Terrible questions to ask if you really want the job

Terrible questions to ask if you really want the job

I have been hiring for over twenty years, and I think I have heard every variation of a question asked of me. Some are really thought-provoking, and I am so happy to have someone ask me to talk about why I stay at a job or what frustrates me about what I do. I smile at these questions because the person is really digging in deep to understand the organization and ultimately seeing if it is a good fit for him or her. Terrible questions are those that show ignorance, laziness or just do not put the job seeker in a good light. Often these are questions that either could have been answered with a quick internet search prior to the interview or those that indicate the individual is only asking from the lens of how does the job benefit me. Neither of these scenarios are a positive for a candidate when a hiring manager is making a decision about which of several candidates to bring on board. Ask these questions at your peril.

So what are questions to avoid? I have seven examples.

Can I Work From Home? Do You Have Flexible Scheduling?

Many job seekers are looking for positions that may offer flexibility to be able to work from home all or part of the time. Additionally, flexibility may also be leaving early to attend a child’s sports game. How you ask and when you ask this question is important as to how it will be received. Unless the job is posted as a work-from-home role or the interviewer brings it up in the interview, you should assume that this is not available. If you need a true work-from-home position, look for ones posted as such. You can search “work from home jobs” to find those in your area.

If you are looking for a bit of scheduling flexibility, I would ask when an offer is given to you. You can phrase the question like this:

If hypothetically, I needed to have a plumber come to my house or if I needed to drive a parent to a doctor’s appointment, is there any flexibility?


I have a class on Tuesday night. I would like to be able to leave early, say 4:00 pm? If I come in early to make up the time would that cause an issue?

Once an offer is given, you know that the employer wants you. They may be more willing to be flexible with you at this point in the process since they want you to start and commit to the role. Asking earlier may cause the employer to have reservations about your commitment.

How Much Does The Position Pay?

Asking this question I would categorize as a “rookie” mistake. The wording of the question is very direct, and it can be off-putting to individuals on the hiring team, as they may assume that compensation is your sole criteria for taking the job and you will take whatever position pays the most. I am not saying this right, I am just saying this is a reality. Getting a sense of the salary for a specific position is important, though. In many cases this would happen in a phone interview when, inevitably, the subject is brought up with the candidate as part of the pre-screen process. If you get to a phone interview or in-person interview and the subject of compensation has not been brought up, you still should have at least some idea of what a job of this sort in this location typically pays based upon your research on sites like Salary.com or glassdoor.com. If you have not been questioned about your salary requirements in some sort of screening call or phone interview, the best way to approach it would be to say something like the following.

I am a bit surprised that compensation has not been discussed, as it usually is an area where the company and candidate feel out each other to see if they are on the same page in terms of expectations. I am very interested in this position and compensation is just one of many factors I would be looking at to see if this is the right place for me. From my research, the range for this position appears to be about X to Y (with a range where you would be comfortable accepting an offer). Is that about right for this position?

This is a softer approach to the question and phrasing of your question makes you appear curious rather than compensation is of top importance on whether to accept an offer.

Where Will I Be Sitting?

If, of all the questions that might ask a hiring manager or HR you ask this one, it doesn’t make a very positive impression. The hiring team will wonder why this is important to you, as presumably, you can’t tell a good spot from a bad spot. You should be able to see what the work environment might be (open plan, cubicles, offices) during the in-person interview and if that is not the case, you could ask for a tour. Certainly, if you do not desire to work in an open plan office that will be a consideration for you, but you should be able to visually see the setup. Should you need any special accommodation (standing desk, glare shades, etc.) wait until an offer comes to discuss.

What Does The Company Do?

This question is such a no-no. If you ask the question, then it tells the hiring team that you could not put enough effort into the interview to do a quick internet search. In what job would you be required to put in no effort? None that I can think of. Therefore, why would you want to have anyone think that in the important matter of finding a job, you would not at least have some curiosity about the company?

How Often Are Merit Increases and How Much Are They Usually?

You haven’t even been hired and you are already thinking about a merit increase? This is a big turn-off for the hiring team. Likely you would get this information when hired (and often the timing of merit increases are even in an offer letter). If it is a big enough company, you may even find this information on Glassdoor about the timing and amount. You might think this is a simple and legitimate question to ask. The problem is if this is what you are worried about, you are saying that money is one, if not the most important thing to you. Most hiring managers for a professional job will want someone working with them that want to be there because of the work, the environment as well as making a decent wage. If someone is engaged in all aspects of the job, they tend to be more productive and have higher retention. Most hiring teams want engaged employees, not just ones there for a paycheck.

What Other Perks Come With The Job?

You may have experienced or read about perks that are offered by some companies, such as free food, dry cleaning services, billiard tables and the like. That might get you wondering about what perks a future employer might have that would be of interest. I tell people that perks are just icing on the cake. In my years of hiring, I have never heard that someone took or did not take a job because of these perks. Many employers do feature perks on their web site as a way to entice people to apply so that is a way of finding out about them in advance. I would not, though, specifically ask about them. The rationale is that you only have so much time in an interview to ask questions. Make them count. Since knowing this I would not be a factor in taking or not taking a job, leave your questions for those that are really important like around culture, workload, etc.

When Would I Be Eligible For A Promotion?

So you are already looking to move on from the job at hand? That is the seed that you may be planting in the mind of the hiring team by asking this question. While you may think this is just a general question about career management and opportunities, the hiring manager may think that you will not be happy with this job and are already looking at the next one. If a manager has to invest significant time in training you and thinks you may be wanting to move on quickly, this could work to your disadvantage. Instead, you might ask the following:

Could you tell me me the role you play in developing your staff and what you expect from each employee in terms of their own development?

That is a smarter question and provides more information on leadership, development and the culture of the company.

Is It Okay If I Start Four Months From Now?

Asking for a short delay to start because of a planned vacation or other personal obligation is one thing. Asking for a delay in starting that is significant is another. More than likely an employer will say no unless you are in a high demand field and the employer has significant flexibility. Unless you are a college student where it is well known that a start date cannot happen until after graduation, avoid this predicament by not starting your job search until closer to your potential start date. Usually, three months out is a good time to start a job search.

If you are interviewing for a job that you really want, ask smart, insightful questions. You only have a limited amount of time in the interview, so make the most of it. Find out about the work, the supervision, and the company culture. Those are the aspects of the job that may be the most important for your long term happiness and career satisfaction.

Ask The Career Coach

Ask The Career Coach

Has your job search stalled? Here is what to do.

Has your job search stalled? Here is what to do.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required