Wrong questions can cost candidates job

When invited to ask questions at job interviews, tech candidates must think carefully about the right questions to pose and when to ask them, experts advise.
Written by Sol E. Solomon, Contributor

Given the opportunity to ask questions during a job interview, candidates should think first so they can pose the right questions, and at the appropriate session.

According to human resource experts, there are some questions that are valid but tech candidates should never ask these at the first interview. Instead, such questions should only be posed at subsequent interviews.

A no-no, said E. Balaji, CEO of India-based recruitment agency Ma Foi Management Consultants, is to avoid asking about the previous role holder when being interviewed for a replacement position.

"This is an important question, but keep it for subsequent conversations," Balaji advised in an e-mail interview.

A candidate should also never ask questions pertaining to compensation in the initial round as it would project the interviewee as being money-minded and fickle, said the recruiter.

Peter Fischbach, president of Bangkok-based ISM Technology Recruitment, said questions on remuneration posed early in the interview process imply a "short-sighted and self-centered view" of the employer-employee relationship.

The first interview

The key task for candidates is to prepare themselves before the initial interview so they can ask relevant questions and demonstrate a sincere interest in the company and its business.
Peter Fischbach, president of ISM Technology Recruitment, said if there are specific items about the candidate's experience that may be relevant but are not in the resume, or are otherwise not immediately apparent, the initial interview may be the only chance to make sure these items come to light. "If not, there may never be a second interview opportunity."
E. Balaji, CEO of Ma Foi Management Consultants, said it is important the candidate be honest and to the point while responding to questions. "Candidates should ensure they do not speak out of turn or inappropriately."
At the first interview, candidates can give a brief description of themselves and talk about key experiences and expertise relating to the job and company, as well as their achievements, awards and testimonials that are relevant to the job.
Fresh candidates can speak about their projects and details that relate to the job.
"If asked about weaknesses, a genuine answer is better than manipulation," Balaji advised.
According to Fischbach, it is also important that candidates tailor their comments to the interviewer's role. "If applying for a technical job, don't bury the HR manager with IT jargon--save the tech talk for the IT manager. Similarly, the IT manager is probably not the best person to answer a question about the company's health plan."

A potential employer wants to feel confident that a candidate is interested in working for the company and, most importantly, is attracted by the nature of the work itself, Fischbach said in an e-mail interview.

"Implying that salary and benefits are the primary considerations--asking about them early [in the interview process] sends a strong signal that this is the case--makes a potential employer feel the candidate will readily jump ship and leave for a job elsewhere if a slightly better offer comes along," he said.

Fischbach added that if the process goes on to subsequent interviews, there will eventually come a time when questions about salary and benefits become appropriate, "if respectfully posed".

Balaji said: "Questions pertaining to specific HR policies of the company, such as working hours, holidays and loan facilities, can be determined once the initial interviews are over and the company has shown interest in hiring a candidate."

As for questions on self-improvement, training and certifications that add value to the organization, keep these for subsequent rounds of interviews so the interviewer knows candidates are willing to develop themselves in alignment with the organization, Balaji suggested.

Avoid hypothetical questions as these will only get hypothetical answers, he added.

Questions never to ask
There are some questions that should never be asked at any interview, either in the first or subsequent sessions.

Fischbach said counterproductive questions include asking the interviewer how much he or she makes, or inquiring on whether drinking on the job is acceptable.

"But aside from such 'common sense' exclusions, there are very few questions that are totally out of bounds, although timing is everything and various topics should not be broached until the candidate is well along in the hiring process," he said.

According to Balaji, questions based on market rumors should be avoided.

"Similarly, when interviewing for publicly-traded companies, avoid questions about future expansion plans, stock movements, dividend announcements, etc," he said.

Questions pertaining to basic details of the company will upset the interviewer as it reflects directly on the lack of preparation of the candidate for the interview, Balaji said. Examples include asking for the CEO's name and about the company's product and service lines. If the company is a multinational corporation, the candidate should not ask what is the country of origin.

Questions comparing a competitor to the interviewing company can lead to the candidate challenging the interviewer's facts and figures, and running the risk of being seen as a person with "half-baked" information, said Balaji. But, he added: "This is fine when the interviewer prompts such queries."

Also, do not answer a question with another question as this may irk the interviewer, Balaji said.

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