8 Questions Not to Ask in the Job Interview

Woman talking to two interviewers

Most job candidates focus their pre-interview preparations on how to answer questions or maybe even what kinds of questions to ask a potential employer. However, it’s prudent to be aware of certain types of questions that -- while perhaps valid -- just don’t belong in this particular professional encounter and, in fact, could harm your candidacy and reflect negatively on your reputation if asked.

Here is a list of the most damaging questions that you never want to ask in a job interview:

“When can I take my first vacation?”

If you’re already concerned with taking time off, you probably aren’t going to be taken very seriously as a motivated candidate. If the organization has an especially unusual or attractive vacation or leave policy (like unlimited vacation days, flex time, or Fridays off, or special travel discounts), it’s likely that they’ll promote that as part of their employer brand in their job description or on their website (which of course you should have thoroughly reviewed before the interview). If not, you can assume they have a fairly standard policy that you will find out more about if or when you’re offered the position. This is a question for HR, not for your interviewer.  

“How much and how often do I get paid?”

This is perhaps the best example of a question that is absolutely crucial for the job seeker, but it just doesn’t belong in the job interview. If the salary or a salary range wasn’t advertised with the job, expect to find this out when you receive the offer. You accomplish nothing by asking this in the interview (except perhaps by coming off as a bit premature to the interviewer), and it’s also very likely that the person interviewing you doesn’t even have the answer to this question yet as job offers can be contingent on a number of factors that are unique to each individual candidate.

“What is your company’s mission?” (or, “what does your company do?”)

Asking basic questions about what the company or organization does or what their mission is a glaring sign to the interviewer that you didn’t do any research before the interview. If you’re this unprepared for such an important meeting -- a meeting where you should be your most prepared -- then how do they expect you to succeed when you’re actually on the job?

“Do I have the job?”

This is the ultimate way to put your interviewer on the spot and make them very uncomfortable. While it’s perfectly appropriate, even advantageous, to express your interest in or excitement around the position or the organization, you want to stop short of pressing your interviewer for a sense of your hiring status. This line of questioning can be highly offensive, and you run the risk of being taken out of the running for a position if you press too hard.

“Do you drug test employees?”

If you have to ask, then there’s likely a reason… or at least this is how it will come across to the interviewer. The same goes with questions about if or how the company monitors your internet or social media usage or how they track if you’re late to work. It should go without saying that you don’t want to ask any type of questions that indicate you’re anticipating doing this type of behavior. In fact, avoid asking questions about any sort of disciplinary behavior as that suggests to the interviewer that you’re already worried you might break the rules. Not a good look.

“What kinds of benefits will I get?”

Like questions about salary, this type of information is absolutely vital to know before you accept a job offer, but in most cases, the job interview just isn’t the right time or place for this. Rest assured that you’ll find out all of the details about the organization, your job description and salary, and your benefits package if you’re extended an offer. Be patient and focus on figuring out if the role and organization is the right fit for you in terms of culture, duties, and career path.

“How long do I have to wait before I get a promotion?”

Of course, you want to know what comes next, after this position, but in order to find out this important information, the way you ask is almost more important than what you’re asking. For example, you may instead ask about the overall career path for someone in this role or, even better, ask about the person who previously held the role you’re applying to. Where are they now? How long were they in the position? What types of challenges did they face, and how did they meet them? What were their biggest successes?

“What is the worst thing about working here?”

While you may secretly be wondering what the downside is to the organization or department to which you are applying (after all, nothing is perfect, right?), find a more tactful, less offensive way to get a more complete sense of the company. Instead of asking for the negatives, ask about things like “company culture,” the daily “workplace environment,” or even how the company handles challenges. You’re likely to get a much richer,  comprehensive view of the organization with questions like this, and you avoid putting the interviewer in an uncomfortable position.

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