How Much Information is Too Much?: Setting Disclosure Boundaries for Interview Success
Whether you’re the quiet and reserved type or an incorrigible blabbermouth, interviews tend to magnify the extremes in each jobseeker’s unique communication style. Let’s face it – there are few situations in life that are more stressful than a job interview, and stress can quickly bring out the worst in those of us who aren’t natural public speakers.
Some people dry up and find themselves unable to utter more than a one-syllable “yes” or “no” answer to interview questions. Others face an entirely different, but equally worrisome problem – the tendency to talk too much in interviews.
But when it comes to interviews, how much information is too much? Well, the answer to that question depends on a number of variables. In order to determine the amount of disclosure that will work in your next interview, you’ve got to consider the industry setting, the type of job you’re applying for, and the personality of your interviewer, not to mention your own personality, boundaries, and comfort level.
Avoid Tough Topics and “Oversharing” in Interviews
Although acceptable disclosure levels will vary somewhat from interview to interview, there are some hard-and-fast boundaries that should not be crossed in any situation. According to HR consultant and interview coach Carole Martin, even if the hiring manager asks a question that could lead you into dangerous territory, it’s best to extricate yourself and stick to more neutral points of discussion. Here are some potential pitfalls that jobseekers are better off avoiding altogether.
Hobbies, recreation, vacations, and free time activities.
This category can be relatively benign, so it’s up to you to exercise your discretion and decide what’s appropriate. One or two remarks about your knitting circle or a college semester spent abroad are probably okay, but steer clear of in-depth discussions about what you like to do when you’re “off the clock.”
Politics, religion, current events, or other “hot button” issues.
Many hiring managers make the mistake of breaking the ice with a few seemingly harmless remarks about the day’s headlines or a pressing national or social issue. It’s best to just chuckle politely and dive into more neutral topic of conversation.
Relationships and personal lifestyle choices.
If the interviewer requests a short break to take a call from a disgruntled spouse or handle a childcare crisis, it can be tempting to establish rapport by commiserating with a similar story of your own. However, what may seem like simply blowing off steam could come back to haunt you in an interview situation.
Medical problems and health issues.
If the hiring manager is struggling with a head cold or allergies, don’t chime in with tales of your own debilitating hay fever. Although it’s fine to do this in most social situations, an interview is a unique kind of interaction, in that it’s more professional than purely social. If you don’t tread carefully, you might inadvertently raise concerns about your own reliability.
Personal topics that bear no relation to your professional life.
In general, a good rule of thumb to follow is to avoid divulging any personal information that is not directly related to your ability to perform the job in question. If a piece of personal information doesn’t help you frame yourself as a perfect match for the open position, it probably doesn’t need to be discussed in the interview.
When it comes to interviews, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you’re not sure how much information is too much, try to err on the side of caution.