3 Questions Hiring Managers Wish You Wouldn’t Ask at Job Interviews

published Apr 16, 2023
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When you’re at a job interview, there comes a point when the tables turn and you get to ask the hiring manager some questions. You’ve likely put considerable effort into crafting responses to potential questions, but you’ll also need to come up with some thoughtful ones of your own. Careful, though — ask the wrong questions (or the right questions at the wrong time) and you could jeopardize your chances of getting hired. 

I asked a few hiring managers and career experts for their input on the types of questions that might raise red flags and lower your chances of getting that job. Here are the three questions they warned against. 

What are the salary and benefits?

Pay transparency laws are making the conversation about salary less awkward these days. More and more job descriptions are listing the salary range for open roles, so there’s a good chance a candidate can head into an interview knowing whether the role will meet their salary expectations. But that doesn’t mean the first interview is the time to start negotiating.

It’s understandable that salary and benefits, including health care plans, will be top of mind for a job candidate. But in a multistage interview process, the first interview is about getting to know more about the role and the company, not the perks, says Vicki Salemi, a career expert for Monster. “The initial stage is more about [the hiring manager and job candidate] both looking for the right fit,” she says, noting that questions should be more general for the first round. “The idea is to get to the next round, and it’s better for [specific benefits] questions to be tabled for later in the conversation.”

When can I take time off?

With some companies touting perks like unlimited vacation days, it’s understandable that a candidate would want clarification on time off. Still, you shouldn’t ask right off the bat, says Yelena Wheeler, a Los Angeles-based clinical nutrition manager with experience in interviewing and hiring job candidates for her department. “There is a great shift to promote work-life balance. However, being faced with a candidate that is already wondering about time off prior to even starting a new work position is a bit off-putting,” Wheeler says. 

The best time to ask about taking time off, including disability and maternity leave, is during the negotiation phase, when you’re seeking clarity about company policies to make an informed decision about a job offer, explains Wheeler. “I always want to see that the candidate is excited to start working, learning, and growing,” she says. She recommends that a candidate do some initial research on their own — the company’s human resources page is a good place to start — about paid leave so as “not make it appear as if they are already planning their next vacation.”

What other opportunities are available?

You might be intrigued by other open jobs at a company, but when you get called in for an interview, it’s best to focus your enthusiasm on the job for which you applied.

“Posing the question of whether the company has any other roles available can smack of desperation and signal that you aren’t fully confident in your own skills,” says Andrew Fennell, a former recruiter and current director at StandOut CV, a resume and career advice service. “Some hiring managers may take this as a hint you aren’t actually interested in that role and what it offers and are just looking for a paycheck.”

But what if you view the job in question as a stepping stone for bigger and better opportunities within the company? Salemi says to tread carefully. It’s great that you’re ambitious and have goals, she says, but not when it comes at the risk of misunderstanding how the company handles career progression. For example, the company might prefer employees to work for a year before considering a promotion, so appearing in an interview to expect one sooner could raise a flag.

“Some candidates may be competent, but it depends how they react to and how open they are to hearing what the employer is saying,” Salemi says. If you appear too overconfident or bent on “circumventing the time and process and expectations” of a company, she explains, you could present yourself as a staff member who might be difficult to manage down the road.

Credit: Zamrznuti tonovi/Shutterstock

Bad Questions or Bad Timing?

Often, it’s not the job candidate’s question that’s bad, but rather the timing of it. Unless you are applying for a volunteer position, an employer will understand that you need to know about salary, benefits, paid time off, and room for growth before responding to a job offer. 

But Salemi says it’s always better to save more specific questions about benefits and perks for later on in the interview process. In fact, unless the person interviewing you is also a human resources representative, they might not even have the answers to those questions.

If you do happen to ask a question prematurely, all is not lost. “You can definitely backpedal,” says Salemi. Her recommendation? Go ahead and blame your excitement about the position for asking a question out of turn during the interview process. It will show the hiring manager that you are able to pivot. “Some candidates may shy away from [that strategy] because they may feel like it shows a weakness,” she says. “Actually, it shows a strength.”