If there's one question you can always count on fielding at a job interview, it's this: "Do you have any questions?"
Needless to say, your answer should always be an enthusiastic "yes." But before you inquire into every little curiosity about your possible future place of employment — from how often the CEO visits the worker bees, to whether the snacks in the kitchen are free — remember that your turn to ask questions, which usually comes at the end of the interview, is more than a chance to find out what you want to know. It's also your last opportunity to prove that you have the knowledge, skills, and professional acumen to kill it in the job.
With that in mind, here are a handful of questions career advisers recommend that you avoid, even if you're dying for the answer, along with some alternative questions that might land you the information you want.
What time would I have to arrive in the morning?
Not only is this like admitting that you're punctually challenged, it shows your future boss that you're more interested in your daily schedule than the actual work. Stay away from questions about logistics. This also applies to "How long is lunch?"
Try instead, "What's an average day like?" You'll likely wind up with more than enough information about hours and lunch perks.
How long has this company been around?
The cardinal rule being broken here: Never ask a question you could easily answer with a Google search. That includes everything from "Who's the CEO?" to "Where are corporate headquarters?" to "What's the most popular product you sell?" These types of questions make you seem unprepared, which for an employer is a red flag. Do the research before you come in, and while you're learning about the company, look for questions that can showcase your preparedness.
Instead try something like, "What kind of changes have you seen since [name] took over in June?"
On average, how quickly do people get promoted?
This signals that you're ambitious, and that's a desirable quality. But this question at a job interview can sound yucky and opportunistic. You want to show you're perfect for the job you're applying for, not the job three rungs up the ladder (even if you're sure you could handle that one, too).
Try instead, "What kind of opportunities are there for growth at this company?"
Do you do background checks?
Think of applying for a job as playing a video game: You must complete one level at a time until you attain the goal. In other words, cross each bridge as you come to it.
If you have something on public record that you don't want an employer to know about (and if you're asking this question, you obviously do), cross that bridge when you must, and no sooner. If you're lucky, the employer doesn't do background checks, and you're in the clear. If the company does, simply tell them what happened up-front, with whatever explanations are necessary, and give the go-ahead to run your background.
What's the salary?
This one is tempting. Of course you want to know what how much you'd make — what if the salary is so small you couldn't take the job even if it were offered? But this is a question for HR, preferably after you've been offered the position, not the interview. Again, the focus of the interview should be related to the work: Your background, the skills you're bringing to the table, and what sets you apart from other candidates.
Forget trying to get this information entirely, and instead ask something that shows how interested you are in the work. Career advisors recommend, "What does 'success' look like for this position?"
Did I get the job?
On a dinner date, you wouldn't ask for a kiss right after you finish the appetizer — so don't ask to close the deal with a potential employer moments after she's met you. It's too eager, and that's a turnoff.
Instead, thank her for the opportunity and say, "I'll follow up next week."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How science is accelerating our search for alien life
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1: 10 major differences between the book and the movie
- 6 tiny scientific mistakes that created huge disasters
- Inside Turkey's shadow war with ISIS
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
- The myth of the stay-at-home dad
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
Subscribe to the Week