There’s no such thing as a dumb question, right? Wrong. During a job interview, there are many dumb questions. Even candidates with perfect resumes and outstanding soft skills come to interviews unprepared in key areas, which is why I feel compelled to write this. You can practice for hours a day and follow all the tips and still forget to brush your teeth.
Questions reveal just as much about us as answers. Probably more. Some stem from great insight, while others highlight true ignorance. Asking about a company’s strategy, the requirements for the position, or a list of common activities is never a bad idea. I’m not talking about that type of question.
Dumb Interview Question #1: Can I have the job?
You won’t get what you don’t ask for, right? Countless times I’ve been told I should ask for the job at the end of the interview. I think people take that literally. In fact I know they do, because I’ve had candidates outright ask for the job. As-in, “Can I have the job?” Don’t do that. It seems over-confident and pushy. If the job is very niche and you know you’re the best-qualified candidate, and there isn’t much competition, that’s one thing. But if you’re applying for a job in the first 5 years of your career, you can assume there’s a whole pile of well-qualified resumes on the recruiter’s desk. Don’t be the one guy who thinks he’s so much better than everyone else that the recruiter would stop the process halfway through and not even want to meet the other candidates.
If you do get a chance at a final question, and you should, there are better options. Chief among them: “Do you have any concerns about moving forward with my candidacy that I can help address right now?” That way you get a chance to revisit and explain something that might be concerning the recruiter. And if they say No, you know you’re in good standing for the next interview round.
Dumb Interview Question #2: Do you have a severance package?
Any question dealing with the candidate leaving or getting fired is a bad question. Candidates need to focus on the job at hand, not what might happen later when she expects to be promoted. And she certainly needn’t imply a firing or layoff in her future. Almost any specific detail about the mid-term or far future should be left out of the interview process. Some questions do make sense, and I encourage asking, like “Can you explain a typical career path within your company for someone in this position?”
Dumb Interview Question #3: Is there free coffee for employees?
Here I mean anything, including coffee. Don’t ask about menial perks or policies unless they really are deal breakers. Yes, free coffee could save someone $400+/year. But hiring managers hire people who have an interest in the work, not the fringe benefits. A close cousin of this question is asking about benefits early in the process. Benefits questions like vacation policy, dental coverage, and mileage reimbursement are best left for after an offer is made or, depending on the process, when interviewing with HR.
Dumb Interview Question #4: What’s the dress code at your office?
(Asking about the dress code to figure out what to wear to an interview.) The only sensible attire is business professional for any interview at a corporate location. If you ask about the dress code and learn it’s business casual, what are you going to do? Dress business casual when you know that most candidates will be in suits? For that matter, do you know how the company defines business casual? Can men wear golf shirts? May women wear open-toed shoes? Every company is different, so don’t risk it. Don’t even ask.
The only exception is for non-standard locations during non-business hours. (So lunch at a restaurant on Wednesday means business professional, because you won’t look out-of-place.) A coffee meeting on Saturday morning is harder to figure, which is why it’s okay to ask. But don’t ask “What should I wear?” Or, heaven forfend, “Do I have to wear a suit?” Instead, say “I like to present myself professionally, and this is an important meeting for me. Is it appropriate to wear a suit?” That way the recruiter can say either “That’s perfectly fine,” or “Oh–I don’t expect you to wear a suit. Jeans are fine.” Though because a suit is fine, not asking is okay.
Asking about the dress code once you’re hired is completely fine.
Dumb Interview Question #5: Can I borrow your pen?
Always, always bring a pen, paper, your resume, business cards if you have them, backups of each, printed research on the company/position/industry, and a list of questions. No exceptions. If you have to ask the interviewer to borrow a pen because you forgot one, you lose a ton of points. And take lots of notes. Even if you have a steel trap between your ears, take notes. It shows you’re paying attention and that you care.
People ask dumb questions all the time. And believe me, recruiters have seen and heard much worse than these. So don’t kick yourself too hard if you let one slip. Just make sure to learn from it and move on quickly.