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Four questions you should absolutely never ask in a first interview

You are nearing the end of an interview with a potential employer. It has gone well, in the sense that there were no questions that made you sweat or stutter. At this point, you are suppose to ask the interviewer some questions which bedazzle her with such insightfulness that she will not let you out of the meeting without your signature on an employment offer.

But let's for argument's sake assume that those insightful questions escaped your mind that day. What questions should you not ask? In considering this, it helps greatly if you put yourself in the shoes of the employer.

1) What is the firm's policy on work-life balance?

Makes the interviewer think: "Gee, you don't waste time setting out your priorities!"

Every firm honestly wants to be an employer of choice - it is good for the culture, great for the bottom line and borderline gold for those wonderful spiels in the pretty-picture sections of the annual report. However, asking a question about work-life balance at the end of a first interview plants, rightly or wrongly, seeds of doubt regarding your commitment to the company.

Two things to remember here: firstly, the employer's motive is to fill the position with the best candidate, not to do so subject to a candidate's work-life priorities. Secondly, assuming there are more interviews, there will be ample opportunity for you ask that question later on, after you have established your credentials.

2) What is the firm's policy on social media use in the workplace?

"Is this guy serious?"

Even companies established back in the prehistoric ages are gradually realizing how structurally embedded social media technology is in the minds of the younger generations. However, let's be brutally honest - these Web sites still come with connotations of "play and fun."

To ask a question about social media policy, you are effectively inquiring whether it is acceptable that the company pays you every now and then (or maybe even more often) for keeping up with the antics of your friends island-hopping in Greece. In any case, this is one of those questions that even the interviewer probably wished you didn't ask - you know we all do it at work, so why rock the boat asking about such things as policy?

3) What is the culture of the company?

"If I had a dollar each time I am asked this question!"

Nine times out of 10, an interviewer will provide you with a standard answer - a response so rehearsed and unoriginal that you wonder why you bothered. In the meantime, while she is rattling off the pitch from the playbook, she may also be wondering whether you have even bothered to visit the company's Web site, which is littered with this spiel under the "About Us" or, better still, the "Our Culture" section.

If you really want to know about the culture, those social media skills so embedded in your DNA are probably the best tools you have in answering this question. Alternatively, try asking the interviewer directly how long she has been in the firm and how she has found the environment in an everyday sense. You would be surprised how much interviewers are willing to divulge when you engage in a more direct fashion.

4) What are the odds of an overseas posting in the future?

"Sounds like this guy is using us as a stepping stone."

Many a candidate dreams of transfers to some exotic foreign locale with plum expat packages. However, one sure-fire way to shatter this dream is to pose the aforementioned question during the first interview. No one likes to be used as a stepping stone to a better position.

It is true that the war for talent is fierce (or so they say), and to attract the best talent, companies must offer such potential carrots as an overseas posting (or so they say). Putting aside the validity of these claims by "they" (read executive or remuneration consultants), it is invariably more sensible to inquire about these perks after you have proven your value, rather than before.

When an employer invites a candidate to ask questions at the end of a first interview, it is done to: (a) fill in time because there's still 10 minutes to go and she doesn't feel like going back to her office, and (b) assess whether the candidate has bothered to do some due diligence on, or show some interest in, the company and the role. It is certainly not an open forum for a candidate to engage in a "what's in it for me" interrogation, not in the first interview anyway.

Blue Horseshoe is a candidate blogger with funds management experience. The views expressed are his, not those of eFinancialCareers.

This article originally appeared on our Australian site, but applies here as well.

What questions would you never ask in a first interview? Let us know by making a comment below.

AUTHORBlue Horseshoe Insider Comment
  • Pi
    21 November 2011

    #1 and #3 are must-questions to ask for anybody getting interviewed. I am not sure why anybody would think these aren't questions that should be asked. Sure, just enslave yourself. Act seriously when asking, and if you don't get a serious answer, I suggest you don't take the job if you're offered.

  • Sa
    17 November 2011

    Are these specific questions the problem or any question that trigger concerns similar to those implied by these four. For instance, overseas postings may not be the only questions that makes the prospective employer feel you want to use them as a stepping stone.

  • Mb
    Mbaga Nz.
    17 November 2011

    This is my best: "How long is the notice you give when firing someone?"

    Some other guy just brilliantly behaved in his interview and it was obvious his interviewer was going to extend him the offer. While walking him at the door, the dude felt soooooo friendly and already onboard that he jokingly asked: "Is your receptionist single?"

  • PB
    P Bug
    17 November 2011

    How about - how soon can I take a 4 week vacation? Or, is there a problem if I use a bit of (oregano look alike) during breaks? Or, where does everyone go drinking after work - let's say after 4PM? Or, who's that hot blond...?

  • Fr
    17 November 2011

    Maybe a good question to ask is: Where do you see this role leading to in the next 5 years?

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