7 Dumb Things To Say In Interviews

7 Dumb Things To Say In Interviews

by Kerry Scott on 19 October 2009


Somebody found my blog the other day by Googling “dumb things to say in interviews.”

Now, I’m not sure why this person was looking for this sort of guidance, but I aim to please…so here you go.

  1. How much does this job pay? If this is the first question out of your mouth, it shouldn’t be.  In general, you want to ask questions that are about how you would be successful in the position, not on what they can do for you.  Save the what’s-in-it-for-me stuff for the offer stage.  If you have reason to believe that the pay might be so low that you wouldn’t be interested in the job, there are better ways to handle this.  Try asking a few more job-centric questions, and then saying something like, “This is awkward, but I want to ensure we’re on the same page before we move forward.  My pay at XYZ Company was $X, and I’m looking to stay in that same range.  Would I be able to do that in this position?”  That way you’re not making it sound like pay is all you care about, and you’re acknowledging that asking at this early stage is a deviation from normal interview etiquette.
  2. Do you cover Viagra? I’ve had people ask this (and questions about other very specific medications, medical conditions, etc.).  First, you’re telling people more than they need to know about your health, which is never a good idea (they’re not supposed to use it against you, but they often do).  Second, the interviewer doesn’t necessarily know what’s covered.  If this is a big concern for you, ask for a copy of the Summary Plan Document (SPD) at the offer stage, so that you can evaluate the insurance coverage against your existing coverage.  That way you can look for yourself, and you don’t have to reveal things about yourself that just don’t need to be shared.
  3. Can you make the pay a little less so I am still eligible for [food stamps, subsidized insurance, take your pick]? There are people out there who actually ask their employers to fix things so that they can still get some sort of public assistance.  These people suck.  Don’t be one of them.  The answer is always going to be no, because no one is going to stick their neck out to pull that kind of crap for you, and you’re waving a giant “DON’T HIRE ME—I CHEAT” sign at them when ask.
  4. Are you single? On behalf of interviewers everywhere, let me assure you that we don’t want to go out with you.  If we do, we have your number.
  5. What does your company do? So, you don’t know how to Google then?  Because there’s pretty much no excuse for not knowing a lot about the company before you come in.  It’s 2009.  We have the internet now.  Look into it.
  6. I can start immediately. If you have a job, you need to give two weeks’ notice.  When you tell me you don’t plan to give your current employer that courtesy, I’ll assume you’re going to do the same to me.
  7. No, I don’t have any questions. Really?  You’re so uninterested in the job that you can’t think of a single thing to ask?  Because I’m probably going to give this position to someone who is actually interested in knowing something about the job and/or the company.  Just so you know.

Photo by aigarius

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Tim G October 19, 2009 at 11:13 am

Those are all good. I have had a man ask if he would be required to work with women. Turns out he didn’t want to “take up the slack” for them.
And then there was the one who asked about the number of paid sick days per year we had. Also not a great question.

Sabrina October 19, 2009 at 11:17 am

What if I don’t have a job, is it OK to say I’m available immediately then? I wish the pay thing was easier. For the type of job I’m looking for the pay varies widely and surprisingly.

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 19, 2009 at 11:19 am

I had a manager candidate who asked if he’d have to supervise “Afro-Americans,” because he knew they were all lazy and dishonest. I couldn’t even turn it into a Tale of the Cluefree, because there’s no way at all to make that funny. It just isn’t.

I also had a hiring manager who insisted on asking every candidate how many days they’d called in sick the previous year. You’d be amazed how many people answer that honestly, to their detriment. Stupid question, stupid answers.

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 19, 2009 at 11:22 am

Sabrina—if you’re not working, it’s totally fine to be available immediately. It’s just the people who are offering to quit a current job with no notice that are a problem.

Fields where the pay varies are tough. I think when asked about salary requirements, I’d say something like, “I’ve done some research, and I’ve found that the pay can vary widely. I am lucky to have a fair amount of flexibility in terms of pay, so it really depends on the position for me. I’m more focused on finding the right job.” That only goes so far, because some people will want you to give a number (and will get frustrated if you don’t)…but you can try dancing a little and see if you can get a number out of them first.

class factotum October 19, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Tim, I remember a logic question from the GMAT, one of those “if there is a red house, a green house, and a blue house, which one has the oak tree?” where one of the conditions about how to distribute eight people in three canoes was “Bob cannot work with women,” as in, don’t seat him in a canoe with women.

I was so indignant thinking about Bob and why on earth should I accommodate him and his stupid prejudice that I wasted way too much time on that question.
.-= class factotum´s last blog ..Marriage 201, Lecture 46: When I’m 64 and various =-.

Melissa October 19, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Urgh, that reminded me of my worst interview ever. I had done a ton of research on the company and found out from a friend who would be interviewing me. So, of course, I researched my interviewer as well. From what little I found about him, I figured he did primarily civic architectural projects and urban planning breakout work. Halfway through the interview I asked him about his work… he thought I was talking about the company and answered it as if I had asked, “So, what does the company do?” Even though I clarified my question immediately afterward I felt the interview go flat. He didn’t bother to give me his card at the end of the interview or even a “we’ll call you.” I was so bummed and felt like an idiot.

Charles October 20, 2009 at 12:17 pm

“How much does this job pay?”

I have often been asked the reverse of that question before an interview – “This job pays $X, will that work for you?”

I have always answered in that I don’t know enough about the job to really answer the question except to say that it is (or isn’t) within my range. Even for those where it is in my range I have never gotten beyond the first interview. What would you suggest on how to answer that question? (I am refering to the clueless recruiters who haven’t even explained the job yet, not those who have already interviewed me)

Barbara Saunders October 20, 2009 at 7:19 pm

I once interviewed a person for an executive position who said her main reason for wanting the job was because she’d “always wanted to live in this great town”! She did not get the job.

Katie October 20, 2009 at 8:01 pm

I second Charles’ question. For the last two jobs I interviewed for, I was told before or during the phone screen, “This job pays X. Will that work for you?”

Both times I answered yes, pending a potential benefits package and more details about the job. The interviewers then told me about their benefits packages, which I agreed sounded good. My response was acceptable enough that I got through to the next round of interviews. Still, it seems to me a sort of sneaky way to ensure that the candidate will not try to negotiate salary or benefits if offered the job.

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 20, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Assuming the person doing the asking isn’t either a jerk or an idiot, the situation is probably that the job really does pay $X. I know I’ve been in situations where I had a set amount to pay, and I knew for sure we weren’t going to go up, so I needed people to know that up front. In that case, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time acting like there will be some sort of negotiation down the road, because there won’t. The job pays $X. I never say that unless I’m certain there isn’t going to be room for negotiation.

In those cases, I would always answer “yes” (unless you know for sure it’s an amount you would never take). If you say you don’t know enough about the job, recruiters here that as “I’m going to hear more, and you’re going to hear more about me, and you’re going to want to pay me more once you know how fabulous I am.” That’s probably not what you meant, but so many candidates come back at the offer stage with, “But I thought once you knew what I had to offer you’d up the amount.” When they tell you the amount up front, that’s exactly the scenario they want to avoid (and they usually think to do it because they’ve been burned in exactly that way fairly recently, so they’re hyper-sensitive to anything that doesn’t sound like an unqualified yes).

Then, once you learn more about the job…you can always turn it down. But you can’t turn it down if you never get an offer to begin with, so if it’s an amount you MIGHT consider, just say yes.

Job hunting sucks, doesn’t it?

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