3 Questions Never to Ask Your Interviewer—and What to Ask Instead

Published: Sep 01, 2020

 Career Readiness       Interviewing       Job Search       
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Inevitably, at the end of any job interview, your interviewer will ask, “So, do you have any questions for me?” And if you’re truly interested in getting the job, you’ll need to respond with more than, “No, I don’t.” Since interviewers will often consider your response as a reflection of your personality and skills, you’ll need to be thoughtful about which questions you ask—and you most certainly don’t want to have zero questions.

To help you prepare for this all-important end to your interviews, below are the types of questions you need to avoid, as well as several questions to ask that will highlight your interest in the target role.

Questions to avoid

Questions interviews aren’t allowed to ask you

There are a variety of topics that interviewers shouldn’t ask you about during an interview. Any question to determine your religion, family situation, sexual orientation, and citizenship are all illegal for interviewers to ask in the U.S. Although it might not be illegal for you to ask interviewers questions about those topics, it’s certainly inappropriate and won’t bode well for your candidacy. That might be obvious to some individuals, but your brain will be very tired at the end of an interview, which can cause you to say very foolish things. Don’t allow yourself to ask interviewers questions that would be illegal for interviewers to ask you.

Questions about salary and other benefits

Asking about salary and benefits during your interview can set the wrong tone. You’re being interviewed to assess your skills and how your personality would fit into the culture of the organization and work team. Asking about salary when your interviewer is assessing your personality could easily cause them to see you as someone less interested in the organization and more interested in making money for personal gain. That could cause them to see you as someone who’d take another offer or leave their organization the moment more money was offered. That starts to point toward you being a higher-risk hire, which is not how you want to be seen when there are plenty of other highly qualified, less risky candidates. Hold off on salary and benefit questions until you receive an offer. That’s widely seen as an appropriate time to ask questions and negotiate.

Questions you should know the answers to before entering the interview room

Hiring new employees is costly. A large part of the cost is the time required to interview candidates. So organizations take many measures to cut the time of the hiring process. So don’t ask questions that don’t use interviewers’ time well. Specifically, don’t ask questions that were covered during other interactions with the employer. A large amount of communication with an employer should occur before you enter the interview room. You might have had informational meetings with individuals at the employer before your interview. You also might have received information about the employer in phone calls and emails with HR team members. Employers spend valuable time crafting those messages and answering your questions. To ask about something covered elsewhere risks showing yourself to be fairly inconsiderate and lacking diligence.

Also, don’t ask questions about information that can easily be found online. Instead, pull out your phone after the interview and type your questions into your preferred search engine. Avoiding questions that can be answered through an online search will show that you’re someone who’s skilled at leveraging technology to be efficient (asking shows the opposite). 

Questions to Ask

There are many questions that would be appropriate to ask at the end of an interview. Your goal is to show your interest while increasing your understanding of the organization and role. Some questions will more closely hit those goals than others.

Questions that are open-ended

Open-ended questions increase the amount someone shares in response. Questions that start with “do” yield shorter responses than questions that begin with “what/how/when.” If you ask the interviewer, “Does the organization encourage team building by hosting social events?” you could very well receive a response of “Yes” or “No.” Instead, lead with “What does the organization do to build teams?” and you’ll get far more insights. Here are some other examples:

  • What are my next steps in the process?
  • What is the broader decision-making timeline, and when do you think I’ll hear about my opportunities to move forward?
  • Which skills or attitudes cause people to quickly advance in the organization?
  • How do people describe the department or team I would be working with?

Questions about the interviewer’s experience at the employer

Each person will bring a slightly different perspective to a topic based on their experience. Lean into that diversity of thought by asking interviewers questions about their personal experience. You’ll benefit from the additional data point on a subject, and the interviewer won’t feel the pressure of speaking on behalf of the entire organization. Another benefit of asking for the interviewer’s perspective is that it ends the interaction on a relational note rather than a purely transactional question. Seemingly small adjustments like those will differentiate you from the other qualified candidates. The more likable and 90 percent qualified candidate wins every time versus a 100 percent qualified but less likable candidate. Ask about the interviewer’s perspective and build likability by asking questions similar to the following:

  • What trends do you think will have the biggest impact on the organization in the next five years?
  • From your perspective, what type of person is a great fit for the organization?
  • What’s one of your favorite parts about working at the organization?
  • What’s a project you think could positively impact the organization?
  • How would you describe the organization’s leadership?

Questions that build on information you’ve already gathered  

Asking follow-up questions to what you’ve already learned is an outstanding way to show your diligence and interest in the organization. Starting your question with “I know from reading the company website…” or “In my conversations with Jane I learned that …” are excellent ways to begin an end-of-interview question. From there, you choose the topics and ask interviewers for their perspective. You might say something like, “I know from reading the company website that the organization was just recognized as one of the best places to work in Dallas. I read the linked business magazine article connected to the award and saw employees mentioned opportunities for professional development as one of the reasons the organization is a great place to work. What would you say are some the professional development opportunities that employees seem to find the most beneficial?”  

What if you really don’t have any additional questions?

On occasion, most or all of your planned questions will get answered throughout the interview. The next steps in the process might even be covered. If that happens, and you don’t have the brainpower to think of new questions in the moment, you want to give an answer that conveys your sincere interest in the role. That’s easily done by briefly noting you took initiative to find the answers to many of your questions before the interview:

“Thanks. You answered the questions I planned, and I don’t have any additional questions at this time. I feel my conversations with X and Y, as well as our interactions today, have given me enough information to know that Z is somewhere I could see myself thriving. Thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.”

This post was excerpted from the new Vault Guide to Behavioral Interviews

David Solloway is a career consultant, life coach, and cross-cultural training/development specialist. He works as the assistant director for Daytime MBA Career Services at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and is a co-author of the Vault Guide to the International MBA Job Search.