What Not To Ask In An Initial Job Interview?

A few simple tips and strategies that will help you avoid asking questions that will raise a red flag about your suitability for the job and close the door on a potentially great new opportunity

The do’s and don’ts of job interviewing have been the subject of thousands of articles and posts in recent years. It’s something we read about regularly, with all sorts of tips (often conflicting) about how to prepare well and not to blow your big moment. For many job seekers, both those fresh out of school and more seasoned professionals, interviewing can be a highly confusing and anxiety-provoking process that leaves even the most experienced professionals flustered, insecure and unsure how they fared once the interview is over.

To help make the process easier and less anxiety provoking, I’d love to offer a few simple tips and strategies that will help you avoid asking questions that will raise a red flag about your suitability for the job and close the door on a potentially great new opportunity.


What should you NOT ask in an interview?

In the first series of interviews for a role, you want to use this time wisely and well, to gain a deeper understanding of the role in question, the work you’ll be doing, the other parties and departments that will be supporting and collaborating with that role, along with specific outcomes you’ll be working toward achieving. You’ll also want to know how your boss and the organization’s leadership will evaluate what “success” looks like for this position. In other words, what top three to five action items or goals will the hiring manager want the new hire to tackle successfully in the first 60 days?

Ideally, your discussions should be shaped so that you can determine as well as possible if you’re a good fit for the role – regarding your skills, temperament, interests, and learning and development goals – and if the organization is a good fit with you in terms of its values, style, approach, leadership, and culture. (Here’s a great list of 20 questions that are helpful to ask).


In the first interview, you don’t want to ask questions that will generate concern and make the interviewer question your competence, smarts and dedication, or your motivation behind expressing interest in the role.

You’ll want to avoid questions that:

  • Are superficial in nature, asking info that you could easily find online
  • Reveal that you’re hyper focused on how you can get ahead and make more money right now, instead of being curious and excited about the role itself
  • Show you care more about the benefits (flexibility, leave, vacation, etc.) than the job
  • Indicate you haven’t done your homework, research or due diligence about the job or company
  • Suggest that you don’t actually have the expertise that you’ve indicated you do on your resume or LinkedIn profile


At the beginning of the process, don’t ask questions such as:

When would I be considered for a raise and a promotion?

Reason to avoid: You want to reflect interest in supporting the organization through this role they’re trying to fill, not focusing on how you can immediately get beyond this role.


What’s the vacation and flextime policy?

Reason to avoid: Again, you want to reflect a sincere interest in working for this organization in the role they have open, and not evaluate the appeal of the job by the amount of time you have off. In my view, asking all about benefits, vacation/leave, flextime, etc. is for after you get the job offer and before you decide to accept it.


What would I be doing every day?

Reason to avoid: You should ask about the nature and scope of the role, but not “what will I be doing?” because that question sounds like you may not know as much as you should about your stated area of expertise.  Most often, “what will I be doing?” is answered in the job description that got you interested in the role. If you’re still unclear after discussing the job, you can ask something like, “What types of projects would this role be actively engaged in and what are the most important goals of this role?”


Why is this role open now?

Reason to avoid: This might be something you want to ask later with a question like, “What is the history of this position in the organization?” but not initially, because it suggests you’re digging to find out if the predecessor was fired or laid off, etc.


Do you check references?

Reason to avoid: This question gives the impression that your references are not what they need to be, and you’re worried about it. Do everything you can secure good references, but if you have an issue with that, wait until the interviewer knows you better and you’ve advanced to the stage where they ask for references, for you to share any more about the situation.


What should you ask about instead?

Understand that interviewing is a two-way street – hopefully a mutually-beneficial conversation and exploration, not a race to get hired. Release the desperation and the fear. Candidates do best when they approach the process and prepare for it as thoughtfully and carefully (and with as much open curiosity) as they would if they were to sit down with someone they might potentially consider engaging in a serious (perhaps long-term) partnership with, because that’s what employment is.


Ask questions that demonstrate you have:

  • Great functional expertise
  • A keen mind and strong work ethic
  • A focus on contribution and making a difference
  • A willingness to bring passion, skill, perspective and hard work to the position
  • Excitement to leverage your talents and abilities in a way that supports their goals and will move this organization forward

But remember – you have a great deal to offer. You’ve achieved powerful outcomes, and moved the needle on important directions in your previous roles. You have strong, smart ideas and a real passion for what you’re engaged in.  Don’t ever sell yourself short. Make sure you’ve identified your dominant action style and ask questions that will help you identify if this is the right position that will allow you to leverage your dominant action style in a way that will be satisfying and rewarding.

In the end, the quality and nature of questions you pose in your interview will dramatically impact whether or not you learn what you need to to make the right decision. And your questions will also determine if the hiring manager sees all the tremendous potential within you. Prepare well upfront, demonstrate your capability, and use the time together wisely so you can advance in exciting ways.


Originally published at Forbes