10 questions you should never ask in a job interview

At the end of a job interview, your interviewer is likely to ask you what questions you have. An employer is looking for two things here: First, most obviously, your interviewer wants to help you flesh out your understanding of the job and company, as well as get you answers to whatever you’re wondering about. But second, and perhaps less obviously, your interviewer will get additional insight into you by the sorts of things you ask about.

The wrong questions can kill the good impression you made earlier, so it’s important to pick thoughtful questions about the job and the organization. Here are 10 questions that you should steer far away from.

1. “What does your company do?” If you ask questions about the company that could have easily been answered with a small amount of research, you’ll come across as unprepared, unmotivated, and lazy.

2. “What benefits do you offer?” You don’t want to ask about benefits at this stage, and you definitely don’t want to ask about the nitty-gritty details of those benefits –who the health care provider is, if dental coverage is offered, how many vacation days employees receive, and so forth. The time to inquire about benefits is when you’re negotiating the details of an offer. At this stage, your questions should center around the job itself and the organization.

3. “Can I leave at 3:00 on Thursdays?” If you start asking for special treatment before you even get the job, employers will assume you’re going to be regularly asking for exceptions to be made. Whether it’s requests to work different hours, have a specific day off, or telecommute, now’s not the time to be making requests. Once you have a job offer, then you can negotiate for what you want.

4. “Do you drug test?” If they do, you’ll find out soon enough. Asking about it raises some obvious red flags.

5. “Would I be able to play a role in (something unrelated to the job you’re applying for)?” You might be really excited about the company’s social media operation or that big event they throw in Hollywood every year, but if it doesn’t relate to the job you’re applying for, don’t imply that it’s more exciting to you than the work that you’re actually interviewing to do.

6. “Do employees get a discount on your product?” This stage of the conversation is about whether you’ll be a good fit for each other. The answer to this question is unlikely to determine that for you, and you’ll come across as only interested in what they can do for you.

7. “Do you check references?” Assume that most employers do check references. Asking about it implies that you have something to hide.

8. “How long do you get for lunch?” Anything that implies that you’re focused on getting away from work rather than excelling at the job itself is going to reflect badly on you.

9. “Why should I take this job?” If you can’t figure out on your own whether or not the job is one you want, the interviewer is unlikely to try to figure it out for you.

10. “How did I do?” This question puts your interviewer on the spot. Good interviewers will be taking time to process your conversation and compare you to other candidates. Don’t end the interview on an awkward note.

I originally published this column at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 19 comments… read them below }

  1. nj mama*

    I once asked “how’d I do?” It actually turned out well. At the time I was interviewing with somebody that my boss (I got the job!) trusted, so he asked her to interview me. She was really, really tough – and a little scary (and perhaps unfair in her questioning). I needed to find a way to make her vulnerable – to get to know her a little more, so I asked that (after she asked me if she was too tough). It got her talking more about what was needed for the job, and was really helpful. Also, she was obviously trying to bust my (lady) balls, so I thought I should show them to her. Haha.

    Anyway, it’s definitely not always appropriate, but could be used in certain situations.

  2. DS*

    Once I asked what the usual work schedule was like, and I think the interviewers assumed I was asking about options for telecommuting because they knew I lived 70 miles away. Retrospectively I guess I shouldn’t have asked that, but I really did only mean what hours people typically worked. I won’t ask that question anymore, because I’d obviously find out if I got the job.

  3. Eric*

    While I certainly don’t recommend blurting out, “How did I do?”, I like asking what reservations the interviewer has and how I might address them better. That only generates discussion about 25% of the time though.

    1. Christine*

      Along those lines, I’ve read that a candidate can ask something like, “Is there anything I need to clarify about my qualifications?”

  4. KellyK*

    I would think general questions about the schedule would be relevant to figuring out fit. Is arrival time exact or is it flexible, is there weekend work all the time, some of the time, or never, etc. You’d have to be careful with questions like that to avoid sounding like you’re a special snowflake who can’t get up in the morning or whatever, but it strikes me as relevant.

    1. jmkenrick*

      I agree. In the past, I’ve framed it as work/life balance question, and my interviewers elaborated on things like work schedule on their own based off that.

      1. Jamie*

        I agree, also. Asking for special accommodations is bad – but inquiring about the general schedule is smart, imo. Schedule is one part of determining whether or not it’s a good fit on both sides – which is the whole purpose of the interview.

        If the schedule doesn’t work and the money isn’t in the right range, why waste everyone’s time?

        1. Elo*

          I agree. I did ask about flexibility in my interviews, but in my field of work (laboratory research), the bosses are typically pretty flexible with their employees as long as they get the work done. Running laboratory tests can be rather unpredictable at times. I do like to get information on the hours that I would be expected to work in case I couldn’t come in at a certain time (what if I had a kid to drive to school in the morning and therefore couldn’t come in until 8AM?) It just gives me more information as to whether this position would be a good fit for me.

    2. GeekChic*

      I agree with you. When I hired, the schedule was truly terrible for many of the positions I was posting so I made a point of putting the hours and the fact that holiday work was expected in the job ad and brought it up myself as the first question in the interview. I didn’t want candidates getting their hopes up about a job when the hours just wouldn’t work for them.

    3. Cassie*

      I agree that questions about schedules (in a general sense) would be relevant to figuring out fit. If this manager expects an admin staffer (not a receptionist/secretary) to be at her desk from 8am to 5pm every day, then it may show that the manager is someone who measures job performance based on being physically present, and not by the actual work that is being done. It’s not always the case, but it would make me hesitate.

      Though I don’t think one could ask about flexible schedules in the interview without looking like a slacker.

      Does the situation change if you are already familiar with the organization (sort of an internal hire)? I have been doing some part-time work for another dept and was considering applying for a full-time position (doing the same stuff as my part-time work). One of my dealbreakers is the flexible schedule, that I have this in my current position. Would it have been appropriate to bring it up in the interview, since they are already familiar with my work? Or would I still wait for if/when they offered me the position? If they absolutely could not accommodate my request, I wouldn’t want to waste their time.

  5. Harry*

    I disagree about 2 and 6. I think asking about benefits is an important question unless you are unemployed and desperate for any job. It would allow you to filter our requirements for yourself. To me, having family health coverage and a good / flexible retirement plan is important to me. I don’t see why I can’t ask these questions at the end of the interview.

    I would ask questions like #6 to inject some humor into the interview. That is my personality and I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like to lighten the mood a little bit.

  6. Anonymous*

    A commenter on that link asked about the training period and whether it is paid. You answered that but also added that it should or else that’s a red flag. Had I known that a couple of years ago, I would have avoided that train wreck of a job.

  7. class factotum*

    A good question not to ask when you are with the alumni interviewer for Northwestern B school as part of your application process is, “What makes Northwestern ten times as good as Texas that they charge ten times as much tuition?”

  8. Anonymous*

    I think numbers 2, 3, and maybe 5 might be okay in some situations. If it’s not clear if health insurance is offered, it might be worth asking up front before agreeing to the interview (that is, of course, if insurance is an absolute requirement for you). Scheduling concerns, if they are a deal breaker, could be brought up if the conversation gets to the “so when would you be available to start and what are your salary requirements” questions (which sometimes pop up in an interview before a formal offer is made). And if there is another area of the organization you are interested in, questions such as: ‘how much do the different departments interact?’, ‘Does the Africa group ever get involved in the Water Supply group’s projects?’, or ‘After a period of successful performance, are there ever opportunities to make lateral move to other areas?’ may be appropriate, assuming that you have demonstrated enthusiasm for the position you are applying for.

  9. resume planet*

    The only question I asked at my job interview was what the dress code was. I work on Commuter Trains which is a dirty job, didn’t want to have to dress like a normal electrical engineer if I was going to be getting greasy and dirty all day!

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