Sometimes, the devil really is in the details. This is especially true when it comes to the questions you ask when you’re looking for a job. Asking the wrong questions – or not asking the right questions – can get you into trouble when you least expect it. And it can be tricky to know when to ask which questions.

When Networking:

There are a few good rules of thumb to follow when it comes to asking questions during the hiring process. The first applies to networking. When you meet someone at a networking event, avoid asking if they’re hiring. Chances are good that they’re not, and if you ask this up front, you may send the message that you’re not interested to get to know them unless they can give you something.

Do, however, ask the people you meet if you can stay in touch. Ask for their business cards. Ask to connect on LinkedIn. Ask to have coffee. Building relationships may eventually lead you down the path of a new job.

When Researching Job Posts:

Another situation to be on the lookout for is when you find a job post you’re interested in. When you’re reaching out about a specific job, be up front about it. A hiring manager will want to know that you’d like to be considered, so be sure to ask. Ask them if they have time to meet with you to discuss the position. Don’t hint around and hope they get the drift. Be direct.

When Interviewing:

The most important place for questions is the job interview. It’s truly amazing how much your questions can influence the outcome of an interview.

First, be sure to have questions – lots of them. Having a long list of questions doesn’t mean you have to ask all of them, but it does mean you’ll have options when it’s your turn to start questioning the hiring manager.

One of the primary complaints I’ve heard from hiring managers is that the candidate didn’t ask questions. The hiring manager assumes the candidate isn’t interested in the position (or worse, is lazy), while the candidate simply feels all their questions were answered during the job interview. Avoid this situation by being sure to ask a few questions at the end.

Keep your questions focused on the job. Do not ask questions that reflect an “all about me” attitude. Topics to stay away from include pay, vacation time, whether or not you can work from home, or anything else that isn’t specific to the work itself. Always ask about the company’s hiring timeline and what their expected next steps are.

As important as qualifications are, so are first impressions. The questions you ask will influence a hiring manager’s decision. Fortunately, there’s time to plan. If you draft your questions in advance and ask a friend for feedback, you’ll be on your way to success.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.

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