Talent Acquisition

What Questions Should You Never Ask in a Job Interview?

Most job seekers know that when interviewing for a job, asking intelligent and well-thought-out questions is an integral part of the applicant evaluation process. Approaching a job interview with a variety of questions on topics such as company and departmental goals, culture, mission and values, why the position is open and what is expected of the successful candidate who fills it all speak to the applicant’s preparation, and foreshadow the level of dedication he or she will show if hired.

However, there are a number of questions that are best avoided in the preliminary interview stages. While some may cover relevant topics and provide information necessary for candidates to make an intelligent decision on how to approach the next step in their career, these questions may send the wrong message to employers who, above all else, simply want to gauge candidates’ knowledge of and interest in working for the company. Let’s take a look at a few questions that should be left to later stages of the interview process, or sometimes avoided altogether.

What does your company do?

There’s no better way for a candidate to make a lackluster impression at a job interview than to arrive with little or no knowledge of what the company does. Employers want to hire someone who believes in their mission, will contribute to their bottom line, and ultimately integrate into the culture and become part of the family. Asking what the company does proves the candidate didn’t spend any time researching the company and is indifferent to whom they work for. Candidates have a limited amount of time in an interview to prove they are a better fit for a position than other applicants. Demonstrating an interest in the company, its product or service offering, and its mission will give the employer an idea of the dedication and work output they can expect if the candidate is hired.

How much does this job pay?

Salary is a touchy subject in job interviews, and some employers still feel it should not be broached until the offer stage. While delaying the salary discussion may result in a number of interviews for jobs that are not a fit, candidates should resist the temptation of screening jobs by salary in the initial interview stages. Employers want to be sure they’re not hiring someone who is driven solely by money and will leave as soon as they receive a higher offer. They want to know employees are emotionally invested in their work and the company. Regardless of the candidate’s qualifications and work history, bringing up salary in an interview may be viewed by employers as a sign of misplaced priorities.

How much vacation time will I get?

Like the salary question, bringing up vacation time in an initial job interview may be viewed by employers as, “What can you do for me,” instead of demonstrating what the candidate can offer the employer. Candidates should approach each interview with the mindset that the employer has a number of qualified applicants from which to choose. Therefore, candidates need to sell themselves, showing how their background and skill set lends itself to the position’s requirements. Asking about vacation and personal time before an offer is made gives an impression of laziness and selfishness instead of dedication and determination.

What kind of benefits do you offer?

Asking what benefits are offered in a job interview is essentially a combination of asking about salary and not researching the company in advance. The benefits package is an important part of any job offer and can make or break a candidate’s decision whether or not to take the job. Therefore, like salary, many employers feel it’s a topic they should bring up, not the candidate, and only once an offer has been made. Furthermore, with the advent of employer review sites such as Glassdoor, candidates can get an idea of the benefits offered by the employer by simply researching them. Asking about benefits in the initial interview stage shows the candidate made no effort to do so.

How do you handle failure?

The last thing an employer wants to think about when looking to hire their next superstar employee is their back-up plan for a bad hire. Everyone fails at some point in their job. It’s how they recover from failure, learn from it and improve going forward that determines their strength as an employee. Asking how an employer will react to impending failure only focuses on the negative. While job seekers may encounter this question from an interviewer and should be prepared to answer it with examples from their past, they should otherwise focus on the positive, and how they plan to help the company succeed if hired.

For job seekers who are scheduling interviews with prospective employers, there are two general rules they should follow. First, do your homework. The more advance research a candidate does on a company, their products, and services, their successes and failures, their employees and culture, etc., the better it will reflect on the candidate’s desire to become part of the team.

Second, ensure all questions are to the benefit of the employer and maintain a positive tone. Avoid all questions related to money, perks, or anything that directly benefits the candidate. These can be negotiated once the employer has confirmed interest in extending an offer. Until then, questions should focus on topics such as company and departmental goals, growth and learning opportunities, and expectations surrounding the job opening. By doing this, candidates demonstrate their interest in the company, position, and impact they can make, as opposed to appearing self-serving and indifferent to the employer’s needs.

By John Feldmann

John Feldmann is a Senior Communications Specialist for Insperity in Houston, TX. With over a decade of marketing and employment branding experience in the recruiting and human resources industries, John specializes in employment- and HR-related content development for a variety of media types in order to communicate Insperity's brand to both business professionals and job seekers. Follow John on X @John_Feldmann.