar Ram Singh – (Head of Social at Publicis Singapore)

Avtar Ram Singh