Paula Sáenz López 02 March 2020

The 5 Questions You Shouldn’t Ask in a First Job Interview

As a recent graduate, I clearly remember being told about the importance of job interviews and tips to do well. There were dos and don’ts around researching the prospective employer, customizing the CV for the role, dressing suitably, maintaining the right body language and tone, answering questions and even what questions to ask and how to phrase them.

Today, as part of a global executive search firm, I get the regular opportunity to interact with middle and senior management level candidates as well as hiring managers and HR executives from companies looking to hire the best talent. And I must candidly admit that I am surprised at the number of executives who are either unaware or choose to ignore best practices around questions to ask during a job interview. The purpose of this article is to provide a quick refresher for candidates looking for new opportunities.

That you have been invited to a job interview indicates that the prospective employer initially seen something in your CV that is of interest and relevance. The discussion is thus an opportunity for you to demonstrate that you are best suited for the role; it is also a forum for you to seek answers to questions that you may have. The key is to avoid creating a vastly different perception from the one you want to create.

To make sure you give the right image, here you can find 5 questions you shouldn’t ask on a first interview:

1. Asking questions that begin with a “Why”

It is natural for candidates to know about the prospective company’s future, especially if there has been a turbulent history in the recent past. For example, your public domain research may have revealed that the company you are interviewing with has lost revenue or recorded a dip in profitability. You are justified in wanting to know what may have caused this and what plans the company has to mitigate the situation. Instead of asking “Why did revenues drop last year”, it is better to frame the question on the lines of “I note that revenues dipped by 12% last year. What are your views on the road ahead”?

By and large, being asked “why” puts people in a defensive mode. Some may feel personally attacked and you may be perceived as being tactless or lacking the ability to probe. Also, if the CEO or others have already addressed the causes in media, you will be seen as not having prepared adequately for the conversation.

2. Asking who are the company’s main competitors

Answering this question should definitely be part of your background research prior to the interview so that you are informed about the space the prospective employer operates in. Not doing such research reduces your ability to understand the context of your potential role as well.

3. Asking how many others are being interviewed

It is natural for you as a candidate to get a sense of the field. But asking such a question directly can signal insecurity or a lack of self-confidence. Also, you have zero control over how many others are on the longlist, so you should focus on giving the best impression you can regardless of anyone else.

4. Asking about benefits in the initial interviews

The initial interviews are meant to filter out candidates who are not likely to be a good fit. By asking questions about compensation or benefits at an early-stage interview, you risk sounding presumptuous. Information about benefits etc. is obviously important to help you make the decision- but only when there are clear signals that you are amongst the top 2-3 candidates they are seriously looking at.

A good executive search firm should be able to give you a reasonably good idea of such information anyway.

5. Asking how soon you can start

Again, it is natural for you to want to know by when hiring decisions will be finally made, but making statements that “you need this job” and pushing for an indicative start date can easily be interpreted by the interviewer as a sign of desperation. While you need to convey that you are the best candidate for the role and communicate your keenness to be hired, this is better done in more subtle ways. Keep in mind also that the person interviewing you may not necessarily know the overall time frame and how many more interviews may be necessary. The overall time frame is also something your advisor from a good executive search firm should be able to provide, as they will have a sense of the decision-making process, urgency, etc.


Do feel free to get in touch with me if you need help preparing for an upcoming interview or are thinking about a job change but are not sure how to proceed. My email is: