Whenever I meet people who routinely interview job candidates, I always ask them to tell me the worst question they were ever asked by an applicant. I’m constantly startled by what some applicants apparently believe is in their interests to ask. Here are 10 of the worst, most self-limiting questions that applicants have actually asked and the (usually unexpressed) comments of the recruiters who fielded them:
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1. How many warnings do you get before you’re fired?
The better question is: How many warnings do you get before you’re hired? The answer is one. Thanks for providing it.
2. Is job sharing a possibility?
Possibly, but does this mean you can’t give us a commitment for full-time work?
3. Can you tell me whether you’ve considered the incredible benefits of telecommuting for this position?
Why do you want to get out of the office before you’ve even seen it?
4. Is relocation a necessary part of the job?
The very question raises doubts about your willingness to relocate. Even if the person selected for the position is not on a relocation track, the negativity of the question makes me wonder whether you’re resistant in other areas as well.
5. I understand that employee paychecks are electronically deposited. Can I get my paycheck the old-fashioned way?
You’re already asking for exceptions. What’s next? And are you afraid of technology?
6. I won’t have to work for someone with less education than I have, will I?
We’ll spare you that possibility. You clearly have a chip on your shoulder. Why should we take a chance that you don’t have other interpersonal issues?
7. Can I see the break room?
Sure, it’s on your way out.
8. What does this company consider a good absenteeism record?
It starts with guaranteeing your absence.
9. What is the zodiac sign of the company president?
Not sure, but his sign is opposite to yours. There will never be conjunction.
10. Is it easy to get away with stuff around here?
It would be a challenge even for someone with your credentials. Too bad we’ll never find out.
Yes, Virginia, There Really Are Dumb Questions
It’s hard to generalize about such stunningly bad interview questions, but they all are forms of “me” questions -- questions that appear to put your needs before those of the employer. The best interview questions focus on what the applicant can do for the company, not what the company can do for applicant. Remember, interviewers will be asking themselves, “Do I really want this person in the next cubicle?” Be certain that the questions you ask don’t raise barriers or cause interviewers to doubt your professionalism. Remember, your goal in the interview is to get an offer. Once you have the offer, that’s the time to ask what the company can do for you.
Rules for Asking Better Interview Questions
Ask Open-Ended Questions: Closed-ended questions can be answered “yes” or “no” and begin with words such as “did,” “have,” “do,” “would” and “are.” Open-ended questions usually begin with “how,” “when” and “who” and create opportunities for a conversation and a much richer exchange of information.
Avoid “Why” Questions: Queries starting with “why” often come off as confrontational and can make the interviewer defensive. Reframe using “how.”
Avoid Long Questions: One point per question, please.
Avoid Obvious Questions That Are Easy to Look Up: Otherwise you look lazy.
Avoid Leading Questions: Leading questions signal the interviewer that you are looking for a specific answer or are being manipulative.
Ask Questions the Interviewer Can Answer: Want to make interviewers defensive and uncomfortable? Ask them questions they don’t know the answer to or can’t answer because of confidentiality.
Get to Yes: Your goal is to end the interview on an affirmation. In fact, the more “yeses” and statements of agreement you can generate, the better off you will be.
[John Kador is the author of 301 Best Questions to Ask on Your Interview (McGraw-Hill, 2010) and more than 10 books. His other career books are The Manager's Book of Questions: 1001 Great Interview Questions for Hiring the Best Person and How to Ace the Brainteaser Job Interview. Kador is a frequent speaker at job and college career fairs. He can be reached via email or on Twitter. His Web site is www.jkador.com.]