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3 questions interviewers hope you ask, and 3 they hope you don’t

Think about what your questions say about you as an applicant.

3 questions interviewers hope you ask, and 3 they hope you don’t
[Source Photo: rawpixel]

At the end of most interviews, hiring managers ask candidates, “Do you have any questions for me?” This is the time to find out what it’s like to work for the company. Some job seekers may be afraid to ask what they really want to know, or they simply may not know what to ask.

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“Interviews are like dating and you might as well be honest at the outset,” says Kelli Mason, chief operating officer of JobSage, an employee transparency platform. “We also know that people are scared, and they’re scared for good reason. There are questions that hiring managers don’t like, and if the hiring manager doesn’t like a line of questioning, they might consciously or subconsciously penalize the candidate for asking. In an ideal world, a candidate should not be afraid to ask a question, but we don’t live in an ideal world.”

JobSage surveyed 700 full-time employees and 300 hiring managers and found that there are three questions hiring managers want you to ask:

Questions to Ask

1. Is there a formal training process? “Hiring managers want to see that people are ambitious, driven, and growth minded,” says Mason. “When a candidate asks about formal training process, likely they’re asking because they’re excited about learning and upskilling and growing in their career. I think that asking this question paints you in a more favorable light for hiring managers.”

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2. Does the company invest in upskilling employees? While this question is similar to asking about training, it takes learning and development one step further, says Mason. “When I see ‘invest,’ it signals that the employee wants to know if the company will pay for continuing education courses or attending a conference,” says Mason. “This shows an interest in external investments that go beyond the company’s own formal training process for professional development.”

3. Are promotions merit-based and fair? Asking this question shows that candidates care about being promoted and doing a good job, says Mason. “Hiring managers like to see that someone’s ambitious and driven and wants to grow and advance,” she says. “They want to know they aren’t going to do the least they can do to skate by with their current title. Asking about taking on more responsibility tells hiring managers that candidates are interested in growing in general.”

Questions to Avoid

The JobSage survey also found three questions hiring managers hope you avoid asking.

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1. Is anyone in the organization a jerk? This subjective question puts the interviewer in an uncomfortable position. One person may perceive some behaviors as being jerk-like, while the same situations may not bother someone else.

“There’s not an easy ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to that,” says Mason. “Saying ‘yes’ means someone is injured, and you’re bad-mouthing one of your colleagues and perhaps turning away a candidate. It can get into office politics and is the murkier way to ask, ‘What’s it like to work here?’ Or ‘What are the negative parts of working here?'”

2. Does the company have a lot of unnecessary meetings? While this is a valid question to ask, especially in this day of endless Zoom meetings, it, too, is subjective, says Mason. “What’s necessary and what’s unnecessary?” she asks. “It puts hiring managers in an awkward position where they don’t want to badmouth the company by saying, ‘Yes, we do.'”

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3. Is anyone in the organization inappropriately flirtatious? This question is similar to asking if anyone in the company is a jerk. “Flirtatious means different things to different people,” says Mason. “It’s hard for the hiring manager to answer that. What’s inappropriate to one person might not be to someone else.”

The Best Way to Approach Your Questions

Instead of asking questions that put the hiring manager in an uncomfortable spot, consider what information you’re after, says Mason. Then rethink how you phrase your questions. Often, what you’re trying to get at is finding out if the organization has a healthy culture.

For example, you could ask, “How will the company handle a situation where someone’s inappropriately flirtatious?” Or “How would a company handle a situation where someone was being a jerk?”

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“That’s fair game and more comfortable for the hiring manager to answer,” says Mason. “It’s a more tactful way to frame the question and still get a relevant response. Candidates should be asking as many questions as come to mind. Just think about ways to tactfully frame them.”

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About the author

Stephanie Vozza is a freelance writer who covers productivity, careers, and leadership. She's written for Fast Company since 2014, and her byline has appeared in several other leading publications and websites

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