5 Questions You Should Never Ask During a Job Interview — and What to Ask Instead

published Jul 23, 2021
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Whether you realize it or not, the kinds of questions you ask a potential employer during a job interview can reveal a lot about you as a candidate. “First impressions matter, especially in job interviews,” says New York City-based psychologist and career coach Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, Ph.D. “Asking the right questions can demonstrate to an interviewer that you have thought deeply about the role and the organization where you hope to work.”

While some questions can help convey your commitment to landing the role, Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchil​​l, a career coach and the founder of Avenir Careers, says that certain inquiries can have the opposite effect during a job interview. “Asking the right questions can showcase your value and interest in the position, while the wrong ones could cause them to question your attentiveness, agenda, and even your character,” he says.

Curious what questions experts say you should scratch off your list at your next job interview? Here are five inquiries career coaches and recruiters say you should avoid — and what you should ask instead. 

Don’t: Ask for information that is already available to you.

If you have a question for a potential employer that could be easily answered by reviewing the company’s website or performing a quick Google search, Bentsi-Enchill says it’s smartest to keep it to yourself. “Your credibility will immediately take a hit if your questions appear as though you have done little to no research,” he explains. “Your job as a candidate is to align your value with a company’s needs and show that you can resolve their pain points.”

Instead of inquiring about things that you can easily find online, Horsham-Brathwaite suggests sticking to questions that demonstrate that you’ve done the homework. “Ask questions about the details you have learned while doing your research,” she advises. “For example, if you’ve discovered that the company plans on expanding into a new market, you can ask what role the department you’re interviewing for will play in that project.”

Don’t: Ask questions that challenge the job description.

A job description exists for a reason, and Bentsi-Enchill says it’s crucial not to ask about making modifications to the position before you’re even hired. “When you question aspects of the role that the employer has outlined, it can make you appear difficult to work with or, in some cases, downright inconsiderate of their needs,” he warns.

Since your goal at an interview is to paint yourself as the best fit for the role, Bentsi-Enchill recommends asking questions that will uncover deeper layers of the position that weren’t addressed in the job description instead. “This will reveal your attempts to make connections about how your role works and how it will impact the company,” he explains. 

Of course, if the job description covers too much ground, or the company is expecting you take on work best suited to a team, it’s within your right to not take the job, even if you get the offer. Remember: Job interviews are also an opportunity for you to decide if the job is right for you. Use the interview as an opportunity to learn as much as possible about the role, and take the conversation from there.

Don’t: Ask about promotions to higher-level jobs.

Hiring managers want to know that you are interested in the position that you are applying for, which is why Horsham-Brathwaite says you should avoid inquiring about advanced roles at all costs. “Don’t ask about another role or duties associated with your potential manager’s role,” she advises. “It’s surprisingly common for people to ask such questions to demonstrate their interest in job growth, but it can make you appear less committed to the role that you’re interviewing for.”

Rather than asking specific questions about a different role, Horsham-Brathwaite recommends articulating that you hope to stay at the company for the long-term. “Reframe the question so that it communicates that you’re hoping to work somewhere that you can grow over time,” she explains. “Such as: ‘How does your company nurture and develop employees to advance in their careers?’”

Don’t: Ask when you’ll get a raise.

While it’s okay to communicate that you hope to work for the company you’re interviewing with for a long time, Bentsi-​Enchill says questions that are framed as if you already have the job — particularly asking when you can expect an increase in pay — can leave a hiring manager with a bad impression. “Even if it’s not your intention, asking about raises can come off as arrogant, especially if it’s early on in the interview,” he explains. 

Your best bet is to stick to inquiries that make it clear that you’re committed to excelling at the job. “Ask for examples of what success would look like in the role that you’re interviewing for to demonstrate your desire to make an impact,” Bentsi-​Enchill advises. 

Don’t: Ask questions about salary and benefits in your first interview round.

No matter how tempting it may be to inquire about the salary range and benefits of a job right away, Horsham-Brathwaite says it’s best to save questions about perks and pay for the final stages of the interview. “While it is true that many more companies are thinking about employee experience and offering great benefits, there can still be a negative association between candidates asking these questions too early and their willingness to work hard in their role,” she explains. “Ask your questions but keep in mind that, as with most things, timing is essential.”

If you’re uncomfortable inquiring about the salary and benefits associated with the role, Horsham-Brathwaite suggests doing a little research (or outreach) before the interview. “Consider getting this information from people you know at the company, or by reading employee reviews on a site such as Glassdoor if you don’t know someone working there,” she advises. 

Don’t: Ask a hiring manager questions that should be kept for HR.

When it comes to selecting questions to ask during a job interview, Bentsi-Enchill says knowing your audience is key. “While highly specific questions about team dynamics, the detailed day-to-day of the role, or strategic goals should be directed at a hiring manager, broader questions about company culture and the department you’re interviewing for should be targeted to Human Resources (HR),” he explains.

If you have specific questions about diversity at a company, including equity and inclusion statistics, Stephanie Alston, the founder of freelance staffing agency Black Girl Group, says to save those inquiries for HR. “While you can also ask any potential colleagues you’re in contact with these same questions, it may be a turn off to a hiring manager,” she says.