The Bad and the Good:

Questions that Can Hurt and Help Your Chances of Getting the Job…

…or the Best Candidate!

By Peter Cotton, founder and president of Best Sales Talent, LLC


Let’s Get the Bad Ones Over With First: Never Ask These Questions or Do These Things During an Interview

When you’ve been in the recruiting business as long as I have, you’re bound to get some pretty odd and unexpected feedback from candidates and clients about what went on during the job interview.  You would think that people would be trying to put their best foot forward when interviewing – but sometimes they end up putting their foot in their mouth instead!

True or false: are these good questions to ask when interviewing at a company for the first time?

  • What is the salary?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What is the vacation policy?
  • How many personal days off will you give me?
  • How long do I get for lunch?
  • What does this company do?
  • Why do you want references?
  • What are the hours?
  • Will I have to work long hours?
  • Can I make personal calls and send personal emails during the day?
  • Do you monitor emails or internet usage?
  • Why on earth do you stay working here?
  • Will I have my own office with a window?
  • Are you expecting me to work in THAT office?!?
  • …And a quick story….I’ll call it, “The Wife “Tag-a-Long”: A candidate once came to my office to interview with me for a job I was seeking to fill with a client.  He brought his wife along.  I went to the lobby to great him and bring him to my office. He introduced me to his wife.  After shaking hands, I told the candidate to follow me to my office (I had my back turned).   I have two guest chairs in front of my desk.  I sat down in my chair behind my desk, and when I looked across the desk, I saw that BOTH he and his wife were seated!  I was really unsure of how to proceed at first, but started my interview.  The wife interrupted and asked questions about the job.  Needless to say, I ended the interview as gracefully as I could, telling the candidate he wasn’t qualified and ushered them out the door.  I envisioned sending him out on an interview with my client, wife in tow.  That wouldn’t have gone over well!

I hope you’re with me when I tell you the above questions and scenario should NEVER be asked/done during the first job interview (and maybe not even the second or third – if you should get that far).

Now, it’s not just candidates who can ask the wrong questions.  A client/employer doing the actual interviewing doesn’t always put his or her company in the best light, especially if they ask these questions:

  • What is the speed of light? (This was just to throw him off.)
  • What color are your eyes? (I found out later that the client didn’t trust anyone with brown eyes). It’s just a bit wild to hear this since brown eyes are the MOST common in the world.)
  • Do you plan to marry and have babies?  (Totally illegal question, of course.)
  • Can I take you out on a date? (This was after interviewing the candidate and disqualifying her for the job).
  • …And a quick story…I’ll call it, “The ‘Un-Sunny’ Disposition”: An employer interviewed a candidate in the morning at just the right time so that he sat at his desk with a window behind him and the sun shining through.  He knew the sun would shine directly in the candidate’s eyes, making a silhouette of the employer.  The employer did this on purpose, because he enjoyed seeing how people reacted under stress during an interview.


Now the Good Ones: Smart Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

Before you start thinking that the interview world out there is full of unfortunate mishaps and many people don’t even know how to interview, I wanted to share an article that essentially outlines how to turn the table on the interviewer, so you really do put your best foot forward and give an excellent first impression.  (I bolded the questions I got from the article and put my thoughts underneath each one).

  • What do the day-to-day responsibilities of the role look like? 

If you want to be happy in your job, you need to get a good nitty-gritty description of what you’ll be in charge of and figure out if it comes close enough to fitting into your dream job scenario.

  • What are the company’s values?

Does the company have a mission statement?  Make sure you don’t see it on the company website already!

  • Dig deep to get more information on company culture.

This will give you an insider understanding of what makes the company tick, including what type of employees work there.

  • What does success look like in this position, and how do you measure it?

What have others in this role accomplished?  (If this is a position for which there are other people doing the same job, like a company with a good-sized sales force.)  Also, what are the top sales people achieving?

  • It’s crucial to have a deep understanding of how a company measures success. What are the key performance indicators (KPIs) for the role? How, and how often, are they measured?

If it is a sales role – what is the quota?

What were the sales in the territory the last 3 years and did my predecessor achieve quota? If not, why?

  • With whom will I be working most closely?

Who will I report to?  What does that person like about working here?  What attracted that person to the company?  What is his/her career path at the company and what will the career path be for the person you hire for the job I am interviewing for?

  • What do you see as the most challenging aspect of this job?

What is the biggest challenge?  What are the five most important things that MUST be done?

  • Is there anything about my background or resume that makes you question whether I am a good fit for this role?

I always say this is a good way to close the interview:  Is there anything about my background or experience that would preclude you from hiring me?  (Get any objection out in the open and try to overcome it.)

For candidates who want to get more job interview coaching, please visit the  Intervew Tips on my website. You’ll be able to read about the type of questions to be prepared for. If you are being represented by me to a client employer, I will teach you about S-A-R (Situation, Action, Result) techniques and how to close for the job effectively.

As far as my recommendations for questions that the client should ask of the candidate, some of them are:

  • What do you know about our company?
  • What do you know about our business?
  • Why are you interested in this company? How does it fit with your goals and aspirations?
  • If you got the job how would you go about getting us new business?
  • How do you go above and beyond the call of duty?
  • Do you feel you are growing within your field? Why?
  • How can this company best utilize your skills? How can you add value?
  • Give me an example of how you had to take on a tough project and make it a success?
  • Walk me through a situation where you had to overcome an obstacle?
  • Walk me through an average and a hectic day in your present job.
  • Describe how you have improved in your job? Short term vs. long term.
  • Describe a time when you stood up for something you believed in and were met with resistance?
  • What has been your most significant professional and personal accomplishment? How did it make you feel?
  • Persuade me to move to your city.
  • Why should we hire you? Persuade me.

For clients wondering more about the Best Sales Talent recruiting process overall, check out my website page on this topic.

I hope you got a good chuckle from reading Part One of this blog post, and you got some good ideas for questions to ask during an interview in Part Two.  Do you have any more questions that you would recommend adding to the list, or any that you disagree with?  If so, I’d love to hear them.  Shoot me an email or give me a call at (401) 737-3200.