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Interview Questions - What To Ask (and Not To Ask)


Congratulations, you've landed an interview! Worried about what should you say - and not say?

Here are ten topics we recommend you stay away from, and five things you should always ask.

The ones not to ask:

1. Questions relating to salary or benefits

Unless your interviewer raises the salary question or starts talking about benefits then you shouldn’t. You should already know that the salary and benefits on offer are commensurate with your expectations. By asking about them at interview it can put the interviewer in an uncomfortable situation and you do not want to do that and create a bad feeling. Also bear in mind that offers are made after the interview and by raising the question now, you are making an assumption that you have the job... which you don’t. If you are working via a recruiter then they should have all this information anyway.

2. 'Why' Questions

'Why' questions tend to put people on the defensive: why do you do this, why do you do that... it can be construed as aggressive and therefore elicit a defensive response. Think of a different way to ask the same question, because it's all about the psychology behind it: 'Why has the company had so many re-organisations?' VERSUS 'How have the re-organisations benefited the company?'

3. "Who would you regard as your main competition?"

If you don’t know the answer, then don’t go for the interview. You should have done your homework and you could use this as a positive instead. For example 'I noticed that xyz and abc are your main competition, how do you manage to keep ahead of them?' Be careful though, they could throw that back in your face and ask you how you think they keep ahead of them. So be prepared to answer that.

4. "How often do you review your staff?"

This again is a challenging question and potentially confrontational. It could also make it sound as though you are worried about your performance, which is especially negative as you are not even working there yet!

5. "Can I get in early or leave late as long as I do my hours?"

This is an interview. You are trying to sell yourself and not give the employer reasons not to hire you. If the employer suspects you are an awkward customer they will not offer you the job. Work life balance is essential but this is a question for later on in the process. Better still, get your recruiter to find out and that way it is not a reflection on you but rather a generic question the recruiter is asking.

6. "Do you allow remote working/working from home?"

As above, you want the employer to see you as a positive person. Someone who will go the extra mile to impress and work hard. So unless working remotely was in the job spec, do not ask this question. Again your recruiter could broach this subject for you.

7. "Can I show you my references?"

Unless asked, do not whip out your references at the earliest opportunity. When an employer is interested, they will ask for them. Volunteering your references too early can smack of desperation.

8. "How quickly can I be promoted?"

Are you asking this because you are looking to fast-track? Could you come across as being a little arrogant? Could this be interpreted as you being too keen to get on and therefore not someone to be relied on long term?

9. "Do I get an hour off for lunch?"

Well... yes, of course you do. It is in your employment contract. But do you want to be the person making the point that you will always take your full hour, every day even when the project deadline is looming?

10. "Can I log onto Facebook and Twitter and check my Gmail and Hotmail accounts and do my on-line shopping?"

Some companies allow this and some don’t. But think again – do you want to be the person who asks this in an interview? Your interviewer will come away thinking, surely you have more pressing questions about the job, the company, the culture and so on.

The ones to ask:

1. "How would you describe the company culture and indeed how the company upholds it?"

This is a challenging question and some might say it puts the interviewer on the back foot. The reality is this is something that is really important and if an interviewer cannot or will not answer this, then it may not be the company for you. You may even discover that 'it’s all pretty relaxed, you can get on Facebook at lunchtime and we finish early on a Friday.' Bingo! There’s your Facebook and lunch hour questions answered.

2. "How have you recognized your employees achievements in the past?"

Rather than asking how often they review staff, you ask them to explain their reward system. Incorporated in this answer may well be their review structure.

3. "What do you like about working here?"

Does it sound a bit corny or cheesy? Think again. More than anything people like talking about themselves. And the more they talk about themselves (and the company) the more you learn and - to be honest - the more positively they will think of you!

4. "Can you give me some examples of team work and collaboration within the company?"

Implicit in this question is that you are a team player, which is why this is so important to you. So it will give a good impression to the interviewer but also give you further valuable insights into the company and its culture.

5. "What are the key things you would like to see me accomplish in the first 30, 60 and 90 days?"

Some people say this is a question reserved for senior executives or sales people. We think anyone at any level can use this question to their benefit. It tells the employer that you are keen to make a good impression, that you are thinking about adding value and that you want to be successful. It will also tell you how much thought your potential new employer has put into hiring for this position - and that will help you make an informed decision of whether or not you want this job!

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