Naturally, you need to be careful not to come on too strong by asking too many questions — it may turn the interviewer off. Presumably, if there’s mutual interest, you’ll get all your questions answered at a subsequent interview. The general rule of thumb is to limit the number of premeditated questions to about a dozen or less. While it’s true that you’ll be interviewing the company as much as they’ll be interviewing you, the last thing you want to do is turn a dialogue into an inquisition, or come across as a walking encyclopedia of corporate trivia.
You should also be aware that there’s one specific taboo to first-level interviewing, in terms of the questions you should ask. Never, ever bring up the issue of salary or benefits. If the employer initiates a dialogue surrounding these issues, and asks if you have any questions, fine.
But if it appears to the employer that your primary motivation for changing jobs is the new company’s compensation or benefit package, you’ll be out the door quicker than a bolt of lightning. Employers get chills of fear and loathing when they think you’re only on the job market to feather your nest at their expense. They visualize your employment with them as a short term, non-committal, career leveraging maneuver, and understandably, want to avoid being victimized.
Early in my career as a recruiter, I arranged an interview for a qualified candidate with a client company. After the interview, I called Shelly, the employer, to debrief her.
“Well, your candidate didn’t do so well,” Shelly said.
“Really? I thought he had the perfect background.”
“That wasn’t the problem. I just didn’t like the way he handled the interview.”
“I spent over an hour with him, telling him everything about the company, and introducing him to all the key people,” Shelly said. “I even gave him an extensive tour of the manufacturing area.”
“And then, I brought him back to my office, and we sat down to talk about what he’d seen. I asked him if he had any questions.”
“And did he?”
“Yes. That’s when the interview ended. He looked me straight in the eye and asked, ‘What are your benefits?'”
“And I got up,” Shelly said, “and walked him right out the door.”
Don’t misunderstand me. The candidate’s actions in no way reflected on his abilities or his character; his intentions were perfectly honorable. But after that incident (which cost the candidate a job and me a placement fee), I learned to caution interviewees not to initiate the subject of salary or benefits.
My suggestion is to take the John F. Kennedy approach to interviewing: “Ask not what your company can do for you, ask what you can do for your company.”
This way, you can present yourself as a loyal, hard-working, virtuous, and dedicated candidate, rather than as an opportunistic job-hopper who’d prefer to live off the fat of the land.
While it’s unthinkable to accept or even consider a job without first knowing the financial rewards (or the details of the benefit package), there are better and more timely ways to broach the subject, without endangering your candidacy.
Interview preparation is perhaps the single most overlooked aspect of the job changing process. A candidate who’s fired up and ready to go at the time of the interview has a tremendous advantage over a candidate who’s not.
The more carefully you prepare for your interview, the better your chances of getting hired.