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The Questions Job Applicants Are Too Terrified to Ask

Updated Feb 21, 2023

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Interviews can be extremely stressful for hopeful job seekers – especially in economic climates like ours where so much is on the line. With all that pressure, it’s no wonder job candidates are scared to ask certain questions in interviews. When you keep in mind the important points that applicants want to know but shy away from asking, you can incorporate that sought-after information within the interview or make the applicant feel comfortable enough to discuss it with you. 

Here are common questions interviewees may be too afraid to ask and how you as their potential employer can get them to open up – which, in turn, can help you make better, more informed hires. 

FYIDid you know

Getting started with hiring? To maximize success, craft an effective job description and post it to multiple hiring sites.

6 questions prospective employees are afraid to ask

1. How many hours will I be expected to work per week? 

According to a JobSage survey, 63% of prospective employees want to ask a potential employer how many hours they’re actually expected to work each week. Hour expectations can differ wildly from workplace to workplace. 

Offices with a more contemporary or creative atmosphere might allow employees to choose their own hours as long as their work gets done, while more traditional offices may expect team members to work at their desks from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

This can be a tricky question for job seekers to ask because they may be afraid to come across as lazy or interested in shirking their work. 

2. Will I have to be available on weekends or after hours? 

Along with their concern about how many hours they’re expected to work, almost 60% of job seekers want to know when these hours will typically occur. Work-life balance is becoming increasingly important to younger people. Working weekends or outside of standard office hours cuts into time with family, and can increase feelings of stress and anxiety. 

Interviewees may hesitate to ask this question because they don’t want to seem like they aren’t team players or that work isn’t important to them. In reality, getting a full, clear picture of expectations on both sides can ensure prospective employers and employees are both making the best possible decisions.

3. Does the workload prevent employees from taking PTO?

Nearly 60% of applicants want to know if the workload or work schedule prevents employees from using their paid time off. Having PTO is great, but it’s meaningless if employees can’t actually use it or feel guilty doing so. 

This question can be a touchy one. As job seekers are most likely interviewing with a supervisor, it could force the supervisor to consider whether they are fostering an environment where their employees feel they cannot take their hard-earned PTO. The question could make interviewers defensive or even resentful of the job seeker asking the question. 

4. Are promotions merit-based and fair?

More than half of interviewees want to know if promotions will be merit-based and fair instead of based on nepotism or personal prejudices. This is another question that can be uncomfortable, since interviewers may take it as a personal attack or assume the interviewee is implying something unfavorable about them. 

Few employers want to believe that they could be making unfair decisions or favoring a particular group of people over others. However, being conscious of the possibility and actively working against it is the only way to prevent prejudices from slipping through.

5. Will I be paid the same as my peers for doing the same job?

Many job seekers want to know if they will be paid fairly for their work. Conversations about the pay gap across genders and races have become increasingly mainstream, even though they’ve been ongoing for decades. In general, American culture has developed a taboo around money. Many people are uncomfortable talking about how much things cost or how much money they make. 

The discomfort surrounding this topic makes discussions between coworkers about pay discrepancies more difficult and allows inequity to remain in place. Interviewers are just as likely as interviewees to feel uncomfortable discussing money.

6. Do employees feel comfortable reporting issues to HR?

Minorities, women and younger job seekers want to know that their office is a safe one where misconduct can be reported and handled without repercussions against victims and whistleblowers. 

This question can be especially difficult because interviewees cannot know if the environment they are being interviewed in (or the person they are speaking with) is a safe space. In many workplaces, misconduct, racism and harassment are treated as jokes – or even the norm. 

It can be difficult to get an honest or true response to this question. Bosses may mistakenly assume their workplace is a safe one. Additionally, it’s possible they have never needed to report anything to HR themselves and do not know how to handle such situations. 

Did You Know?Did you know

HR regulations are constantly changing and evolving, but there are common compliance challenges that small businesses in particular may face. Things like avoiding discrimination, protecting your employees from workplace harassment and offering paid leave are important in every workplace.

How employers can make candidates more comfortable in interviews

Proactively and preemptively address difficult subjects.

By opening up a discussion about common topics candidates may be afraid to ask, you show them it’s acceptable and even encouraged to ask such questions. 

A good first step is to answer the above questions for yourself. Some of them may be hard to answer. Dealing with that discomfort now will help minimize possible discomfort in future interviews. Thinking about these questions ahead of time may even inspire you to make changes in your workplace or start conversations with your current employees. 

When the interview starts, bring up the difficult topics just as you would anything else. Don’t treat them as something you need to get out of the way or check off a list. Remember: the data shows your applicant probably cares about these seemingly uncomfortable topics. 

Respond when a candidate brings tricky topics up.

During the recruitment process, if a candidate is confident enough to bring up one of the difficult topics or ask a follow-up question, be sure to respond directly and openly. Don’t skirt around the topic or deflect it. Responses like those, even if you’re trying to be polite, show the interviewee that your workplace is not an open environment and you are not a safe person for them to talk with – not exactly the best way to start a working relationship. 

When they ask a question, you can encourage them and ask for follow-ups. Saying something like: “I’m so glad you asked!” or “That’s a great question!” can show candidates that they are equal participants in the interview – and it can make them feel good, which is always a plus. 

After addressing their question, check with them for confirmation that they received the information they desired. You can try things like, “Does that make sense?” or “Was there anything else you were curious about?” 

Be personable and friendly.

Throughout the interview, try to be affable. After all, you’re making a first impression, too. You want the interviewee to feel comfortable enough to be themselves and ask the real questions they have in mind. 

“There’s no need to intimidate,” said Meg Prejzner, CEO and founder of Hackett Brand Consulting. “Be conversational and true to the tone of your leadership style and company expectations.”

You’ve already chosen a pleasant room with comfortable seating for your guest. But do you come off as personable and friendly? Don’t be worried about looking like a boss. 

Interviews aren’t about intimidating your applicant – they’re about getting to know each other. Ask your job applicant if they’d like some water or tell a personal anecdote, which helps them get to know you quickly and shows that the focus isn’t just on them. 

You should also be conscious of your body language. Are your arms folded? Do you keep checking the time? Be intentional about how you carry yourself and give the applicant your full attention. 

“We know people are getting emails, texts and information sent their way constantly, but put the technology away and focus on the interview,” said Prejzner. “The person can feel more at ease and able to answer more clearly if they aren’t distracted by thoughts on what you may be looking at and prioritizing over the interview.”

TipBottom line

INow you know what questions job candidates want to ask – but what interview questions should you use? Query candidates about a time they had a conflict with another employee and how they resolved it, or what improvements they made at their previous company. Those questions allow you to see what the candidate can bring to your company.

Encourage questions. 

Make sure the interview isn’t one-sided. It’s obvious you have questions for the applicant, but the data shows your candidates most likely have questions for you as well. Take time to ask them what they’d like to know. If you’re presenting yourself in a friendly, open way, they might feel more comfortable asking those tough questions.

Encourage questions at the beginning of the interview, and tell candidates to stop you at any time throughout the process to ask additional ones. This technique can be especially beneficial because nervous candidates might ask their questions when they have them instead of trying to remember them until the end of the interview. It’s also an easy way to turn the interview into a more dynamic and interesting conversation, which is the best way for you and your interviewees to get to know one another. 

“Your interview style should not be to intimidate employees but to help them get a sense of the environment they’ll be working in and see if they’re the right fit for such a culture,” said Prejzner.

Sean Peek
Contributing Writer at
Sean Peek has written more than 100 B2B-focused articles on various subjects including business technology, marketing and business finance. In addition to researching trends, reviewing products and writing articles that help small business owners, Sean runs a content marketing agency that creates high-quality editorial content for both B2B and B2C businesses.
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