The old adage of “think before you speak” is never truer than when you’re on a job interview. One unwitting slip-up could cost you your dream position, so it’s crucial to know what kinds of questions and answers will set off a red flag for your interviewer.
While a hiring manager has a responsibility to avoid illegal interview questions, there are certain things that you shouldn’t say as a candidate, either. Five career coaches weighed in on the most common questions and answers that interviewees should avoid at all costs.
Questions to avoid:
“What does your company do?”
Even if the job posting you read didn’t include much information about the company itself, this should be a fairly obvious question to avoid. Nothing puts a big red “X” on your résumé like not having done your research. If you’re coming in for a job interview, the hiring manager expects that you have a basic understanding of what the company does and who its clients are.
“Don’t ask questions that you can find the answers to online,”said Marie Zimenoff of A Strategic Advantage. “Questions should demonstrate some research of the company and knowledge of the position.”
“What will my salary/benefits/work schedule be?”
Money is important. You need to earn money to pay the bills and take care of yourself and your family. But any career coach will tell you that you should never ask a potential employer about salary and benefits up front.
“Candidates that do this appear to only be interested in the money and not as much about performing the job,” said Charlotte Weeks of Weeks Career Services.
Abby Kohut of AbsolutelyAbby.com agreed that bringing up money (or other issues like work hours, work-from-home policies and vacation time) too soon lets the hiring manager know that you only care about what the company can do for you, instead of what you can do for your potential employer. The best tactic is to wait for the employer to bring up these topics, and follow his or her lead. Zimenoff advised researching a salary range before the interview; when your interviewer does start talking numbers, you can request this range.
“What is your company culture like?”
While it’s not necessarily bad manners to ask about company culture, you probably won’t get an honest answer to this question.
“No company is going to say that its culture is terrible,” Kohut said.
As an alternative, she recommended asking your interviewer for one thing he or she would change about the company’s culture if given the opportunity. This will allow the hiring manager to give you a more truthful perspective, without forcing that person to make a sweeping generalization about having a “bad” culture.
Answers to avoid:
Anything personal in response to, “Tell me about yourself”
Nearly every job candidate is asked to tell the interviewer about him or herself. And nearly every job candidate shares far more than necessary when answering this question.
“Don’t respond with your life story — where you were born, your personal habits, etc.,” said Executive Career Services’ Steve Provenzano, author of Top Secret Resumes and Cover Letters. “Make your answer relevant to the company and the job you seek to fill.”
Sharon Good of Good Life Coaching also noted that
candidates should stick to sharing professional strengths and experiences rather than personal hobbies and interests. The only time you should share personal information is if you have some kind of limitation, like a handicap or external responsibility that will affect your potential daily tasks.
“You may not want to say it in the first interview, but it’s important to be honest and admit it if it’s going to prevent you from doing the job as described,” Good said.
“My weakness is that I’m a workaholic/perfectionist.”
Another fairly common interview question asks for a candidate’s greatest weakness. Since interviewees don’t want to make themselves look bad for their potential employer, most respond with a “weakness” that is actually beneficial to the company, like being a workaholic or a perfectionist.
One thing that drives recruiters crazy is hearing a strength pitted as a weakness,” Zimenoff toldBusinessNewsDaily. “The hiring manager is asking this question to see if candidates can admit they are not perfect, and demonstrate that they can take feedback and action to improve.”
Be prepared to answer this question with an actual weakness that you can improve upon, such as taking criticism too harshly or getting too wrapped up in the details of a project. You should also be able to tell the interviewer how you have resolved or plan to resolve the issue.
“You’ve covered everything.”
Most hiring managers close the interview by asking if the candidate has any other questions about the company or the position. Regardless of whether or not it’s true, telling the interviewer that he or she has covered everything and that you have nothing else to ask can be a potentially bad answer.
“Saying this can imply a lack of interest,” Weeks said. “If you can’t think of anything that hasn’t been addressed, ask for elaboration on something that had already been talked about.”
There are countless things running through your mind before a job interview, but above all, make sure you’re thoroughly prepared to answer anything your interviewer might ask – which includes knowing what not to say in response.
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