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

I’m on vacation. This post was originally published in 2016.

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.

{ 118 comments… read them below }

  1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    So, Allison, I have a question that is more of a comment [segues into only tangentially related personal story that goes too, too long]

      1. Delta Delta*

        I moderated an academic conference the other day. A student attended and stood up and gave this whole long-winded wind-up to a question, asked the question, and the answer turned out to be, “no.”

        It was an absolute delight.

      2. Artemesia*

        LOL. I was in a field in which there was a particularly stupid but very PC question that got asked at every dang conference for literally decades. I would place a bet with a colleague about how many minutes would pass in the opening presentation before THAT question was tendentiously rendered with smug looks for us all. It always got asked, usually sooner rather than later. I got to being tempted to shout ‘bingo’ when it was, but did manage to restrain myself to my own smirk.

    1. Lynn*

      don’t forget it’s close sibling, asks a very specific and personal question in a panel conversation where the panelist almost certainly doesn’t know and is not applicable to anyone else listening

    2. Nicotena*

      Yes, at book events we call him “Less of a Question, More of a Comment Guy” – and I see Alison has met him!!

  2. WonderMint*

    I get this, but I also feel weird going down a list of questions. It doesn’t feel very conversational, so I am guilty of applying what the interviewer said in response to my question back to my qualifications.

    Maybe I’m misreading, but it’s always been a warm response from interviews. I don’t go into a whole spiel, but nodding smiling and moving on feels robotic.

    By the way, if I get the sense that my interviewer is just going down a list of questions, I usually don’t want to move forward with the company.

    1. e*

      You can still be engaged with their response without turning the conversation back on yourself by asking follow-up questions, or commenting on aspects of their response that seem unusual or interesting. That’s also what I’d expect the bulk of interviewer responses to interview answers to look like, as opposed to taking the answer and applying it back to the company.

      1. WonderMint*

        For sure. In the example which was quite specific, I think if you have clear cut experience it’s beneficial to mention it. Caveat being its quick comment and detailing the minute ins and outs of the Baby Boomer Rice Sculpture Competition.

      2. WonderMint*

        Like what was mentioned, interviewing is a two way street. If the interviewer said there is an opportunity to expand the rice washing department, and I comment saying that’s exactly where I would like to grow my skills, doesn’t it make sense for the interviewer to respond with some further detail about the prospects of the washing department?

      3. Artemesia*

        I think also if one question does double back on your qualifications, you get a pass but if it is several each hooked back to your resume, people feel yanked around.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I’m thinking the same thing. I usually ask, “Is there something that is worrying you about filling this position? Any concerns about finding the right soft skills or experience?” If they say something that I have experience in, then I let them know my background. But I also ask the question to see if there is something I should be worried about too.

      1. KateM*

        I was wondering about that first example – would it still count as disguise of marketing yourself when you’d just comment “Oh, great. I have a ton of experience doing that.” without telling about that Baby Boomer Rice Sculpture Competition etc?

        1. Old Admin*

          I *think* if you kept the response short (“Oh! I would enjoy mentoring young people”) and only said that very sparingly, it could be OK. A spontaneous reaction shouldn’t be suppressed, just don’t pitch yourself every time.

      2. WonderMint*

        Yeah, I actually find the example (“Let me tell you about my entry in the Baby Boomer Rice Sculpture Competition”) to be a fine response as long as its not a multi-minute long tangent. I’m usually 100% on AMA’s side, but this is the one time where I’m unsure about this as a hard and fast rule.

        1. MissBliss*

          I also thought the first example was fine, but I think it’s kind of, if every answer is “great, let me tell you about my experience” it gets salesy. If the first time you say “oh, that’s interesting, I actually worked on a project closely related to that” and the next (where their answer indicates that mentorship isn’t really important) you just nod and move on to the next question instead of trying to talk about why your mentorship experience is an asset, then I think it feels more genuine. It’s less like you’re working from a script, too.

          1. ecnaseener*

            Yeah, I think that’s why Alison made a point of scripting a longer conversation and not treating those questions as two separate scripts.

        2. H*

          I don’t think it is a hard and fast rule (very few are). I think the point is to use the Q&A time as a good faith opportunity to ask clarifying questions about the job and not to see it as bonus airtime to prove yourself. It’s perfectly natural that if the interviewer mentions a necessary skill that you hadn’t discussed earlier, that you might confirm that you have that experience.

        3. Cj*

          For me, it would be the second question about mentoring. I really enjoy mentoring less experienced people and have been told I’m very good at it. Since I’d like to do this in an a job I’m applying for, I can see it being one of my questions. Even if the opportunity to mentor is there (formally or informally), it’s unlikely to be listed in a job description/experience requirement, so it the interviewer probably wouldn’t mention it, and me asking would be the only way I could find out.

          I wouldn’t go into detail about anybody I’ve mentored, but I don’t see anything wrong with asking and saying I’ve done this in the past to great success. If they want to know more details at that point, they can ask.

        4. Nicotena*

          I agree, I was expecting the example questions to be, “do you have any doubts about my candidacy?” or “how can I convince you to make me an offer right now?” or something really sale-sy

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        Would be interested to hear people who do a lot of interviewing weigh in but my feeling is that if you ask ONE question like that, that seems fine because that’s less of using your question time to pitch yourself and more like making sure there is not anything else they really need to know about you before you then hopefully move on to questions that are more about what *you* need to know rather than what you think they want to hear.

    3. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

      I think there’s an in-between area that’s not just smiling and nodding, and taking up additional time as a sales pitch. There’s plenty of room for organic conversation in the Q&A session, and my favorite interviews have happened when they ask a question, we respond, and then we’re able to have a generative and interesting discussion. It is also okay if the applicant nods and says “thank you for that answer.” I just take that as indication that I’ve answered to their satisfaction… or they don’t like the answer but are being polite. I think it is fairly easy to pick out when folks are having a genuine reaction to your answer vs. scrambling to further prove themselves. One feels natural, the other… I don’t know how to describe it, but I’ve experienced it and I sort of wanted to be like, “are you about to try and make me buy a sham-wow?”

      Also, I do not mind when interviewees read down a list of questions! It shows me that they prepared and thought about the work. I interview a lot of entry and early-level folks, and it is super common. The silence as they scan down their list is also okay, too! Because sometimes their questions are answered in the course of the interview, or if we’re running out of time, they’re selecting the most pressing. I am also comfortable with silence in general, so… ymmv.

      1. Krabby*

        To your last paragraph, I totally agree! Also, a lot of the time when people are reading questions off of a list it’s because the interview was specifically built that way to ensure that each applicant has the same experience and opportunities at each stage. To be fair, there are ways to make reading questions off of a list feel more organic and conversational, but I still wouldn’t take it as a red flag if it was stilted and awkward, haha.

      2. Smithy*

        While I think this is correct, I think that for people looking for very concrete guidance – perhaps early in their career, very nervous, first in a family to a specific type of workforce, etc. – black and white directions are often much easier to follow. So while reading questions from a list that a candidate genuinely cares about may not be the most charismatic, for someone looking for the simplest advice – it’s probably the easiest to follow.

        I know that for my sector, a lot of the questions I have now are far more sophisticated and precise than when I first entered the workforce – and I really do want to learn about what’s being said. Earlier in my career, I really saw the question portion as another part of the performance of being impressive and focused way more on what I was asking. Therefore, I get why this article is written that way while also knowing that for most people further along professionally and with more interview experience, the exact result is likely less black and white.

    4. hbc*

      I think if you bring it back to your experience because a couple of the answers really call out for it, you’re golden. But it needs to not be the response to every question (or it feels too much like “enough about you, let’s talk more about me,”) and it needs to be natural. Like, if you already talked about your mentoring experience earlier, it’s really weird to be all, “Oh, good, because I’ve got mentoring experience.”

      Plus, there are a lot of ways you can engage with answers without turning it back to yourself. “Oh, that sounds like an interesting dynamic!” “How does that work in practice? I’m more used to formal mentoring.” “Do the projects lend themselves to collaboration, or is it more getting advice on independent work?”

    5. Your local password resetter*

      My personal take is that it works as long as your interviewer agrees that your experience is important enough to bring up.
      If they think you’re stretching to insert parts ot your resume into the conversation, then you look a lot worse.

    6. Nanani*

      I think the problem is going off on a spiel after a “question” clearly designed to provide an in for the spiel.
      If the interviewer asks for more and it’s a natural conversation, great, but in the bad example the interviewee just creates an opening and fills it with a self-promoting anecdote. That’s the issue.

      Maybe rice sculptures aren’t as relevant as the intervewee thinks, or maybe the interviewer would rather ask for a follow up email/links/photos than listen to a speech about it. It’s supposed to go both ways, after all.

    7. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      I didn’t feel comfortable asking questions at most interviews because it felt obligatory and like I was just asking to have Shown Interest, until the last job I applied for that I was genuinely super interested in and it really was a two-way street, I was asking questions that I actually wanted to know the answers to.

  3. EBStarr*

    I used to go to a lot of writing conferences in the Before Times, and there was always that One Person who would raise their hands during the Q&A and be like, “So my novel is about…” [insert three minutes of detailed plot summary/sales pitch] “…um, and my question is, do you think I can publish it?” Excruciating.

    1. sacados*

      Yeah a couple of years ago (in the Before Times) I was at a convention for a TV show that I’m a big fan of. One of those with multiple panels with a bunch of different actors over the whole weekend. And you could line up down by the stage to ask questions at the end of each panel.
      And there was That One Girl who was in line for every single panel, and at each one she asked the Exact. Same. Question. Going on about how she’s in school for acting at such-and-such program and what advice do you have for aspiring actors and how to break into the industry….

      Which is not an unreasonable question on its face, but the way she was asking just came across as incredibly “Let’s Talk About Me Now” and for the rest of us in the audience, it was the third or fifth time we’d heard the spiel that day.
      It actually got really awkward at one point when there were audible groans/muttering from the audience as soon as the person started speaking. The actor (who of course was just hearing the question for the first time) was kind of confused, like “What’s so funny, did I miss something?” And of course he graciously answered her question.
      I think she might have gotten the hint after that as I don’t remember her getting up to ask the question again. And I did feel kind of bad for her, but it was definitely a case of “read the room.”

    2. Meep*

      This is why I hate talking about my writing. I know it is garbage, as much as I love it. No one else should be forced to hear it, though.

    3. londonedit*

      Oh, absolutely. I’ve done a few panel events for university students wanting to get into the publishing industry, and without fail there will be at least one ‘So…I write poetry/I’m writing a novel/my passion really lies in writing [long description of said writing]…and I was wondering how I could go about getting published?’

  4. Retro*

    This is definitely one of my biggest professional pet peeves! Along with asking a question just to ask a question. It feels very brown-nosey.

    I was a part of a bunch of new hires fresh out of college. There was one hire who would always ask a question during onboarding/events where big wigs would speak/etc and EVERY TIME it was a question unrelated to the topic. For example, a female VP was speaking about her career journey and being open to opportunities that didn’t necessarily align with your background. During Q&A, a new hire said “I’m working on XYZ sustainability project that does XYZ, so how do you feel about the company’s sustainability goals?” We all suffered horrible second-hand cringe throughout all of onboarding.

    1. Canadian Valkyrie*

      Tbh, historically, I have often felt pressured to ask a question to just ask a question in interviews. Until I transitioned into my new career I was taking jobs that I had very little investment in, and that I thought were boring/ incredibly basic, and/or my questions were primarily ones that I’d learn on the job. I felt forced to fabricate non-existent questions (e.g., “what’s the team like?”) to make it look like a gave a f*ck. To some extent, I get it; why would you want to hire someone who cares so little that they can’t think of a single genuine question to ask… but at the same time, maybe it’s a company I researched, the interviewers gave me a bunch of info about the team and the work, and it’s a pretty basic job, then it is what it is.

      I’ve completely altered my view now that I am doing work I am actually invested in and would absolutely want to talk about X and Y topics. Now, I much more understand what a huge difference it makes. That said, it still seems sort of absurd to me that if you’re hiring for some basic entry level job that people are supposed to have some sort of meaningful questions.

  5. Hiring Mgr*

    The questions and answers listed as examples seem normal to me? If an interviewer told me the most important thing they’re looking for is x, and i have experience with x, why wouldn’t I mention that?

    1. Soup of the Day*

      I kind of agree. If I just nod and continue on, wouldn’t the interviewer maybe mistake that as a lack of interest or experience in what they just mentioned? If I have experience in an area that the interviewer specifically mentioned, I would think it would be good to mention that. But maybe Alison is talking about people who go on and on, or only ask questions so they can give their sales pitch without actually caring about the answer?

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yeah I’m not sure this is the best job Alison ever did of framing her point, but I think it’s more your last sentence. Having a natural conversation is one thing, setting up opportunities to pitch is another. Like if you say you’re looking for new leggings – you’ll feel different if a friend says “oh I actually really like this brand and here’s my experience with them” than if your friend goes into her prepared LuLaRoe pitch, right? I think that’s the concept that we’re trying to capture here.

        1. Krabby*

          That was my read as well. Like, the first question/answer would be fine as long as you kept your example(s) succinct, but after the second or third question like that, it really does start to feel to interviewers like you’re just teeing up the ball so you can take a swing.

          Also, I’ve definitely been interviewing someone who asked a series of similar questions, and when I responded to one with, “Well it can be a part of the role, but that certainly wouldn’t be your focus,” the candidate STILL launched into their explanation of their experience. That to me is where the line is: when people are asking these questions solely for the sake of self promotion.

      2. Anonym*

        Yeah, I think it’s the difference between a good faith question (something you actually want to know) and a transparent attempt to keep pitching yourself, which is uncomfortable for the other person and kinda disingenuous. It’s totally normal to share something relevant in response to the interviewer’s answer as part of the conversation, but not to ask a question with the sole purpose of setting up your monologue. And people can generally tell the difference between the two. And many of us have been trapped by people who do that at social events and have strong negative associations with the behavior…

      3. Sasha*

        I felt she was referring to the questions asked specifically to set up a sales pitch, rather than genuine questions.

        A: “Do you see the department undergoing any major changes over the next five years?”
        B: “Yes, actually we are bringing in New Technique”
        A: “Oh I actually have a lot of experience with than from Previous Job!”

        Totally fine. Not a set-up, sounds natural, doesn’t go on for too long, relevant to the new post.

        A: “Do you see the department adopting New Technique any time soon?”
        B: “Well there are no plans currently…”
        A: “Because I have certification in New Technique and led an award winning project using it. What about your Green Initiatives?
        B: “Um, we recycle our coffee pods”
        A: “I won several Sustainable Advertising awards in my last job, and will now deliver a five minute monologue about them”

        Not good, and transparently not actually interested in learning more about the job so much as getting a chance to talk about their pet achievements more.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I feel that way too …sort of. Those might be questions I would want the answers to, however, I think it’s the segue way into talking about yourself that is the real problem. If you have a genuine question, then the interviewer should be the one doing most of the talking. Hopefully your resume and cover letter already highlight your experience, including mentoring junior staff if that is something that is really important to you. And if the questions are something that you could easily have found from their website or Google, then it’s probably a mark against you that you didn’t find that out yourself.

    3. Pennilyn Lot*

      Same, and honestly I don’t really care if I seem transparent in an interview? Neither me nor the interviewer are under any illusions as to why we’re both here? I’m not trying to covertly get a job. I kind of get the point but an interview isn’t a regular conversation. An interview IS a sales pitch as to why they should hire you.

      1. Soup of the Day*

        I think so too. Maybe this is just me having a crisis about my response to interview questions my entire career though, haha! I guess it’s more about knowing the difference between mentioning your skills and talking about yourself TOO much so you sound self-absorbed. But I can see people falling into that trap easily, because the point of an interview is to sell yourself!

      2. Two Dog Night*

        I mean, yes, you’re trying to convince the company to hire you… but you’re also evaluating the company to see whether it’s a good fit for you. And I think part of Alison’s point is that if you’re using your questions to continue to sell yourself, it’s going to be harder to do that. When you have a chance to ask questions, that’s your opportunity to get the information you need to make an informed decision.

      3. Your local password resetter*

        True, but part of that is convincing them you would be pleasant to work with. And taking up valuable meeting time so you can go off on tangents about yourself is not appreciated in most workplaces.

    4. hbc*

      Huh, I think the mentoring one is pretty bad. The summary to me is: “Do you do mentoring?” “No, not really.” “Let me tell you how good I am at mentoring.”

      And a lot of the time, the answer is going to be something that already came up or is pretty clearly a criterion for getting the interview in the first place. If they say that experience with international purchasing is the most important thing and you’ve been over your jobs as International Buyer and EMEA Purchaser, you don’t need to add anything.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Good point about the mentoring answer — it isn’t so much that the question is wrong, it just didn’t naturally lead into the premeditated answer, and instead of going with the flow, the candidate still forced their point in. If a candidate really wanted to know about mentoring, then the interviewer’s answer should have ended that question. “Do you do mentoring?” “No, not really.” “Okay, thank you.” (mental note that formal mentoring is not relevant and therefore prepared answer is void.)

        1. Smithy*

          I think that the mentoring examples drives home the point – but I do think that the overall point of the article is more so that asking questions as a way to tee up prepared answers isn’t the point of the Q&A at the end of an interview.

          If you’re interviewing for a position with no direct reports, and are looking to squeeze in an opportunity to talk about past management experience – that’s not really the best use of that portion of the interview. Now if you have an interest in hearing if the role has any opportunities for mentorship or informal leadership as you’re looking to build that experience without direct reports – that’s a worthwhile question. But then to just hear the answer out, not necessarily come back with all of the past management experience you can bring to the employer.

          There might have been a more clear way to frame it, but that’s how I read the advice.

    5. whistle*

      Definitely agree on the first question. The interviewee asked an open question, got a clear answer, and responded with relevant info to that answer. It can’t imagine learning that something I’m skilled at is considered crucial for the position and then not expressing my skill in that thing.

      The mentor one is pretty weird, though. (I actually didn’t read it at first because the first question back and forth seemed so normal to me, that I just skimmed the rest of the article. I went back to read it after reading the comments, and it is really jarring!)

    6. Nonke John*

      I think the difference is between, on the one hand, briefly affirming that the interviewer’s answer makes you a good fit and, on the other hand, delivering a monologue that’s clearly a rehearsed answer to a question the interviewer didn’t ask but you wish they had. I’ve never had a problem with interviewee responses like “Thanks. I have a lot of experience in that space. I think my resume mentions my 2020 Fabulous 55s trophy from the International Rice Scultpors’ Guild? So that’s great to know.” It’s where that progresses into Alison’s “blah blah blah” above that there’s trouble.

    7. Anny*

      I agree. It seems like there’s a fine line between talking about your skills/qualifications too much and in a sales-y way during an interview and talking about your skills/qualifications enough. I’m not sure I understand 100% from this example where that line is…I would definitely think that, if an interviewer said they were looking for x that I should talk about my experience with x.

      I’m assuming tone also comes into play here and that’s certainly tough to convey in writing. Like, if the interviewer says that they’re looking for someone with rice sculpture experience, I think talking about that would make sense, but not presented as “Oh boy, well look no further because I am a rice sculpture expert!”

      1. Sasha*

        I personally think a bigger issue is when they *aren’t* looking for a rice sculpture expert, but the interviewee is going to make damn sure they crowbar in their prepared monologue on rice sculpture anyway.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          Right, and that’s illustrated in the second exchange Alison wrote:

          Candidate: Will this person play much role in mentoring junior staff?
          Interviewer: (Basically, no).
          Candidate: (Well, let me tell you how much I have mentored, even though that’s not relevant to this job)

    8. Nanani*

      The Bad Example isn’t about mentionign a relevant thing, it’s about asking a question that creates an excuse to blather about the the thing.
      Keep in mind that this would only happen if the relevant thing didn’t come up organically earlier in the interview. These are examples of a wrap up, “do you have any questions for us” situation, not of the whole interview.

    9. marvin the paranoid android*

      I think the crux of the issue is whether the original question was sincere or whether it was transparently intended as a brag setup. It suggests the candidate isn’t making much of an effort to learn more about the actual job and actually evaluate whether it’s a good fit on their end.

    10. Starbuck*

      This kind of thing is why, before I ask a candidate for their questions to wrap up, I ask them if there’s anything else they want to tell me about themselves re: skills, qualifications, experience that I haven’t already asked them about in the interview. So hopefully some of that has already been discussed.

      Because if they ask me ‘what is the most important thing you’re looking for’ and it’s something that we haven’t already discussed – I’ve done a pretty bad job explaining the role, interviewing, and picking my questions!

  6. AppleStan*

    This actually a pretty timely post for me. I’m interviewing for an internal promotion that I didn’t receive 9 months ago. Another internal candidate got the job, and I honestly can’t find fault with that decision. I did *not* follow Alison’s advice about what to do when you are turned down for a promotion because I hadn’t planned on applying for anything else…if I wasn’t getting that job, I was happy staying where I was.

    Flash forward to now. The other person left two months ago, the job has been posted, and I’ve thrown my hat into the ring again. I’m rereading Alison’s guide on how to prepare for an interview, and as part of my prepared answers, I wanted to be able to have “examples” in response to any statements they might make similar to what’s above, and now I’m realizing that is going to be a BAD idea.

    I was also contemplating following up with the past interviewers to see what I could do better this time around, except (a) the time to do that was probably 9 months ago when I didn’t get the job, and (b) they are the same interviewers that I will have this time around, so I feel as if this would come across as inappropriate.

    I’m really glad Alison posted this…it’s given me a lot to think about.

    1. ecnaseener*

      It’s definitely fine to have those examples in your pocket in case the interviewers bring them up! Just don’t force them into the conversation during the part of the time that’s supposed to be for you to GET info.

    2. Cj*

      You say “as part of your prepared answers”. Are you talking about answers to questions they ask when it is “their turn” to interview you, or statements in response to questions you ask when it is “your turn”? Because they aren’t the same thing.

      Alison is talking about what type of questions you shouldn’t ask. Not questions/statements they make unprompted by you.

      Also, as many other commenters have said, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the questions in the example she gave. Don’t go into a lot of detail, just say you do have experience in that area, or enjoy/have been told you are good at mentoring people.

      Alison has given much better examples in prior posts of things you shouldn’t ask because the only real answers you could probably give are obvious sales pitches for yourself. I don’t think the examples in today’s post are a good representation of that.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        I disagree, the examples are good.

        The first exchange is an example of what is GOOD to do, i.e.

        Candidate: Open-ended question
        Interviewer: Relevant to Candidate’s experience
        Candidate: Shares relevant response/experience

        The second exchange is what NOT to do, i.e.,

        Candidate: Asks seemingly genuine question about _____ skill
        Interviewer: No, that’s not really relevant here
        Candidate: Well, I’m going to tell you about my experience with this irrelevant skill anyways.

        1. Cj*

          I think both examples are things to ask that are fine, just don’t go into a bunch of detail in your answer. But Alison is saying they both examples of things you shouldn’t do.

          As far as the second exchange goes, the interviewer doesn’t say that mentoring isn’t relevant at their company. They say that they that mentoring is informal, and that the junior people appreciate working with/learning from the more experience people.

          I love mentoring people on an informal basis, and am very good at it. I wouldn’t talk about a specific person I mentored as in Alison’s example, but I certainly don’t see anything wrong with the question, or saying I like mentoring, have experience at it, and am good at it.

  7. Erin from Accounting*

    I see this SOOOOO much when I’m helping with recruiting from my alma mater or when I’m working with interns. Who is telling these students that this is the way to impress professionals?

  8. Erica*

    As a new grad, I was advised to do informational interviews as a way to network. But then also advised to “use them to ask real questions.” Well, by a certain point I’d researched the field so extensively I didn’t have a lot of real questions left, other than of course the burning one taking up my every waking moment, “ARE YOU HIRING OR KNOW ANYONE WHO IS?”

    It seemed like people who didn’t know much about a field were at a weird advantage – they had a “real” excuse to network, whereas the rest of us didn’t anymore. The whole construct feels inherently dishonest, because the ratio of people who want to know about job openings to people who genuinely don’t know what, say, a project manager does is about 100:1.

    1. Prairie*

      There are a lot of questions that someone knowledgeable about the field can genuinely ask, especially as a new grad. “What was your path to this job?” “How do you prioritize____?” “What kind of professional development has been useful to you?” “What was your biggest challenge in your first job?” You can learn a lot from other people’s personal experience in informational interviews.

    2. Alexis Rosay*

      Hmmm, I can see your point, but I also think that if you know a lot about a field it could enable you to come up with more specific and sophisticated questions. I worked for a long time in nonprofits and the most enjoyable informational interview I did was with someone who was in grad school getting an MPA and had some nonprofit experience already. Her questions were a lot more specific than the undergrads I’d talked with.

      1. Nicotena*

        I agree I’d much rather talk specifics a student who knows a lot about the field than try to talk with someone younger who only has a very basic understanding; the latter makes me want to give them a book or a blog or something, not hold a whole conversation with them.

      2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Agreed! At that point, I would be expecting deeper questions about the field, e.g.

        “I’ve noticed XYZ trend. Where do you think that’s heading?”

        “It seems like ABC change in politics/scientific discovery/social movement is really affecting the direction of our field, could you share your thoughts on that?”

        Alternatively, you can MAYBE ask about the companies I’ve worked at, if you’re monitoring them for future applications (only if we have a rapport and established relationship, not a cold call):

        “What was your favorite part about working at The Otter Cuddling Fund?”

        “Who did you see thrive/struggle while at Chocolate Teapots, Inc.? Oh, stealing coworker’s food and then getting them fired because it was too spicy for you is looked down on? Huh, interesting…”

        “What tips would you have for someone joining Llama Groomers R Us at an entry level role?”

    3. HelenofWhat*

      An informational interview can also be more about the person and their current company/projects, rather than “what is X job?”. I did one not too long ago and asked specifics about company culture and such as I was familiar with the product basics.
      You can basically ask a lot of the big picture and industry or company-specific questions you’d ask at the end of a job interview. And since they’re not interviewing you, it’s lower pressure.

  9. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    The Job Grab disguised as an Informational Interview or Networking Contact … Ugh!

    Them: “Hi, I am interested in what you do. Can we talk?”
    Me: “Hi Friend of a Friend, so am I, and I love to talk about what I do. What kinds of questions do you have?”
    Them: “Umm, like, what’s it like there?”
    Me: “[Answers in broad strokes] What other questions do you have?”
    Them: “So are there any jobs?”
    Me: “Probably not, but [provides some concrete steps to take to find the postings and prepare to apply]”
    Them: “[crickets]”

    1. Delta Delta*

      I got a similar call once. It kind of went like this and then I suggested possible job leads to the person. The person answered with, “I called you so you would hire me, not so you could tell me where to apply for jobs.” It was hilarious.

      I now know this person a little better and … still find it hilarious.

      1. Sasha*

        At least they were honest!

        I get a lot of emails from unqualified overseas candidates asking how to apply for senior jobs in my (licensed, medical) field. It’s easy, get licenced and apply for junior jobs, then apply for senior jobs once you have a couple of years of experience under your belt. There’s a national application system, the jobs aren’t hidden. But that isn’t the answer they want. They want to know the secret route in, that doesn’t require years of training or experience. I just delete them now.

    2. Rose*

      I feel like there’s a gap in understanding when it comes to what ‘networking’ is. I feel like it gets taken as ‘use this (one) meeting and contact to get a job, quickly.’ But you really can’t have those kinds of expectations of networking. Networking is just getting to know people in a field you’re interested in, showing your interest/enthusiasm, and learning more. Opportunities may come from that down the line (they have for me; I did informational interviews before grad school and volunteered part time, and when I was back in the area after grad school that turned into a part time job, which was my foot-in-the-door), and it’s worth doing either way because you’re learning something, but it’s not going to be like ‘conversation –> job.’ But I feel like that’s what a lot of new grads believe, and I did as well, for a while.

  10. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Basically, don’t ask leading questions.

    My particular favourite to ask in interviews is ‘what would constitute doing this job exceedingly well look like?” because there’s no way to turn that back to me because I won’t have ever had this particular job before.

    It’s only a minor annoyance when I’m running interviews (I save the major annoyances for things like being a total git) to have someone ask a reasonable question about e.g. parental leave practices and then spin off into a long ramble about their partner, their kids, their home life etc. because, well, I’m too polite to say “I’m not interested in your personal life”

    1. Soup of the Day*

      Hmm, but is it so wrong to ask leading questions when you’re looking for specific information? I guess if you’re planning to give your sales pitch response regardless of their answer I could see that, but in the mentoring example for instance, that doesn’t strike me as a leading question if the person is really interested in a job that offers mentoring opportunities. If the answer is “no” then it would be super weird to talk about your experience, but if the answer is “yes” and that’s something you want to do, why wouldn’t you then talk about that?

      In your parental leave example, though, the person was probably just trying to make conversation. Awkward if they give TMI, but understandable if they’re nervous!

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        It’s hard to describe in text but there’s a different vibe between ‘I’m genuinely asking because I want to know’ and ‘I’m asking this so I’ve got an excuse to talk for a while about how great I am’.

        Also, the long monologue about home life had the same ‘feel’, not nervousness but a ‘look how great I am having a job and also raising 3 lovely children, seriously that’s doing several jobs at once and should put me ahead of any other candidates’ judging by the tone of voice and the words used.

      2. Gracely*

        If you ask leading questions, be prepared to handle the opposite of the answer you want; don’t just barrel on as if they’d answered the way you want.

        1. Ama*

          This is the key thing. I haven’t had this exact situation, but a few years back I was interviewing for an entry level position and had a couple of just-out-of-college candidates who had incorrect ideas about what our open position would be doing (in fairness it is an easy mistake to make if you read a job description quickly because the terminology in our sector is a bit vague and can describe a lot of different kinds of roles) and when I explained what the job actually did it was as if they hadn’t even heard me — they didn’t adjust any of their answers and just kept saying “well I really want to get more experience in A” when I had already told them “we don’t do A here we do B.”

          I was relatively new to interviewing at the time — I think now I would probably say “well as I said you won’t get to do A here, if you really have your heart set on that, maybe this isn’t the position for you.” But at the time I was kind of flabbergasted at how firmly they stuck to their prepared answers even as I was telling them that their answer wasn’t actually making their case as a candidate.

          1. Maylane*

            I’m interviewing people at the moment and I really hate this. I’m glad when people do it because it gives me an easy reason to reject them. When someone tries to sell me through their questions and prove their fit with my answer I almost automatically say no to them. Ask me about money, ask me about a day there, anything but saying the equivalent of what are you looking for then when you tell them as best you can, explaining how they’re that. I’m genuinely asking them to ask me what they want to know, so 1) please don’t give me a sales pitch, and 2) if that’s really what they want to know, I’m not interested in hiring them anyway.

  11. Pam Adams*

    Hopefully, you’ve used your Rice Sculpture experience in answer to one or more of the other interview questions, so don’t have to repeat it at the end.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I have had (bad) advice to use the “any questions?” section of an interview precisely for that reason, to shoehorn in any important points or anecdotes you hadn’t used in response to the interviewers’ questions. Perhaps such advice is still floating around.

  12. Little Lobster*

    I’m having a hard time finding a problem with this. The examples used are so benign! I mean, what if you DO have experience with the thing they’re looking for? Are you just supposed to… not say anything?

    This also stands out to me: “…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).”

    I mean… yeah? You wouldn’t do an “informational interview” if you weren’t hoping to form a connection that could possibly lead to a job in the future. I’m very confused by this post!

    1. Gracely*

      The point is that you shouldn’t do these things just to look good or sell yourself, because most people aren’t as good at that as they may think, and a lack of genuineness is going to turn people off.

      It’s not just “don’t do an informational interview because you hope to make a connection” it’s “don’t do an informational interview if you’re not actually interested in the information you’re asking about”. Like, say your friend’s cousin is at a company you want to work at, and you get an informational interview with them. You don’t show up and ask questions you could easily find out via Google–you should be asking questions about the nature of the work, what they like about it/don’t like about it, how they got into it, what kind of opportunities are out there that might be similar, what they would recommend you do to get into the field, etc. You don’t just go “so, how do I get a job there”.

      It’s like…whenever someone finds out I work in a library, they assume I have this great perfect job and that anyone can do it–which is insulting and so, so wrong. I have an acquaintance who keeps waxing rhapsodic about how much she wishes she could work in a library, and I’m like…we actually *don’t* spend our time reading the way you think we do. She did an informal informational interview with me a few months ago (after she crashed and burned applying for a couple of library jobs), and it really didn’t go well because she didn’t really care about what I had to tell her. People like that are not going to get job leads from me.

      As for the interview questions, I think that’s more that you shouldn’t ask things solely to tee yourself up for an easy reply, because you run the risk of NOT getting the answer you want/expect, and you need to be able to handle that. Some people will just pretend they got the answer they wanted and rattle off their prepared reply.

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      I’m pretty confused by people not finding the second exchange offputting.

      The first exchange about rice sculptures is natural. But it emphasizes the weirdness of the second exchange:

      The interviewer says, “No, mentoring isn’t relevant here” (in a nice way).

      The candidate’s response is then, “Well, then let me tell you ALL ABOUT MY GREAT MENTORING EXPERIENCE (even though you just told me it’s not relevant).”

      That would be offputting to me as a hiring manager or interviewer.

    3. Rose*

      I wrote above that I feel like people in school are really encouraged to use informational interviews for networking, and it’s true, informational interviews CAN be really helpful in finding a foot in the door, but it’s not like it happens immediately (which is not what you were saying, but this is how I interpret the ‘don’t go in hoping for xyz’ advice from the post). I don’t think it’s wrong to go into informational interviews hoping to make a connection that can help you find a job, but I do think it’s a mistake to go in expecting that to happen, and assuming that it ‘didn’t work’ if you come away from one or two conversations with no job leads. I did informational interviews/volunteering before grad school that ended up paying off after grad school. I couldn’t have predicted that, but that’s usually how networking pays off – after time and continued interest.

  13. Galileo Galilei*

    Great advice… to unironically give a personal anecdote, I had a very cringey experience in an interview that really cemented this idea for me.

    I had heard that a great interview question to ask was “is there anything in my application that you’re concerned about that I can address for you?” I asked that at the end of the interview, and…. crickets. The interviewer seemed like they didn’t even know how to answer that, and I realized afterward that it came off as if I was trying to find out how I could game any future interviews.

    Unsurprisingly, I did not hear back from that hiring manager.

    1. goducks*

      I’ve had candidates ask me that, and I don’t like it. If I have concerns about your candidacy I’ll just ask you questions that get to the heart of my concerns during the rest of the interview.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        This can be helpful in interviews for government jobs, though. Public sector hiring panels are almost always required to work from a list of pre-approved, scripted questions and generally can’t ask much in the way of follow-up questions from candidates. This is to ensure a fair and equal hiring process.

        Once the panel is done with their questions and the candidate has an opportunity to ask stuff, the interview can be a lot more conversational since it’s no longer scripted… but the panel can’t just spontaneously ask additional questions. So a candidate would have to give them an opening (like your “do you have any concerns” example).

        1. Brownie*

          Yup, this exactly. I’ve been on the interview committee for several public sector jobs and it kills me inside when an otherwise good interviewee has something on their resume that really could use further explanation to better show why they’re good for the job and I’m limited to the scripted questions only. Having an interviewee ask me something like “is there anything in my resume that you’re concerned or curious about” would then let me ask them about their resume. That lets the candidate explain how their job in teapot engineering translates to this job of teacup design, something we otherwise couldn’t take into account when we’re supposed to match the exact bullet points on the job ad. It’s a situation very specific to public sector/government jobs though where the set-in-stone questions cannot be deviated from.

          1. Msdoodlebug*

            At my job (local government) they don’t even give us their resumes! And until recently nothing in the scripted instructions made this clear. People would say something like “oh well I’m sure you’re familiar with my education” and we’re not allowed to ask a follow up or let them know we don’t have their info or anything. Ends up getting them a zero on the rubric and it’s so frustrating to know we could be losing a good candidate because they don’t know they’re playing a weird game.

            1. allathian*

              I’m sorry, but that whole system sounds like you were shooting yourselves in the foot in the interview process. If it’s this rigid, I really hope that you’ve improved your instructions, at least. To be fair, lots of people are bad at following instructions, but it’s still better than nothing.

      2. Collet Collé*

        You might but many others wouldn’t so it’s to the advantage of the candidate to ask and address on the spot.

  14. Hiring Mgr*

    i wonder if this is one of those things like the post interview follow up note question where some people have never been taught the proper way to do it, so we shouldn’t hold it against them

    1. ecnaseener*

      Sure, just like pretty much everything about interviewing. There’s so much bad advice out there you have to cut people some slack.

      But it can’t go infinitely far. If someone only asks salesy questions and gives zero indication that they actually want any information about the job, you do need to consider that. No one’s saying you should reject an otherwise excellent candidate over this.

  15. learnedthehardway*

    I think there’s a bit of an art to using these kinds of questions. I mean, yes, you should be asking genuine questions to get information about the organization, but if it comes up that there’s some area where you would provide unexpected value, it’s fine to mention it very briefly, and then move on.

    Eg. it turns out the department is struggling with the implementation of XYZ software. It’s fine to point out that you were a super user of that software at your former employer or that you supported the implementation of that software as the business representative on the implementation team.

  16. Msdoodlebug*

    One of the weird things about interviewing at the organization I work at (local government) is that my advice to interviewees would be the exact opposite of this. The way interviews are done (set questions with a scoring rubric, interviewers cannot clarify questions or… make facial expressions) means that there aren’t a lot of questions the interviewers can answer, most of the time we just have to refer people to HR, sometimes no one on the panel knows how the job works day to day. The only useful thing to do with the questions is to find out what they are looking for and then specifically add to one of your previous answers based on that. The whole thing is obviously really confusing to people coming to interview from outside the organization but there’s not much we can do about it unfortunately.

  17. Cameron Counts*

    This is how I feel about at least 1/4 of the posts here. People want to tell a story and get reactions far more than they want advice. It’s always obvious because they took the best course of action and the event is often long in the past, so asking, “What do I do if a situation like this arises again?” is a transparent and fake question to justify their submission.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Agreed, it’s way less than 1 in 4. Maybe…1 in 100? Probably even less than that, actually.

        1. Nanani*

          But it is at least 1/4 of the memorable ones that become memes and get linked in other posts. Sampling bias! How have you been!

  18. CW*

    In interviews and in life; I have experienced both sides, and as someone who has a Type A personality, I don’t have the patience for it.

  19. A hiring manager*

    I’m in charge of hiring at my company- a few things re: “informational interviews”-
    1. 9 times out of 10, the candidate who is reaching out eventually formally applies and usually has terrible grades or credentials. Basically, I cannot think of a time a stellar candidate asked for an informational interview prior to the official hiring process, only those who are trying to find a way to ingratiate themselves.

    2. Beyond believe frustrating when over the course of a week multiple employees email me to say “hi, just looping you in [because you’re the hiring manager], this candidate reached out to me for an informational interview, I spoke with her yesterday/am speaking with her tomorrow.” – I then let them know that the candidate set up informational calls with 10 other people. It does not impress anyone to know they were one of 10 informational interviews. It wastes employees’ time, it clearly ceases to stop being informational after the first one or two calls, and it seems dishonest and annoying to learn they set up 9 identical calls without disclosing they already spoke with coworkers.

    3. Closely related, the president/CEO of a company doesn’t want to do your informational interview! Stop emailing them directly!

  20. Klash*

    I understand that it might be odd for an external candidate to cold call a hiring manager with questions before applying, but it’s *expected* for internal candidates where I work. A lot of our people in hiring roles look down on candidates who don’t take that initiative because it’s so ingrained in the culture. Not doing so makes a candidate seem less interested than those that do. It’s a good way to feel out compatibility between the candidate, role, and manager before the candidate puts all of the time and effort into applying and interviewing. I called three people before I even applied for my current role: my manager, their peer who I would also be supporting, and the person I ended up replacing. We’re hiring for a second me now, and I fully expect to hear from applicants.

  21. CCC*

    Interview advice really depends on the skill level of the interviewer. Some interviewers are just awful at it, and I can see where asking leading questions might be the only way to insert what you’d like to to say into the conversation. (And chances are if the interviewer isn’t good at interviewing, they won’t be as likely to pick up on what you are doing.)

  22. MissDisplaced*

    This is really good advice, because a lot of job search and career center places encourage things like this, and telling to you really SELL yourself. I admit I’ve been guilty of the first one a time or two–not intentionally, but it has happened.
    The others not so much. I rarely do informational interviews because I’m in the same field, and haven’t since college.

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