Iconic jazz musician Miles Davis is often credited with saying, "It's not the notes you play. It's the notes you don't play that make the difference."
In reference to jazz performance, Davis was suggesting that the silence that lives between musical notes is as important as the proper execution of the notes themselves.
Interestingly, this concept applies well beyond jazz and can be adapted as a best practice when interviewing for a new job. For example, while U.S. News offers insight into the topics candidates should prepare to speak on in an interview, it is equally important to understand what topics should be left alone.
With that in mind, here are a few categories of questions that job candidates would be well advised NOT to breach while interviewing. (Note: While many other career experts make lists of specific questions not to ask, having umbrella categories to stay away from will hopefully kick-start your common sense rather than getting you to memorize 10 things you absolutely shouldn't say.)
Questions that show you haven't done any research: Hiring authorities are looking for indicators that job applicants are not simply looking for a job, but the specific job for which they're interviewing.
Consequently, asking questions that could have been easily answered with a bit of advanced Googling will quickly put you behind the candidates who probe into details that aren't available on the company's "About" page.
- "What does the company do?"
- "How long has the company been in business?"
- "What role am I applying for?"
- "What will my title be if I get the job?"
All of this information is easily accessible via independent research and often included in the job description. Throwing out these questions will make it seem that you didn't take the initiative to do any research and imply that you're plain lazy or otherwise not enthusiastic about the role.
Questions that suggest self-absorption: Along the same lines, hiring managers generally want team players who are interviewing because of the specific career opportunity rather than the personal or lifestyle benefits that supplement it.
Therefore, other questions to stay away from (most notably during a first-round interview) are those surrounding compensation. Of course the issue of money and benefits are important to any candidate, but when you begin to dig into them too early, it can indicate you're more concerned with the paycheck than making an indelible imprint on the organization.
You can't accept an offer if the money is not right, but it's important to stay opportunity-oriented while building the relationship, lest a hiring manager assume you'll jump ship the next time a competitor offers you a larger salary.
Questions that could suggest you're interviewing for selfish reasons include:
- "What are the most exciting benefits you can offer me?"
- "How often can I work from home?"
- "How many vacation or sick days can I take?"
- "How many breaks do I get every day?"
These have nothing to do with the work you would do and may suggest you're all about "me" instead of "we." Save them for the end of the process when an offer is on the table.
Questions that pry into personal lives: There are many questions that will help you better understand the hiring firm and the role so that you can evaluate if the opportunity is right. However, asking questions that pry into a hiring manager's personal life will not help you determine your fit, and can quickly make for an uncomfortable situation.
- "Are you married?" (What if his or her spouse passed away or filed for divorce?)
- "What's your ethnic background?" (It's really not your business)
- "Where were you educated?" (What if he or she didn't go to college?)
You get the idea.
Questions that will make the interviewer's mind wander to negative places: It's reasonable to be curious about what might get you fired at a company or whether a company will have drug tests and background checks. However, asking "What has gotten employees fired here in the past?" "Will there be random drug testing?" and "Will I need to pass a background check?" can raise red flags; the hiring manager may think that you'll engage in unprofessional behavior, use illicit substances and have a checkered past.
Let the hiring manager breach these issues if they want to.
Bottom line: The interview is a delicate balance between what you say and what you don't. And while you should prepare to speak on certain topics with eloquent prose, just like Miles suggests, understanding when to leave something out is also an important cornerstone of a stellar performance.
Ben Weiss is the digital marketing strategist for Infusive Solutions—an NYC-based IT staffing firm in the Microsoft Partner Network that specializes in the placement of .NET, SharePoint and SQL Server developers as well as Windows Systems Engineers, DBAs and help desk support professionals in verticals such as legal, finance, fashion and media. Connect with him on Twitter: @InfusiveInc.