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5 Questions To Avoid Asking On A Job Interview—Unless You Rephrase Them Like This

Now isn’t the time to ask point-blank about the work hours, but here’s how to get a sense of them.

5 Questions To Avoid Asking On A Job Interview—Unless You Rephrase Them Like This
Photo: Flickr user Brandi Redd Photo: Flickr user Brandi Redd

You’re in the middle of a job interview, and after running through your qualifications, now it’s your turn to ask the interviewer about the position. You’ve come prepared. Without hesitation, you launch into a series of questions that you think are well thought-out. There are a handful of things you’re hoping to learn about the company and the role, and you’re pretty sure you’re phrasing your inquiries the right way.

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But you might not be. Once you get to the end of the interview, this part may feel like a breeze–but you’re still auditioning. The hiring manager is listening carefully for what you ask and how you ask it, then drawing conclusions about you in the process. You want to ask great questions, but you need to make sure they reflect you in the best light while still delivering the information you’re after. It isn’t always easy, but here’s how to get it right.

1. When You’re Trying To Get A Feel For The Work Culture

Don’t ask: “What are your hours?”

This is a question employers just don’t want to hear from job candidates because it can suggest that you might not be “all in.” The company’s office hours certainly matter, but they shouldn’t be your main concern–or at least not the one you want to project.

Unavoidably, all the questions you ask indicate what’s important to you as an employee. Ideally, you should focus on the quality of the work assignments, the growth opportunities in the role, and what kind of career path you might have inside the company. So if you’re trying to get a grasp on whether you’re about to step into a hard-driving work culture or an eminently laid-back one, keep it straightforward: “How would you describe the work culture?”

Or, if you decide you really must know the actual hours, you can frame it in a way that shows you’d be committed to hitting the ground running: “Since I have a lot to learn, what are the best times to go over some things on my own without getting in the way of regular work hours?” This should be enough for your interviewer to suggest approximate times when the job begins and ends, while also appreciating your interest in getting up to speed quickly.

2. When You’re Trying To Find Out How Much Room For Growth There Might Be

Don’t ask: “Later on, will there be opportunities to expand beyond the main responsibilities you’ve described and take on work at a higher level?”

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This is a well-intended question, and you certainly want to show the interviewer that you’re thinking down the road, with the possibility of having a career at the company, not just a short stint. But phrasing it this way can strike fear in the heart of any interviewer. You aren’t being considered for the position ahead of the one you’re interviewing for. So stay focused on the job right in front of you rather than the next one up.

If you want to learn whether you’ll have to chance to do more and eventually be promoted, you can ask how long the hiring manager has been with the company and in which roles, or even whether the employer typically promotes from within. That will give you a sense of how people advance without suggesting that you only see this job as a temporary stepping stone. In the meantime, focus on showing a lot of interest in the job responsibilities of the position you’re actually being considered for.

3. When You’re Trying To Determine Whether You’ll Fit In

Don’t ask: “Why do you think I might be a good fit for this job?”

Never signal uncertainty about the viability of your candidacy, even unintentionally. Sure, it’s worthwhile trying to figure out what your main strengths might be so you can dial them up during the interview process. But the best way to connect your own assets to the role is to ask more about, well, the role. After all, it’s the interviewer’s job to decide why you might be a great fit, and the ways in which you might not (and it’s almost always a mixed bag, by the way).

Rather, you should be telling the interviewer why you’re such a perfect match. You might say something like, “Now that we’ve spent some time talking about the opportunity, I think I might be a great fit for the position. My past work experience lines up with what I understand you’re looking for. Is there anything else about the job or the skill set you’re looking for that we haven’t covered?” This can not only hint at how the interviewer may view your candidacy, but uncover any other ways you might be able to position yourself in a good light.

4. When You Want To Know Whether You’ll Have To Stop Tweeting So Much

Don’t ask: “Do you let employees use social media during work hours?”

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For starters, you should already have scrubbed your social media profiles of anything objectionable before getting to the interview–if you’re here already, chances are you already have (bravo!). But while social media is an important part of everyday life–not to mention of many jobs–this question can raise red flags.

Like question No. 1 above about work hours, it suggests that you’re more concerned about the job not getting in the way of your personal life. And while you should never have to apologize for prizing work-life balance (and may want to actively look for employers that respect that, too), you’re here to discuss how well you’ll do in the job, not the other stuff you like to do outside of it. So if you hint that you’re likely to be distracted on the job if you aren’t allowed to scroll Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter during the workday, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Pretty much no employer wants to take a risk on hiring somebody with a voracious social media addiction. Truth be told, there’s no good way to ask about a company’s personal social media policy, so either stay away from this question altogether or–if it’s relevant to the role–ask instead about how the company is using social media to achieve its business goals.

5. When You’re Trying To Hint That You’re Interested

Don’t say: “If I were to accept this job . . . ”

You may think you’re hinting at your interest in the position with a phrase like this, but it comes off as wildly presumptuous. You haven’t been offered the job yet, and until you are, you’re still a candidate. This one is really easy to rephrase, though: “If I were offered this job . . . ” This shows that you know the choice is up to the hiring manager and that they haven’t made it yet. In the meantime, you’re showing that you’re going to continue to work hard throughout the interview process to prove you’re the right pick. Remember: It isn’t over until the offer letter is signed.


Don Raskin is a senior partner at MME, an advertising and marketing agency in New York City. He is also the author of The Dirty Little Secrets of Getting Your Dream Job.