don’t pretend to have a question just so you can talk about yourself — in interviews and in life

When your interviewer asks what questions you have for them, this is your cue to ask legitimate, genuine questions that you have about the work (or the company, or the team, or so forth). It is not appropriate for you to use the time as a sales pitch, by asking questions that are thinly disguised opportunities for you to try to market yourself for the job.

I’m talking about this kind of thing:

Interviewer: What questions can I answer for you?
Candidate: What’s the most important thing you’re looking for in candidates for this job?
Interviewer: I’d say the most important thing is experience creating high-impact rice sculptures for an audience 55 and up.
Candidate: Oh, great. I have a ton of experience doing that. Let me tell you about my entry in the Baby Boomer Rice Sculpture Competition, blah blah blah.
Interviewer: Anything else I can answer for you?
Candidate: Will this person play much role in mentoring junior staff?
Interviewer: Not formally, but our team tends to have really collaborative relationship, and our junior folks in particular have told me how much they enjoy being able to work closely with more experienced rice sculptors.
Candidate: Let me tell you about the person I mentored in my last job, etc. etc. etc.

That’s transparent, and it’s annoying.

When interviewers ask what questions you have, they want to know what you’re genuinely wondering about. Interviews are two-way streets, and if they’re interested in you, they want you to be able to make an informed decision about them and about the job. If you’re just focusing on more ways to make yourself appealing to them, you’re going to lose the opportunity to do that (and to a lot of us, will come across as inappropriately salesy).

A similar version of this is true of questions that people ask not because they really care about the answer, but because they think the act of asking the question will look good. That’s not what this time is for, and it’s often pretty obvious when someone is doing it (because they tend not to appear to be thinking critically about the answer, just running down a list).

Other versions of this:

* calling with questions before applying when you’re really just looking for an opportunity to “stand out” or get special treatment

* taking up Q&A time at workshops and presentations to ask questions that are just thinly disguised ways to talk about yourself

* asking for an informational interview when you don’t really care about the questions you’re asking and are just hoping it’ll form a connection that will give you a leg up when applying for a job (or that it will generate job leads on the spot)

People don’t like to have their time used up so that you can try to sneak in some form of personal gain that they didn’t sign up for. Don’t do it.

{ 210 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Volunteer Enforcer

    So true, though we don’t get this from potential volunteers. Got to avoid this trap as a candidate myself.

    Reply
  2. all aboard the anon train

    taking up Q&A time at workshops and presentations to ask questions that are just thinly disguised ways to talk about yourself

    There’s a couple people in my department who are guilty of this. One guy in particular is awful and you can see people roll their eyes and fidget when he raises his hand. It’s always some variation of “how would this impact ‘highly rare situation’ like I once had to deal with?”

    He likes to brag about the highly complicated problems he encountered, but most of the time the problems were created by something he forget to do, promised we could do when we can’t actually do it, or something he created. It’s so annoying.

    Reply
    1. LQ

      This one time this one thing happened.

      I hate this so much. Primarily because the work we do is driven by large volume and honestly that one thing doesn’t even exist on the big scale. It rounds down to zero. We have teams of people who take care of those round down to zero things so that they don’t need to be handled in big ways. (And he’s not and shouldn’t be on that team.) It’s so deeply irrelevant. But people find it so compelling. Gr

      Reply
      1. Natalie

        “round down to zero things”

        This is such a great phrase! At my last job I worked with a few people who were intently focused on those round down to zero things and I have been struggling with how to describe them. I intensely hated working in that sort of environment.

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    2. OriginalYup

      There’s someone in my field who is well-known for doing this at industry conferences and events. Whenever there’s a Q&A, she gets up and asks the panel a long-winded “question” (actually, a stream-of-consciousness monologue) designed to showcase how brilliant and insightful she is on the given topic. The last time I saw it happen, the panel moderator shut it down hard, interrupting her halfway through with, “What is your question, please?” I was so grateful I felt like the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes.

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      1. So Very Anonymous

        Oh, yes, academic conferences are notorious for “This is more of a comment than a question…” lead-ins.

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        1. Turtle Candle

          I have often fantasized about stationing people with water guns around convention halls, with instructions to leap up and squirt water on anyone who leads in with “this is not a question, it’s more a comment….”

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          1. So Very Anonymous

            Or a moderator who could breezily say “Oh, then, why don’t you save it for afterwards. Next question!”

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      2. all aboard the anon train

        I’m forever thankful for panel moderators who actually know how to moderate and shut down those types of situations.

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      3. MoinMoin

        Reminds me of The Dave Ramsey Show (radio finance guy) where he just cuts them off with “How can I best help you today?” and keeps repeating it whenever they start getting off topic. I don’t make a point to listen to his show, but whenever I hear it and he says that, it just tickles me.

        Reply
    3. eduardoleonidas

      A corrolary: the suckup up who takes the opportunity to ask how Mr Executive, in all his awesomeness, how he managed to do such a brilliant job at being awesome and/or how can they be as awesome as Mr Awesome.

      Reply
    4. Liz

      I have never been to a Q&A (professional and otherwise) that did not eventually turn into this. It is so completely irritating. I came to hear the author talk about her new book, not to hear some rando in the audience bloviate about his thoughts on life.

      Reply
      1. hbc

        Oh, yes. Book readings, sci-fi conventions, wherever.

        One of my fondest memories is when someone went on and on about the philosophical meaning of a particular scene, really deep into literary jargon and “the symbolism vis-a-vis current geo-political” whatnot and ended with a question only because you were really supposed to be asking one. The author paused a moment, and essentially said, “Well, it was just something interesting I actually saw once as a kid, so no.”

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        1. all aboard the anon train

          I LOVE when authors do this. My undergrad and graduate background is in literature and I work with authors and part of me loves knowing that a good portion of the time the author didn’t really mean anything symbolic or political/social/etc, by something. Sometimes the color green is just the color green and not a motif for greed or envy or hope or what have you.

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          1. Lucy Honeychurch

            I have completely the opposite reaction–I don’t care what the author “really meant,” I care about what can be derived from the text. I mean, if I write “Hamlet is sad in this scene, and xyz quotes illustrate the lingering nature of his sadness,” and then Shakespeare rises from his grave and says, “actually I meant he was happy,” that doesn’t negate the evidence I found in the text.

            Reply
              1. HRChick

                According to the author. But what the author intends and what people take away from it can be two opposite things. Doesn’t mean the interpretation is wrong. Just means it’s pretty much out of the authors control.

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                1. Vicki

                  As long as it’s not a literature class where you’re being graded on your “interpretation” (and the only truth is in the eye of the teacher).

                2. PlainJane

                  Also (speaking as a former lit major and wannabe author), the author may not intend something to be symbolic or to reflect some aspect of the contemporary culture, but authors are influenced by their cultures, languages, and contemporary events in ways they may not be conscious of (in fact, very likely aren’t conscious of). So, there can be layers of meaning in a text that the author didn’t intentionally create–but they’re still quite real.

            1. Glouby

              There’s a delightful anecdote in Gerald Graff’s book Professing Literature mentioning a 19th c professor at Cornell, Hiram Corson, who held seances to collect messages from famous dead literary folks, like Browning and Tennyson. Not sure what his stand on author intentionality in relation to reader interpretation or not though. :)

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    5. Wendy Darling

      I frequently go to a series of talks in my city where Q&A time is prefaced with the instruction ‘Please keep your question in the form of a question’ in order to avoid people asking a ‘question’ just to talk about their accomplishments or interests to the speaker. We get a lot of high-profile speakers (which is AWESOME), and there’s nothing quite like cringing through someone using Q&A time to try and explain their crackpot theory of physics to Brian Greene.

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      1. Elizabeth West

        Or OMG when people stand up and use their question moment to hit on the presenter. I read about some really cringy things that happened to panelists at Comic Con, etc. Like, “I have a question–will you marry me?”

        NO. Just NO.

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    6. Chinook

      “taking up Q&A time at workshops and presentations to ask questions that are just thinly disguised ways to talk about yourself”

      If you are the one facilitating the Q&A, how do you shut this down without being blatantly rude?

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        Cutting the person off with one of the following (or variations thereof) in a polite, but firm tone, followed by immediately calling on someone else:

        “That’s an interesting point, but let’s table that while we let the folks with questions have an opportunity to ask them.”

        “Could I ask you to hold that thought for now while we get a few more questions? Thanks.”

        “It sounds like you’re raising a really interesting tangent but I think this gentleman over here had a question?”

        Or anything that makes polite noises about what the person is saying, while making it clear 1) you’re not going to talk about that right now and 2) their turn is O-VER.

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        1. Rana

          Yes. The person being shut down may be offended, but I can guarantee that 95% of the audience is relieved and grateful to you for doing it.

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    7. Christopher Tracy

      He likes to brag about the highly complicated problems he encountered, but most of the time the problems were created by something he forget to do, promised we could do when we can’t actually do it, or something he created. It’s so annoying.

      Ha! I worked with a woman like this. She was a trip.

      Reply
    8. Vicki

      I’ve seen this so many times at conferences and meetups (not work-related). They stand up, grab the mic, and ask a long-winded “question” that’s really a segue into talking about their own project.

      Reply
  3. Mini-scholar

    Soon to be grad here- what are some things that people do ask? I’m not sure of what I would want to know about a job or company…

    Reply
    1. hayling

      Search around this site for Alison’s “magic question,” that one is great. Also you could ask anything about the specifics of the role or company that hasn’t been addressed, like what are the specifics of the duties, what’s the team like, what’s the company culture like, etc.

      Reply
    2. Jesmlet

      I always like to know why the position is open. If someone got promoted vs quit vs new opening vs fired, it tells you a bit about what your potential future would look like if you got and took the job.

      Reply
      1. Recruit-o-rama

        I don’t think you really get a 100% honest Anwser to this question. I am currently looking for a facility manager for someone who was terminated. He was terminated for totally legitimate cause. I screened a candidate earlier this week who asked why the position was open and I told him that he left for personal reasons. Discussing in detail the fraudulent activities that led up to the termination is not something I would disclose to an interviewee. If this person is hired, he would be filled in, but until then, none of his business.

        On the other hand, if it’s vacant because of a promotion, I definitely tout that, but if it’s for other reasons, I’m not telling.

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        1. smthing

          I would be very upset if an interviewer straight up lied to me in an interview. It’s OK to say that the reasons are confidential.

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            1. Jesmlet

              I don’t see why I shouldn’t let someone know the person who had the job was fired. It seems like relevant information and if they were fired for legitimate reasons and we did nothing wrong, it shouldn’t give them the wrong impression. If an interviewer told me a straight up lie, I’d start off working there with a bad taste in my mouth but if they said they were fired but didn’t want to say more, that would be more acceptable to me.

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    3. Kai

      I like to ask about company culture and what the average workday is like. The answer is usually “there’s no such thing as an average day around here, haha!!!” but I like to get some idea of what to expect in the day-to-day if I’m going to be spending 40-plus hours a week there. And it shows a genuine interest in the specific workplace, not just the pay or other opportunities.

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          1. Kai

            Yeah, agreed. I also think this is a good question if you get the chance to interview with potential coworkers separate from the supervisor–ask them how they like working with the boss, what the hours are like, that kind of thing.

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            1. Vanesa

              Yeah, that’s a good idea. Can you flat out say “how many hours are we expected to work?”

              I’m kind of early in my career so I don’t really want to ask those questions, but also don’t want to end up at a job where 50 hours every week is expected!

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              1. Trout 'Waver

                That’s tricky. Good managers won’t bat an eye at that question. But bad ones might. If you get a chance to talk to your potential peers, you can always ask in that format and get a much more accurate answer.

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              2. Ask a Manager Post author

                I wouldn’t word it like that — more like “what kind of hours do people in this role typically work?” And then when you’re talking to someone who does similar work: “What have your hours been like this month?”

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        1. EddieSherbert

          *I think it’s fine to ask this in your first in-person interview; hours can make or break a person’s interest, so a good employer should want to get that cleared up right away (so they and you aren’t wasting their time if you’d never agree to those hours).

          “What is the average hours per week for this position?”
          “Since this position is [salaried, hourly], how often do employees work overtime?”
          “What are your normal business hours?”

          *But make sure you triple check the job posting, because many of those will go over hours!

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          1. Vanesa

            Thank you! Because I’ve always heard that you shouldn’t ask this until you get an offer. I think triple checking is a good idea, but a lot of salary jobs don’t really say that from what I’ve seen. It could be 40 hours, 50, hours, even 60 hours.

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            1. SevenSixOne

              I also suggest asking something like “When is your busiest season? How do you handle the increased workload?”

              Because a department’s “typical” workweek might truly be ~40 hours… except for six weeks in the spring when everyone’s working 12-hour days and no one can take time off.

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      1. Tuckerman

        I always ask something similar, and get the same response. Job listings often include major responsibilities that are a bit vague (assist the director with assessing pay for performance measures, ensure the success of daily operations). I’d like to see that broken down a little more. What will I actually be doing? Sometimes I wonder whether the hiring committee members actually know!

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      2. Christopher Tracy

        I like to ask about company culture and what the average workday is like. The answer is usually “there’s no such thing as an average day around here, haha!!!”

        I just got this question a couple of weeks ago from a job candidate and felt so unhelpful when I told him, “There is no average workday.” My goals are the same (for the most part) from day to day, but the tasks I perform vary. Some days I can come in and work straight through, other days I feel like I’m constantly being interrupted by phone calls, some days are calm, and some days are complete chaos. And I told him that’s not true of every division in my company, so not knowing where he’d ultimately end up (he was a candidate for one of our many training programs), he could either be chained to his desk from being so busy or bored out of his mind.

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    4. Manders

      I usually ask questions that will help me get a sense of fit, ie: What does a typical day look like? What sort of projects are planned in the near future and in the long term for the person in this role? How long do people typically stay in this role? Is this the kind of position where people hit the ground running on day 1, or is there a training period/gradual ramp up in duties over time?

      And of course, there’s Alison’s famous Magic Question, which usually impresses interviewers AND gives you important data about whether the job is going to be a good fit for your strengths.

      Reply
          1. hmm

            IIRC, “what makes the difference between someone being good in this role and someone being great/excellent in this role?”

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        1. Snazzy Hat

          I asked the Magic Question and the answer given was as though I asked “what differentiates a good employee from a bad employee?”. I had to clarify I was keeping positive and wanted to know how to go above and beyond.

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        2. Glouby

          First I’ve heard of the Magic Question, thanks for the introduction! And yeah, I don’t think it’s necessarily your city or your interviewers. It’s quite an abstract question, and in my field (college teaching), we’re often advised to give people time to answer such questions and/or give them a minute to think and write before talking about their responses. Not that I’m personally advising job candidates to treat interviewers like 18-year olds!

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    5. helloitsme

      Figure out what is important to you! Have you had any work or internship experience to draw on? Things you liked, or things you didn’t? Ask about that.

      Some things I might ask are, what are the hours and how long do employees stay? (I’ve worked at companies where it’s an unwritten rule everyone has to stay until the wee hours of the night because that’s just the culture.)

      I like to ask what the hiring manager likes about working there, because that give me an idea of the culture too.

      I also like to ask about the future of the company or the role. (Like, are they planning to expand and grow and create a new vertical? Or is it just business as usual and will never change?)

      Some interviewers won’t spent any time talking about the actual role, and will just ask you questions. If that’s the case, I’ll usually ask specific questions I had about the description or what the day-to-day is like. (You can’t always tell what the job is like from the description.) Like, if it says there will be data entry (and I don’t like data entry), I might ask about that. Is it a main component of the job? Or do they just mean spend five minutes entering in numbers at the end of the day?

      The important thing is that you ask things that are important to you. If you don’t know what to ask, you could ask them what other things you should know about the company that would help you succeed in the role. (But actually because you want to know — not because you’re trying to sell yourself.)

      Reply
      1. Whats In A Name

        I am so glad you mentioned asking about working hours! I agree, just ask about what is important to you!

        I was told many moons ago to not ask about hours when interviewing for professional jobs because it makes you look like you aren’t committed/only want to punch a clock, yada yada yada. And as a recruiter I’d eyebrow anyone who did the same early in my career.

        That is until I accepted an offer and the day before I was to meet my trainer at the office she texted “See you at 10 am.!” d me she’d see me at 10:00…turns out the hours were 10:00 – 7:00. My co-workers loved the schedule, but for me it would have been a deal breaker.

        I stayed less than a year. Not my best move career wise.

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        1. Karo

          It’s definitely a conversation to have, but I wouldn’t do it in the first few interviews. You said yourself that you looked askance at people who asked that early on in your career, until it became an issue for you. If you hadn’t had it become an issue for you, you’d still be reacting this way, so people who are interviewing have to deal with the norms.

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          1. Whats In A Name

            Good point; I can totally see this perspective.

            This particular job was a one and done phone interview for a position that works remote from manager. Actually all the jobs I’ve ever been offered, with the exception of one, was a one and done process.

            Hopefully I’ll never have to search for a job again so it won’t be a concern, but do you think asking when you receive the offer (but before notice) would be a better place to bring this up? I’m curious how hiring managers would view this at the offer stage vs. interview stage.

            Reply
            1. Bad Candidate fka Gloria

              I’m surprised that they didn’t tell you this up front. If the start time deviates from 8-9 AM they should be bringing that up. I hated that schedule and it was a reason why I left a job that I also was at less than a year.

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        2. Sofia

          I was told the same thing! I had a similar thing happen to me where I took job, and although I did ask the (external) recruiter about working hours I never asked the actual employer. I thought the recruiter would tell me the truth or know what he was taking about, but he told me that I would be working about 50 hours for two weeks a month and then about 35 hours the last two weeks of the month and be able to come in late and take lunches because the office was very “relaxed” these last two weeks. It was actually 55 hours the first two weeks and 45 hours the second two weeks! It was not my cup of tea either and I left in less than a year.

          I should have seen it coming though because I interviewed before 4th of July weekend and they had me take an accounting exam and I said I would do it on Friday because my company let us out early for the holiday weekend and the manager looked at me like “must be nice”. Then before I accepted the job I asked to speak to someone from the team to get a better feel for the company because I was worried about the working hours since I was studying for my license at the time. Instead of letting me talk to someone they offered me flex time and told me that during the last two weeks of the months I could come in late or take long lunches to study, but that never happened. When I did ask if I could leave early to study the manager would give such weird looks. She hated people only working 8hours!

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          1. helloitsme

            Yeah it’s an issue. But Alison is right… you want to word the question better. But it is good information to have.

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    6. Jesmlet

      Also, metrics. How is success in the job measured or evaluated? As long as you don’t follow their answer up with ‘oh I’m sure I’ll be great at that’ or something equally obnoxious, this’ll help you go into the job with clear expectations.

      Reply
      1. Christopher Tracy

        I asked the metrics question at my last interview for an external position on an auditing team that was being created from the ground up. Since the bank had never had this team in-house, and they most likely wouldn’t treat us the way they treated their vendor, I wanted to make sure what they were proposing was realistic. The hiring manager’s response didn’t seem well thought out, which, again, makes sense given that this was a brand new team and she probably didn’t have enough information to know whether or not her metrics would work for the group. Ultimately, I didn’t take the job because I wasn’t convinced my performance would be accurately assessed and I hate living with that kind of uncertainty.

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    7. Betty

      Allison’s magic question: Thinking back to people who have been in this position previously, what differentiated the ones who were good from the ones who were really great?

      Reply
      1. AvonLady Barksdale

        I have two in-person interviews scheduled for next week, and I’ve bookmarked that one. And a column you did on “The best questions to ask in an interview”. My boyfriend thinks it’s insane that I’m spending a good portion of my days going through AAM archives, but it’s all in the name of research.

        I had a phone screen with HR last week and during a conversation about company culture, I asked, “What would you change about the company?” I got a, “Oooh, great question!” and then an answer about who wouldn’t fit in. So not exactly an answer to my direct question, but immensely helpful.

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    8. Jubilance

      I actually do ask the “what are the key skills needed for this position?” question because I geniunely want to make sure my skills align – I don’t use it as a way to talk about myself like the example Alison used.

      I also ask about team/office/corporate culture, what the average work day/week looks like, whats the process for performance reviews & feedback, stuff like that.

      Reply
    9. Josh S

      What is your management style/the manager’s style/the culture of management here? Are you very involved in reviewing the work (might be good for a new person trying to learn and be sure of their progress), or very hands off (might be good for someone who likes to take the ball and run with it), and how might that vary by project/situation?

      What does a typical day look like? Lots of meetings and collaboration, or lots of “head-down-and-work-solo-at-the-computer” time? When do people tend to arrive/leave? Do many folks stay long into the evening (outside of “crunch time” if that’s relevant)?

      Why is the position open? (Potentially gives insight into whether people move up in the company, or if they can’t keep the position filled, etc…and you might even get some ideas about WHY people leave the position) Is there anything about the previous person who had this role that you’re looking for again, or looking to avoid?

      This seems like a position I’m interested in exploring further. To make sure we’re not completely off-base with regard to salary, can I ask the rough range you have budgeted for this position? I know it’s not any guarantee, but just want to make sure it makes sense for us to keep talking since I’m interested! (spoken with enthusiasm)

      Are there any busy/slow times I should be aware of that might be at play? (Especially if you have any upcoming vacations you want to take. No sense in planning that Christmas-to-NYE trip to Aruba if that’s their “All Hands on Deck” time!)

      Someone already mentioned Alison’s “Magic Question”–which is a great one. “Thinking back to people who have held this position in the past, what differentiated the really GREAT ones from the people who were just ‘good’?” (Trying to figure out what really makes someone successful in the role.)

      Anything else that you are curious about with regards to the job. I usually try to picture myself doing the work for the course of a day/week/year. If I can’t picture myself doing the job over the course of a day, or what a week’s work looks like, or what things might seem like over a year, I ask to fill in those gaps.

      Reply
    10. phedre

      I work in fundraising and ask things like:
      – What was the budgeted fundraising revenue last year? This year? Were fundraising goals met? If they didn’t meet goals, how far off were they? (you’re trying to figure out whether they set realistic, achievable goals. Also, if they didn’t meet goals, why not? was there a 1-off external event or do they frequently set unachievable goals?
      – How are fundraising goals developed? (you want to make sure you have a good say in this and can set realistic goals! Not, well we have a budget shortfall of $500K so that’s your goal even though last year we raised only $50K)
      – How are agency program priorities developed? (you never want to hear that they’re chasing grants, because programs will change every year as grants change)
      – What’s the role of the board in fundraising? (you want to hear that they are actively involved)
      – Is the Executive Director expected to fundraise? (answer better be yes!)
      – How long was the previous person in this role? Why did they leave? (turnover in fundraising staff can be high. You want to make sure it’s not because 1) they have unrealistic expectations or 2) they don’t support you in fundraising. If you see that they’ve had 3 development directors in 5 years that is a big red flag!
      – My last job I also asked about some specific things going on in the community that were likely to affect the organization. I asked how they thought those things would affect the agency and fundraising.

      Reply
        1. phedre

          Happy to help! Glad someone else doesn’t have to learn the hard way like I did :-) I always try and remind myself that I’m interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing me.

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    11. So Very Anonymous

      I just asked this in a Skype interview and got a “good question!” back from the interviewers (I knew they were hiring to fill a position opened by a retirement): “What has the person currently in the position been doing that you’d like to have continue, or see more of? What changes would you like to see the new person bring?”

      I asked that because there have been some pretty unrealistic assumptions built into my current position, and I wanted to get a sense of what they were hoping for, without coming out and saying anything direct about current situation. Plus it ended up being a useful question for getting at what they value and what kinds of growth/change they want.

      Reply
    12. Munchabar

      After I graduated I always panicked because my ‘questions’ I thought up before the interview were always answered because they were fairly basic. Or worse, I didn’t prepare a single question and looked like I didn’t care.

      I now ask things like:
      How would you say the workload fluctuates throughout the week? month? year?
      Could I expect to be required to work overtime during busy periods?
      Is there any room for advancement within the department or company?
      Is the company planning on growth/expansion in the near future?
      (if yes to above) Do you see that impacting the position I am applying for in any way?

      And the most important for me personally: Do you offer any kind of benefits?
      This was something that never came up during my most recent job interview until after I had accepted their offer and gave notice at my prior job (which had good benefits). I was getting a slight pay increase but I lost $3000 in medical coverage I used each year… which means my pay bump was maybe only a few hundred over the year!

      Even if you blank and have no questions to ask. You can always look pensive for a moment and say that all of your questions had been answered in the interview.

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    13. Rana

      I used to ask about the department’s relationships with other departments, how they viewed their place in the institution as a whole, how they were generally perceived, etc.

      Reply
    14. MillersSpring

      I like to ask “Looking ahead, what will success look like after the person hired is in this role for 90 days, or for six months?”

      Reply
    15. Aca-Believe It

      I like to ask how they welcome and induct new staff into the organisation; what some of the first tasks or projects might be; and what opportunities there are for relevant training and development.

      I also like to ask: why do people like working here?

      But I’m a decade into my career and in the UK, so that may not translate.

      Reply
    16. ceiswyn

      I work in software development. I was once interviewing for a tech writing job with a company that created tech writing software, so I asked what seemed to me the absolutely most obvious question: “Do you use your own software?”

      The response was a “Good question!” and a slightly embarrassed laugh. They offered me the job, but I decided not to take it :)

      (That was ten years ago. Still working in tech writing. Never seen their software since.)

      Reply
  4. helloitsme

    I’m glad you laid this out like this. When I was first out of college, I was totally basically the exact OPPOSITE advice. Really! By so many people! And I feel like I read a ton of articles that told me the same thing too!

    Now that I’m older, and somewhat wiser, when I ask questions or for an information interview, I legitimately want to know their story and learn something (whether or not it’s even a place I could work anyway). And when I ask questions at an interview, they’re things that are actually important to me. No one actually told me to do this; I just realized what’s important to me and wanted to make sure that jobs were the right fit.

    But now, I’m not always sure how to respond if they become interested in me or DO ask me about applying for a job there (even if I could potentially be interested)… so… still trying to figure out how to deal with that conversation.

    Reply
    1. AMT

      There needs to be a blanket ban on people giving job search advice when they haven’t looked for a job or hired anyone in 10+ years. Career counselors are often the worst for this, second only to parents. The career counselor at my undergrad once told a story about how he’d gotten his current job by showing up at the home of the hiring manager. Great way to get your students arrested.

      Reply
      1. OhNo

        Even if they have looked or hired for a job recently, I still wouldn’t trust most people’s advice. Just because they found a job doesn’t mean they’re good at job searching, and just because they hired someone doesn’t mean they’re good at hiring.

        But man, people sure like to jump to the conclusion that because something worked for them one time, it will work for everyone else in every situation forever.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes — and there’s a lot of “I did this and it was a success because I got hired” when they don’t realize that they alienated 100 other hiring managers or that they got hired despite it, not because of it.

          Reply
          1. AMT

            It’s like taking the advice of a 105-year-old man who says that his secret to longevity is morning vodka and getting hit by cars for insurance money. People aren’t good at attribution.

            Reply
        2. Rana

          I think that sort of thinking is endemic. The parenting boards I follow are certainly full of it. This was my solution for problem X, which worked in my particular circumstances with my particular kid and my particular personality, but, of course it will work for you, and if it doesn’t, it’s just that you’re somehow doing it wrong.

          Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      I was thinking the same thing, there is a lots of advice out there that said build a question that opens the conversation to more self-advertisement, okay, bragging.

      I could never get comfortable with that because it’s not sincere. “Tell me about your company, so I can find more ways to tell you how awesome I am.” How can the interviewee even be listening to what is said?

      I thought the advice was useless to me. I don’t want to “talk AT” people and I don’t want them “talking AT” me.

      Reply
  5. Jesmlet

    Regarding calling before applying- someone called our recruiting line today asking if we were hiring for a position we almost never hire for. Obviously they called because they saw the Indeed posting and were trying to find a way in but it’s just super annoying and a waste of both of our time when it clearly says in there to just send your resume and/or cover letter. And for the love of God, please don’t call to follow up with me if we’ve never actually spoken before. Trust me, I’ll call you if I’m interested.

    Reply
    1. Audiophile

      I think following up stems from bad career advice, as well as generation Y and Z being told by their parents to do this. I know I battled with my mom regularly, up until a few years ago, about this.

      Mom: Did you call to follow up?
      Me: No.
      Mom: You should do that. They’ll think you’re not interested.
      Me: No.

      And my other personal favorite:
      Mom: What does the job pay? Did you ask what it pays?
      Me: No.
      Mom: How can you go through an entire interview and not find out what it pays? They’ll think you’re not interested if you don’t ask? You need to know how much it pays.
      Me: No. I’m sure they’ll tell me.

      Reply
      1. Anxa

        That and the ‘foot in the door advice.’

        Although I never intended to just get my foot into some sort of a door to open up to the opportunity I was really after, I applied to jobs that I didn’t want to do for more than 2-3 years. I applied to a lot of custodial staff positions in part because I actually really love cleaning, would rather deal with literal crap than figurative, and thought that my previous experiences in keeping things clean combined with a knowledge of the chain of infection could be really valuable.

        I didn’t realize I was basically applying in vain because I couldn’t hide my degree without a hiding my work history (school related jobs) and instead embraced it as a plus. And that I was maybe blacklisting myself with too many applications.

        But I really took a lot of narratives about working your way up and starting at the bottom way too seriously, and was also scared to come across as too full of myself as a new grad with no experience. It was 2008, and the rhetoric about entitled college grads got to me.

        Reply
        1. Audiophile

          See I almost never ask.

          I used to try to avoid the salary chat, dancing around the question. Now I’m just upfront about what I’m looking for.

          I remember being really proud of skillfully deflecting the question by saying something like, “I’m sure you have a range in mind for this role.”
          I got an answer but I also didn’t get a call back for that job, which I was fine with since it was not an ideal commute.

          Reply
      2. March

        +100

        It was only a month or two ago that I asked in the Friday Open Thread about handling parents who keep offering bad advice and then keep asking about it – turns out that fudging the truth works pretty darn well. (“Of course I emailed [prof from a different discipline at university] about potential openings! Never got an answer.”)

        Reply
        1. MegaMoose, Esq.

          I was talking to my dad a couple of days ago about a job that ghosted me after several interviews. He very gingerly asked if following up by phone is a thing people do these days. I appreciated that he understands that he hasn’t had to look for a job since around the time I was born and things change.

          Reply
          1. Snazzy Hat

            My father fully admits to his chance success with employment. The job from which he retired after… 22 years?… was offered to him without an application. [Details changed to fit AAM standards. :-) ] He had worked as an organic chemist at the Northern County teapot factory and specialized in lids. While visiting the science lab at the Central County factory to drop something off, the lab director essentially said, “we’re expanding our operations in the chem lab and will need an organic chemist, particularly one who really knows the intricacies of the lids on chocolate teapots. You wanna work here, in the same town where you live?”

            With my job search, he just sticks to “how’s it coming along?” (usually I tell him before he asks), “here are the listings from the sunday newspaper”, and general moral support.

            Reply
        2. SJ

          I did that regarding the job I was offered recently. They offered me $5k more than I asked for, and my dad said I should keep negotiating. Nope — I had given them my number after a full interview in which I learned all of the job responsibilities, so it’s not like I could ask for a higher number and argue that I was asking for more due to new knowledge of more difficult responsibilities or whatever.

          So I just told him I asked for more and was turned down, when I never asked at all :P

          Reply
      3. Joseph

        My favorite is the “offer to work for free” advice. Maybe this was relevant back when most jobs were factory jobs or something, I don’t know. But in today’s office, it’s both a bad idea from a productivity standpoint (I can’t just drop you into a project tomorrow) and illegal.

        Reply
    2. workworkwork

      So I’m curious about your comment. You say someone called about a currently listed job posted on Indeed that “we almost never hire for.” Why do you have the job posted, then? Waiting for the right candidate but don’t need to hire asap? And do you follow up with people that respond? I see the same jobs pop up on Indeed (usually sponsored postings) but don’t really understand the value in having that particular job advertised all the time.

      Reply
      1. Joseph

        I don’t read it the same way you did. It’s not 100% clear, but from the comment, I think it’s one of two things:
        1.) Company very rarely has Position X open. Position X is, however, open right now and looking to hire. Rather than follow the listed procedure of “just send us your stuff and we’ll reach out to you”, Candidate tried to jump the line and short-circuit the process by calling Jesmlet directly.
        2.) Company very rarely has Position X open now and it isn’t open now. Instead, a Candidate saw an opening for a totally different position and cold-called Jesmlet to ask about the (not posted! not open!) Position X.

        Reply
      2. nofelix

        I think she’s remarking that the candidate would only know about the job opening through seeing the Indeed post, because it’s so rarely open. Thus they would have also known the right way to apply but chose to call instead.

        Reply
      3. Jesmlet

        What I meant by that is it’s not a job that someone would cold call us asking about. Above two comments had it right but I’ll admit it does read a little unclear. We’re hiring for it now because there’s an unusual need so the only way they would’ve have known we were looking is if they saw the post but decided to circumvent our requested process and just call us instead.

        Reply
  6. Nonnie

    I see what you’re getting at here, but what if you genuinely want to ask that question, and when they answer “yes, the position will involve X”, you want to illustrate that you have experience doing that? What is a way to do that without making it sound like the question was a transparent attempt at getting to talk about yourself? With the Baby Boomer Rice Sculpture example (which is hilarious), if the conversation went like this:

    Candidate: What’s the most important thing you’re looking for in candidates for this job?
    Interviewer: I’d say the most important thing is experience creating high-impact rice sculptures for an audience 55 and up.
    Candidate: Okay.

    Wouldn’t it leave the interviewer hanging and wondering if that candidate had any experience doing the thing that they just said was most important? Wouldn’t that be a perfect opportunity for the candidate to showcase that they have that particular experience?

    Reply
    1. BTownGirl

      I had the exact same question! Sometimes the interviewer’s response brings up something from my experience that we didn’t get around to discussing, so I say, “That’s great! I’ve actually done x/y/z and Job A and I really enjoyed it/here’s how it worked out really well.” I’m guilty, y’all.

      Reply
    2. Karo

      I need to read better before I comment! I have the same question. I genuinely don’t know what else I’d say here – If I had the experience I’d relate it back, and if I didn’t I’d try to talk about how it’s a particular interest or whatever.

      Reply
    3. MJH

      Well, hopefully you will have already discussed your particular experience earlier in the interview, if it’s one of the main parts of the job.

      Candidate: What’s the most important thing you’re looking for in candidates for this job?
      Interviewer: I’d say the most important thing is experience creating high-impact rice sculptures for an audience 55 and up.
      Candidate: Okay, great. That tracks with what I’m looking for,based on my experience at RiceSculpt Corp.

      Candidate: ASKS NEXT QUESTION

      Reply
      1. BTownGirl

        Eh, sometimes you haven’t gotten to everything. For instance, I’ve worked on construction projects from all different sectors. Maybe the interviewer has already asked me about experience with, let’s say, hospitality and residential. The interviewer mentions at some point that they are looking to expand into other sectors. When it’s my turn to ask a question, I ask about what other sectors they are looking at and they’re now going to be working with museums as well. I’d feel weird not saying, “I worked on x/y/z project at MajorMuseum and I found it to be different from other sectors because a/b/c/.” In that context, wouldn’t the interviewer want to know that and wouldn’t I be doing myself a disservice by not bringing it up?

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I think that’s fine — that’s conversational and a normal response. But keep it short — if they want more, they’ll ask (and you can always say “let me know if it would be useful to tell you more about that”). The issue is when the whole point of you asking was to set up a sales pitch (like I talk about below).

          Reply
    4. OhNo

      I don’t know if it’s good advice in general, but when this has happened to me in the past I’ve had good luck asking a very specific follow-up question. Like in the example you quoted, “Oh, that’s good to know. Do you generally follow the guidelines from the AARP Rice Sculpture division, or the Rice Sculpture Association’s preferred protocol for seniors?”

      In my field, asking that kind of question is a good way to say “hey, I’ve had enough experience with this to know what I’m talking about”, while also giving you the chance to make sure that your experience actually lines up with what they’re looking for.

      Reply
    5. Trout 'Waver

      The “Do you have any questions?” phase of the interview is the last part of the interview. A good interviewer will have already assessed your qualifications by that point. You shouldn’t be selling yourself at that point. Also, how do you make it to the end of the interview without knowing what’s most important about the job?

      Also, good candidates realize that an interview is a two-way street. They’re selling themselves, but also need the job sold to them. The “Any questions?” phase is the time to allay or clarify any concerns the candidate might have.

      Reply
          1. James

            There’s going to be an element of salesmanship in any interview, though. Yes, either party has the capacity to walk away–but let’s face it, you generally need the company more than the company needs you, and that’s going to color the interaction. Maybe for a CEO or senior management position that’s not true (you ask Bill Gates to work for your company, he doesn’t ask you if you’ll hire him), but it certainly is for entry-level or lower-tier management positions in most companies. Particularly when you’re just starting out, you’re NOT a peer in any real sense.

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              But it’s actually in your interest to approach it as a regular business conversation, not a sales pitch, because it will make you do a better interview, making you more likely to be hired. So you might feel like a peer, and you might not be a peer, but approaching the conversation that way will make you a better candidate, at least with decent hiring managers.

              Reply
            2. Nerdy Canuck

              Thing is, the best approach to sales is that same kind of thing, just in a different context; they’ve got a problem, you’ve got some possible solutions, and you’re trying to figure out if one of them is right.

              There’s other ways to approach sales, and it depends on having products that actually are a solution for people, but focusing on discovery and trying to figure out if things will actually work instead of on the short term idea of that seems to be the best thing for *you* on the face of it (IE, getting a job, rather than making sure to get the right job) is going to lead to better results in the long term.

              Reply
      1. TheAssistant

        This is a really good point. I also find that some of my “am I strong enough for this position” questions come up at natural points during the interview, making it more of a conversation, and the “any other questions” part at the end is more for things that haven’t been addressed, but really matter to me as I’m evaluating a potential job.

        Reply
      2. Tacocat

        Ok, this is the part that stuck out to me and might clear up why not everyone agrees with Allison on this: “A good interviewer will have already assessed your qualifications by that point.” Not all interviewers are good interviewers and I do think there is an opportunity to ask clarifying questions about the role during the questions portion of the interview. Some interviewers are not that great at guiding an interview to assess what they actually need and how the candidate compares to that need. In that case, at some point during the clarifying questions, it could arise for a candidate to state how they match up to that need. I agree that it can be a little overly salesy (and perhaps this is particularly out of tone for certain environments such as non profits), but I agree with James that an interview is about selling yourself. Yes, it should also be about the company selling themselves to the candidates, so those types of questions should be asked. And yes, it probably is unnecessary most of the time and perhaps tone deaf depending on the interview process/culture and the interviewer. But no, I don’t think this is a deal breaker or “bad advice” until it’s being forced too much.

        Reply
    6. hbc

      I think if you respond with a single sentence, it should be okay. “Ah, good, I’ve really enjoyed my experience with that.” Or, “Oh, it may not be clear from my resume, but Pleasant Valley is a retirement facility, so all of my sculpture experience there was for 55 and up.” Then move on to your next question, because this is the portion about you learning about the job. Don’t worry, they’ll interrupt or come back to it if they want more info.

      But: 1) Don’t do it with every question/answer. It’s really unlikely that there will be more than a couple questions where the relevant stuff isn’t there on your resume or already discussed. 2) You have to have genuinely been looking for the answer and not a chance to show off. The “what’s most important” question is fine, but the mentoring one is pretty transparent.

      Reply
    7. Ask a Manager Post author

      Well, if it’s truly the most important thing, then it’s probably already come up — it would be pretty weird if it hadn’t. But for the sake of argument, yeah, if it’s truly a natural, organic thing, that’s fine — the issue is when it’s obvious that people were always intending to turn it into a sales pitch, regardless of the answer, and the whole point of the question was to provide a platform for them to do that.

      Reply
      1. BTownGirl

        I gotcha and I’m guessing when it’s a truly organic thing (I just got the giggles thinking “a truly organic, fair trade, gluten free answer to your interviewer’s question ;) ) it doesn’t come off as sales-y. Personally, the only time I’ve really had to do that was when I had a phone interview where the person I was talking to droned on (and on) and didn’t ask very many questions. Bizarre, and thankfully very rare!

        Reply
      2. Joseph

        FWIW, in my experience, I’ve yet to encounter a situation where it is truly natural and organic. In fact, not only is it “not organic”, it’s usually a blatantly obvious pre-packaged script.
        Most notably, I’ll often get very generic/vanilla questions, then after I answer, they immediately jump into a prepared monologue about Why I’m Awesome at Working at Fast Paces or whatever.

        Reply
  7. Vanesa

    On that note, I’ve had a few interviews where I ask questions like that and then the inteviewer will answer and say something like “how does that sound?” or “does that sound like you?”

    Reply
  8. YRH

    When asking genuine questions in an interview, does it come off poorly or like an excuse to talk about yourself to relate responses back to your goals or experience? For example:

    Candidate: What would success look like a year after starting this position?
    Interviewer: After spending a year in this position, I would expect you to take the lead in developing high impact rice sculptures for audiences of 55 or more. We do have a significant training program and provide plenty of oversite, but find that the best way to learn is through on the ground experience.
    Candidate: That is very exciting to hear. In my current roll, I take the lead in developing high impact rice sculptures for audiences of 10 or less. I love the fact that I have developed the skills to be a project lead but in my next role, I am looking to build skills to expand my audience and am eager roll up my sleeves and do that.

    Reply
    1. Lily in NYC

      Good question. At first I was going to answer that it’s still pretty self-serving but now I am second-guessing myself. I’m curious to see other opinions.

      Reply
      1. Clever Name

        I’ve only ever commented on this site once before, and maybe you are a regular commenter, but it’s odd that we chose the same name! I don’t anticipate commenting more but if I do I guess I’ll come up with a better “clever name.” :)

        Reply
      2. Not So NewReader

        I am guessing but I think part of the difference is the brevity of the answer. That could have been said in less words.

        “I am excited to hear that, I have been wanting to expand my audience.” Here, you are just pointing out where you and the interviewer have a common interest.

        In the longer statement, that is a repeat of what is on the resume, cover letter and the interviewer should already know that you targeted a 10 year old audience and worked shift lead. What the interviewer may not be aware of is that you are excited about expanding your audience, you really want to do this.

        Just interviewed someone for a job with more responsibilities than her previous job. Some of the responsibilities are dull and some are interesting. “You will be doing Dull X, Interesting Y and Dull Z.” Her response, ” I am very excited about learning how to do X, Y, and Z and expanding my knowledge of these areas.”
        We were very excited to hire her.

        Reply
  9. helloitsme

    So…… how do you deal with the situation where either you’re asking for informational interview… and then they ask you about yourself, or if you’ll be applying to the company? Because partly I feel like:

    1. If I knew how to do the job, I wouldn’t be doing this informational interview. (Although, maybe not, depending on the role.)
    2. If I say YES, they’ll think that was my whole goal all along, and things will get weird.
    3. If I say “Not yet,” I won’t seem proactive or like I did my research. Or they’ll think I’m not really serious about my career and won’t want to give me advice.

    Anyone deal with this situation in the past?

    Reply
      1. helloitsme

        No, I mean, if I haven’t applied.

        Ok so what happened was… I reached out to someone because I was impressed by the company and his career path, and I wanted to learn more about how he got to where he is, learn more about the company, what the day-to-day entails, etc.

        He wrote me back and said that next week might be good to talk, and then he asked me if I’ve gone through the site and looked at the open positions they have available.

        So… I don’t know if I should just switch course and apply right away… or not apply and have a call first? Or what?

        I mean, I think it would be a cool place to work, but I was genuinely just expecting to ask HIM questions. I wasn’t expecting him to ask me if I looked at the available positions. I’m not sure if he’s trying to get rid of me and have me apply instead, or if he’s asking because he’s thinking the call will be to talk with me about the positions, or what…

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          If you look at the positions and think you might want to apply, say this: “I was originally hoping to meet with you to learn more more about X and Y and didn’t have a role at your company in mind, but having looked over your postings, I’m interested in the Z role. Would it be better for me to go ahead and apply and not take up your time on an informational interview, or would it still make sense to meet as well?”

          If you don’t want to apply, then just say that you’re mainly interested in talking to him about X and Y and weren’t thinking of applying there right now.

          Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If you’re interested in applying now that you’ve talked to them, I’d say, “After talking to you, I’m really interested and I’m going to think it over!” But that’s just if they bring it up and wasn’t your whole reason for being there.

      Reply
      1. helloitsme

        I haven’t talked to him yet though, and he already asked me about it. (See above.) Not sure what to do in this case.

        Reply
  10. Karo

    Candidate: What’s the most important thing you’re looking for in candidates for this job?
    Interviewer: I’d say the most important thing is experience creating high-impact rice sculptures for an audience 55 and up.
    Candidate: Oh, great. I have a ton of experience doing that. Let me tell you about my entry in the Baby Boomer Rice Sculpture Competition, blah blah blah.

    Legitimate question here: What else are you supposed to say? If you’re genuinely interested in what the most important thing is, and they mention something you haven’t spoken about yet for whatever reason, are you supposed to just move? I get the other example – if you ask if it’s collaborative and they essentially say no, move on – but…I’m at a loss for the first one!

    Reply
    1. TL -

      I think, oh I did that in my last job and really enjoyed it opens an opportunity for the interviewer to probe if needed without monopolizing time.

      Reply
    2. Whats In A Name

      I’m thinking a more succinct: “That’s great; I definitely have experience in that arena (or translateable skills).
      Next question.

      Then if the interviewer wants to probe deeper they can.

      I think you can still ask those types of questions, but not drone on with examples, just a simple acknowledgement and move on. Let them run with it as opposed to you taking over the interview.

      Reply
    3. James

      More generally, where’s the line? The problem is, folks interviewing are being asked a great deal about themselves, and often believe (frequently correctly that providing some extra information could be helpful.

      In the example above, the candidate is likely doing exactly that. If they have experience with high-impact rice sculptures for an audience 55 and up, that’s useful information–otherwise it wouldn’t be the most important thing the interviewer is looking for. What else are they supposed to do with that information? More significantly: The interviewer knows what’s coming, but is it an illegitimate thing to do? Shouldn’t the candidate WANT to know what the most important thing is? If the most important thing is rice sculpting and I’ve spent the last ten years doing that as part of my responsibilities, that’s great and I should mention it! If it’s antelope painting and I’ve never painted an antelope, not so great, and it’s good for me to know. If it’s “Getting along with some difficult coworkers/clients”, I’m probably going to go through the rest of the interview as practice, because even if they offered me the job I’d turn it down.

      If this takes the place of more substantive questions, yeah, I can see that being a problem. The candidate should be analyzing the company as much as the company is analyzing them.

      So I think there’s a line between “show how well you fit with the company” and “don’t yammer on and on about yourself”. I’m just not sure where it is. By which I mean, I’m not sure how to articulate it; I can find that line easily enough in real life, but it’s a “I know it when I see it” situation, and I hate those.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        In the antelope example, I would point that out to see what they say. “Well, as you know I don’t have antelope painting experience.” If my tone of voice did not imply it, I would add, “Does it make sense for us to keep talking?”

        I the key is that it’s a conversation, it’s a back and forth. So it’s up to the interviewee to their part keep the conversation open ended and moving.

        Let’s say I am talking to my friend:
        Friend: “Let’s go to Paris next year. It will be fun.”
        Me: “Yeah, I did that last year.”

        I just squelched the conversation. I pretty much killed it, it’s dead.

        Do-over:
        Friend: “Let’s go to Paris next year. It will be fun.”
        Me: Oh man, you know, I did that last year and it was great. What do you think about going to Ireland?”
        Friend: “Wow, you are interested in Ireland, too? Oh, we could do that together instead!”

        In the do-over example, I gave my friend an opportunity to add to the conversation. By asking a question I showed a sincere interest in doing something with my friend.

        Reply
  11. Seven If You Count Bad John

    Can we do our own behavioral questions to determine mamagement style and cultural fit? Just pulling an example from recent AAM questions, can you say “please tell me more about how you as a manager would handle it if your team wasn’t on board with one of them being promoted and it was interfering with their effectiveness on the job”, “how would you describe the company’s response if a person wasn’t able to participate in a 5-k charity run”, “you’ve asked how I deal with conflict. What kinds of conflicts have occurred on your team and how did you handle them?”

    Reply
    1. Schmitt (in Germany)

      I asked a few! I had nothing to lose as I was very solidly employed somewhere that was slowly killing me, and I didn’t want to go from bad to worse.

      * How would you handle an unmotivated employee?
      * The company was started in 2012, would you still describe it as a start-up culture or has it moved past that?
      * Have you heard of the pomodoro process, what do you think of it?
      * What does “fun to work with” (from their job ad) mean to you?

      Their answers really helped to convince me that it would be a good fit for me.

      Reply
      1. Seven If You Count Bad John

        Those are good questions! I’m reassured. I guess just as with anything, a lot depends on how you phrase the question and on being able to read between the lines. For example, I’d be afraid that asking “how do you deal with an unmotivated employee” would signal “I’m an unmotivated employee”, just as “what opportunities for cross training and advancement are there in this position” might signal “I’m not going to want to stay in this role and I’m just looking for a foot in the door and will get bored and leave”.

        Recently, I did turn the “how do you deal with conflict” question around and received the answer “we’re a FAMILY here.” I marked that as a red flag and after a couple more interview rounds with more and better flags I decided I had been right the first time and declined the job.

        Reply
        1. Schmitt (in Germany)

          Yes, if I hadn’t been coming from a very strong position I might have been more leery of asking “how do you deal with an unmotivated employee”. I think for a management position it definitely wouldn’t be looked at askew, maybe with slightly softer wording like “how do you usually handle” or “what’s the standard procedure for”.

          I asked about conferences & development opportunities, answer was “erm, we never really thought about it, we should do that” and they’ve scheduled a conference for one of the developers since I started.

          For the record, they had not heard of the pomodoro process, but saw no reason why it wouldn’t work fine. I am luxuriating in being able to take frequent short breaks and nobody caring!

          Reply
  12. AvonLady Barksdale

    OK, now I’m second-guessing a conversation I had yesterday. It wasn’t quite a phone interview, more of a conversation with the CEO of a local agency. He opened by saying that hiring someone with my skills was in line with his growth plan (always nice to hear), and he wanted to talk to see if we were aligned on a few things. I asked him at one point about his vision for the role/department, and he said something about building my own team and how he saw that working. I replied that I really enjoy managing people and that he and I have similar approaches to the senior/junior relationship. I didn’t give examples, just kind of talked about my own philosophy and that we were on the same page.

    Too much? I’m meeting with him and some of the rest of the team next week, and I don’t want to come on too strong.

    Reply
    1. Good_Intentions

      AvonLady Barksdale:

      Congrats on the phone conversation!

      I believe that by generally touching on your interest in leadership you opened the door for a more detailed discussion regarding managing staff at the upcoming meeting.

      Best of luck to you!

      Reply
      1. AvonLady Barksdale

        Thanks! :) I’m starting to get some confidence back, reminding myself that yes, I do have skills people want– including managing people.

        Reply
  13. insert pun here

    The last interview I had, the interviewer kept asking me if I had any questions – including *before* she had asked me any questions. It was super weird, especially since the nature of my work is… I pretty much know what I need to know before I apply. (Small field, everyone knows everyone, very few secrets.) I ran out of smart sounding questions and really just wanted the interviewer to start…interviewing. If I had thought just talking about myself like this would have done it, I would have.

    Reply
  14. Green

    I’m going to disagree with you here for the very narrow purpose of law firm (and some in-house) interviews. When you interview with major law firms, the interviews often last between 4 and 8 hours. You spend about 20-30 minutes at a time rotating through a number of busy associates and partners, basically none of whom have prepared for your interview and some haven’t even looked at your resume. They will then provide a numeric score for you, and they’re interviewing for multiple positions and interviewing dozens of candidates.

    In at least 30 percent of those interviews, you will walk into the room and the person will say: “I’m sure you’ve been asked TONS of questions today! What questions do you have for me?” All of the questions you really want answered are ones that you can’t ask. And if you aren’t memorable in the 20-30 minutes out of the dozens of candidates, you will score low, even if you ask “good” questions.

    You almost certainly HAVE to make your pitch while asking questions, or set yourself up to say, “That’s great because….”

    Reply
      1. Green

        I did law in California, which is why I have to read your blog for normal job skills. :) Everything I know is the opposite of what is normal. :)

        Reply
        1. Green

          Oh, also I come here for the schadenfreude of seeing even more dysfunctional work environments than the one I came from.

          Reply
    1. Trout 'Waver

      But, that’s only at big corporate-style law firms. And only when they hire entry level associates. Small practices and laterals hire the same way most other businesses do.

      Reply
      1. Green

        Going to somewhat disagree on that as well, although it’s true for very small law firms. I’ve worked at 30 lawyer, 120 lawyer, and 1000 lawyer law firms, and interviewed at law firms ranging in size from 15 to thousands. If I had to guess, between OCI 1L to 3L, “callbacks”, lateral interviewing, non-profit and in-house interviewing, I’d done at least 150 interviews (the 20-30 minute chunks) on the interviewee side and dozens and dozens on the lawyer side. This weird “You’ve talked about yourself all day! Why don’t we just take this time to answer some of YOUR questions!” oddness applied to some non-profits and corporate jobs that had a similar structure for interviews (short one-on-one interviews with multiple people in the department), particularly when those people came from a law firm environment previously. Because that’s how they “learned” how to do a lazy interview. It’s really very strange, which is why I spend a significant amount of time prepping students for large law firm interviews. Because your interviewer having read your resume and having thoughtful questions about it is not an assumption you can make. :)

        Reply
        1. Trout 'Waver

          I guess it’s a perspective thing. In most parts of the country, a 30 lawyer firm is a large law firm. I’m curious now that I think about it. What percentage of lawyers in this country work at firms with fewer than 30 attorneys?

          Reply
  15. A Different KatieF

    My husband has been interviewing recently and he mentioned that in a couple he was asked at the start whether he had any questions for the interviewers. He and I both thought that was odd–we’re more used to the interviewer asking the candidate whether they had any questions at the end of the interview. Is this a new trend in job interviews?

    Reply
  16. Venus Supreme

    I had a terrible question thrown at me in an interview. My potential employer asked me if I considered myself an actor/if I still wanted to act. That had absolutely nothing to do with the job I was interviewing for. It turned out said employer was a child actor.

    Yeah, the company culture ended up being really terrible.

    Reply
    1. HRChick

      Did you have it on your resume? Maybe they were just asking a social question vs. a work question? Social compatibility is just as important and work compatibility.

      Reply
  17. Mimmy

    * taking up Q&A time at workshops and presentations to ask questions that are just thinly disguised ways to talk about yourself

    Amen to this! I’ve seen this occasionally even at my council meetings, when we’re technically supposed to be discussing systemic issues.

    Reply
  18. Recruit-o-rama

    Questions I like as a Recruiter:

    1. What’s the salary range?
    2. Basic info on benefits?
    3. What are the biggest challenges of the role?
    4. What’s the reporting structure like?
    5. What can I expect from the interview process?
    6. What’s the culture like/what do you like about working for the company?
    7. Specific skill questions related to the position.

    I like it when they wait until the end and I like it when they limit themselves to 4 or 5 questions at my stage of the process (screen) and for some of the skill questions, I tell them that they should save that (great!) question for the hiring manager interview.

    Reply
    1. Isabel C.

      Ooh, interesting! I was told never to ask 1 or 2 on a first interview, but that was 10ish years ago: is that no longer true? Because that would be awesome.

      Reply
      1. Green

        I think the advice is still that it’s probably OK to talk about that in a screener with a recruiter, if they’re actively seeking you out, than an interview in a job for which you’ve applied. But that it’s stupid that that’s the convention because everyone works for money.

        Reply
  19. ZiggyStardust

    I did exactly this in a job interview last week unfortunately, without meaning to. I asked what does success look like a year into this role, and they said a very particular skill that I was specifically complimented on numerous times by supervisors in my previous position. I was so excited to hear that that I brought up this fact, which I hadn’t been able to elaborate earlier in the interview. I’m now kicking myself for doing it :(.

    I agree that thinking back it may come across as trying to hard (even though I didn’t plan the script). But if it’s actually a bit of a rare skill to have and I was repeatedly commended for it in my previous job, should I have just not mention it?

    Reply
    1. hbc

      I think the kicking isn’t necessary. :) If this was for one question and it was spontaneous, it looks a lot different than what makes hiring managers cringe. For example, the mentoring question is a complete setup. A response of anything other than “We fire any employees suspected of mentoring” was going to start that spiel.

      Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      I think that your pure excitement showed through for what it was, excitement at the discovery of having something in common.

      I don’t think the interviewer ended the conversation after you said that. You are probably fine and just over thinking this one.

      Reply
      1. Awkward Interviewer

        I’ve done that kind of thing. Given genuine responses it interviews that I realized later were on the list of manipulative responses to avoid. (Like, “What do I struggle with? I’m a perfectionist,” that kind of thing.) I always wonder how obvious it is when you say something like that because it’s an honest answer that just came to mind vs trying to be manipulative.

        Reply
  20. Awkward Interviewer

    For the record, I’ve always found the, “Do you have any questions?” part to be the most awkward part of an interview. Ideally, it should be low pressure and informative. But in practice, it’s a mind-bender. If you don’t ask good enough questions, you don’t seem sincerely interested. But you can also go the other way and come across as picky or demanding. So this is a helpful post. Thank you, Allison!

    Reply
  21. ScarletInTheLibrary

    So timely. Our “branch manager” likes to ask questions to pretend like she cares about the staff. But really they are poorly vailed attempts to talk more and/or prove she is so involved in what her staff does. She often gets key information wrong, which if she didn’t treat the staff like zoo animals behind the glass and let us talk about what we do and why its important it wouldn’t happen. It’s extremely frustrating when she gives tours like the one she gave today. Let’s just say her body language and use of “questions” makes the staff think that she thinks the staff are worthless.

    On a side note I almost wrung someone’s neck at a conference for similar behavior (which is why I avoid going to the same conferences/sessions with branch manager because I want to keep my job). I was thinking “congrats, you have figured out that your institution does this the same as this institution, now stop making a comment every two minutes.” It got so bad in one session, the moderator stated that there were no more questions so we could hear what the speaker had to say about an issue that has exploded in recent years and the speaker’s institution actually has put a system in practice to deal with issue. A number of us said yes, please. She grumbled and said her statements added to the conversation and she paid for the conference. People like that will never get it.

    Reply
  22. Engineer Woman

    Curious to see what others think of a response I received after asking an open ended question in an interview for a management position. Director was in charge of large region (let’s say France and Belgium) and I am in Belgium (much smaller office). I asked what is directors view of growth in the business in Belgium. Response: Growth for the Belgians are in their hands. They need to work more to have more opportunities.

    At which I ask clarifying question: work more or work smarter and more efficiently?

    Answer: work more. I have French workers who stay in the office until 8 or 9pm whereas the Belgians don’t work so hard. They need to pick up more projects and do more if they want more opportunities and growth.

    I didn’t get the job and think I may have dodged a bullet. Opinions? Or am I wrong and working harder is what people need to do to get ahead?

    Reply
    1. SusanIvanova

      Ditto bullet dodged. I worked at a place that had merged with another company, gone through a round of layoffs, and then started losing people at an alarming rate. Those of us still there were working hard because we cared about our projects even though we didn’t trust the new company, but jumping ship was tempting; it was a tech boom time and recruiters were circling us like sharks. At an all hands meeting someone asked one of the top-level people what they planned on doing about that; that person looked out at us very intently and said “Only you can protect your job.”

      I think another dozen resumes went out that day.

      Reply
  23. Wren

    mmm, actually, that whole ‘calling with questions to stand out’ is a thing here in Denmark. Highly recommended. Of course, they should be good, relevant questions (thoughtful, vs. ‘do you have a cafeteria’ or ‘where’s the closest pokegym’ types), but it is considered de rigueur that serious applicants take the time to contact the employer. Just an FYI.

    Reply
  24. FunTillSomeoneLoosesAnEye

    The “humblebrag question” at the Q&A portion of presentations and workshops or continuing education classes annoys me to no end. The “question” is always long, rambling, and heavy on the ‘look how awesome A/we are or this thing I/we did is’ amd light on actually being a question who’s answer would benefit those who are in attendance.

    Reply
  25. Bex

    Yes! Hate this. We were hiring recently for a position at my small nonprofit – I had almost nothing to do with the hiring process and would not be working closely with the new hire, but an applicant somehow found me online and asked me to go out for coffee so that he could “find out more” about our organization. Dude, if you have specific questions, please ask and I’ll answer or forward as necessary, but I’m not going to go out for coffee with a random applicant out of a pool of 80-100. Why would I do that? Do I hate myself or want my time wasted? I’m sure someone told him to do that, and that person was mistaken.

    Reply
  26. SusanIvanova

    What do you ask when you’re interviewing at a company you worked at before? I know the culture, the processes, how flexible the hours are, how great the cafeteria is… The best I could come up with was “I was here in 2001 for the dot com crash when the papers were all saying we were doomed; what’s it like working here now that it’s wildly successful?” but then I got someone who hadn’t been here for the growth period.

    Reply
  27. Norman

    I’ve interviewed hundreds of people, and I strongly disagree with this advice. Given that AAM gives this advice, I assume I’m in the minority, but maybe my two cents will be helpful.

    When interviewing people for professional service jobs (and probably lots of other kinds of jobs) the candidate will often have a lot of ability to tailor the job to their skills and interests. Therefore, it is important for them to ask if they will have certain opportunities that fit those skills and interests. And it’s important for them to then communicate that they have those skills and interests. In my experience, it is a giant red flag when the candidate does NOT do this. It shows they either have no interest in defining their own role, or have no idea how to tell me that they are good at things that are part of the job (or don’t even know that they should do that).

    Reply

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