4 interview questions you should never ask

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Most interviews reach a pause when the hiring manager says, “Do you have any questions for me?” In a world of workplace transparency the most common response to this question would be, “No. I have no questions. I am sick of job hunting. Give me a job.”

But alas, you must play the interview game. So ask three or four questions as a way to convey that you have options, even if, in fact, you do not.

Your questions should convey: “I'm trying to find out more about this position to decide if I'm interested.” But you cannot say that flat out without sounding like an arrogant pain in the butt. You have to *imply* this message. Like the rest of the interview, what you imply — purposely or inadvertently — is as important as what you say. So craft your questions carefully, before you get to the interview, and have some extras in case a few turn out to be inappropriate.

Here are some types of questions to avoid:

“How many hours a day do you work?”
This is a quality of life question. Quality of life is important, and if you need to leave at 5 pm every day, that's fair, but it is not something that automatically makes you more attractive as an employee, so don't ask directly.

If you get through a full interview and the hiring manager never reveals that she has a life outside of work, there's no need to ask: She doesn't. If you are unsure about the situation, conduct some independent research. Park your car in the company lot and stalk unsuspecting employees to see when they come and go. Or, go to a pay phone and anonymously call the interviewer at 7 pm four nights in a row to see if she's still at the office. Just don't ask about it in the interview.

“If you were an animal which one would you be?”
Nothing abstract. Please. This nutcase question throws off an interview and is appropriate to test what someone does under pressure. But as the interviewee it is not your job to instigate pressure.

Most hiring decisions are made based on chemistry. Your number one goal when you interview for a job is to get the person asking the questions to like you. So you should ask questions that make this person feel comfortable.

If you can do it without sounding like a brown nose, ask the person something about how they got to be so great. Like, “Why did you decide to work for this company?” That question implies that you're interested in other people and that you respect the interviewer.

“I just read that your stock is down 15%. What is the company doing in response?”
Unless you're interviewing to be a stock analyst, forget the meta questions. If you are so interested in the company's recent downturn, read the analyst reports.

A question like this reveals to a prospective boss that you are either (a) preoccupied with the idea that the company is tanking or (b) preoccupied with details of the company that are way beyond the scope of the position at hand. Either way the meta question definitely does not scream, “Hire me! I'll be easy to manage!”

A relatively big-picture question that you would do well to ask is, “What are your primary goals for the next two quarters?” This question shows you care about the company's future in a way that is relevant to your boss's immediate concerns.

“What needs to be accomplished in this position in the next six months?”
This is a useless question at the end of an interview, but an essential one for the beginning. So ask this question within the first five minutes of the interview. And then tailor everything you say to address the goals of the position.

The overall rule that should guide your preparations is that you never stop selling yourself in an interview, even when you pretend to stop selling yourself in order to ask a question.

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