Smith Brain Trust / May 4, 2023

The Question You Should Never Ask In a Job Interview

The Question You Should Never Ask In a Job Interview

The job market remains tight, but job openings fell in all three months of the first quarter of the year. Layoffs are the highest they’ve been in over two years and there are worries about a looming recession. RSE Ventures CEO Matt Higgins says with the Federal Reserve continuing its rate hiking campaign to tame inflation, millions of jobs could be at risk this year. So, he says now is “not” the time to ask a prospective employer what their remote work policy is during a job interview.

In a CNBC Op-Ed Higgins writes that landing a job in this soon-to-be cutthroat job market will require some finessing and compromising, so bringing up working from home in the interview won’t increase your chances of being hired.

“This is very much in line with what I teach in my negotiations classes, and in line with my published research and my Ted-X (Ted Talk),” says Rellie Derfler-Rozin, associate professor at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business. She’s also Academic Director of Smith’s Master in Management Studies and Online Master in Management Studies programs. “Unfortunately, when hiring managers hear job candidates talking about extrinsic features of the job, which are things outside of the task itself, like work-life balance, salary or perks, etcetera,” they tend to think the applicant is more interested in that than the actual job.

Derfler-Rozin’s research, conducted with Marko Pitesa of Singapore Management University, finds for many job applicants, both extrinsic and intrinsic motivations (motivation for the core task, job challenges, learning) are high and in many cases those candidates are the best performers.

She says when employees appreciate the job itself, as well as perks like remote work, they’re “actually more likely to stay for the long term and give back to the company.” But hiring managers will often make a quick judgment about a candidate. “When we think about other people, we tend to simplify how their minds work and think more in terms of zero-sum or either-or.” So, when a prospective employee asks about something like working from home, recruiters most often see that as a negative.

“This should be corrected on a more systemic level as organizations change and understand it’s the wrong thing to do, to have those very simplistic evaluations. I think eventually it might.” But in the meantime, Derfler-Rozin recommends job seekers do the research about things like a company’s salary scale and remote work on their own, “without asking anyone at the company.” She says “try to leverage whatever contacts you have, people on LinkedIn that you know work in the same industry” or meet up with fellow Smith alumni that may know about that firm or the position. “Ask them about the norms, what the company usually offers.”

Even after landing the job, take care about how you bring up working from home with a manager. Derfler-Rozin advises, “position remote work as ‘it’s not just for me’. It actually helps me give more to the company because instead of spending time commuting, for a couple of days a week I’ll have more time to make progress on my work and focus on certain tasks.” She says this shows commitment to working hard for the company.

“At the end of the day it’s a delicate balance.”

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