Timing is everything, so they say. And while that may or may not be true in all circumstances, I think it is absolutely true when it comes to asking questions during an interview. I have received a number of questions lately from students and recent graduates asking when they should bring up certain questions or topics with a potential employer. These range from compensation to work-life balance to flexible working conditions. In my opinion, most often the candidate is wanting to raise the questions too early in the process, potentially costing them the opportunity.
It is helpful before diving in to take a step back and recognize the hiring process for what it is. The employers are in control. Oh sure Bradley Cooper and LeBron James may have the upper hand when it comes to the projects they work on and the conditions of their employment, but for the rest of us mere mortals and particularly for our first position, it is the employer that has the power. At least at first, and we’ll get to the power shift later on.
Recognizing this reality should dictate what topics you think twice about before raising them in an interview. Here are some real-world examples candidates have asked about:
1) compensation – you should be familiar enough with the market to have a basic idea what the compensation is going to be, so raising this topic is at best a waste of time, and at worst a red flag for an employer who now might have an impression that you are only in it for the money;
2) work-life balance – yes it is 2016 and many of us want to spend more time with our families or outside interests than generations past, but the fact is it doesn’t play well in an interview. And on these first two examples, you could possibly get some of these answers by asking more general questions about culture or how the employer differentiates itself from others like them, without taking the risk of a flag-raising question; and
3) the early employment vacation – many of you have scheduled events such as a sibling’s wedding which will require you to take off from work very soon after starting. There is no reason to bring this up in an interview, and similar to the other examples, can only serve to harm your chances.
So what is the alternative? If you have these types of questions or topics you feel you must know the answer to before agreeing to work with that employer, simply wait until you have an offer! This is the moment when the scales tip toward you a bit, and you have the most goodwill and leverage you are likely to have. They have interviewed you, often more than once, and made you an offer over sometimes 100+ other candidates. They want you! (Oh and part of the reason they do is because you didn’t mention 1-3 above in any of your interviews).
It is perfectly appropriate at this stage to ask any remaining questions you have. They are much lower risk now than they were in the interview stage. It takes a significant event for an employer to rescind an offer (e.g. failing the bar exam, getting arrested), and asking these types of questions just don’t meet that threshold.
Remember I’m not saying you don’t ever ask your questions or raise your topics; all I’m saying is think about when you do it, and consider whether a question is better suited to help you get the job (i.e. a question for the interview) and whether a question is better suited for you to decide if you truly want the job (i.e. a question in the post-offer stage).