How Personal is Personal in a Job Interview?

Nancy Anderson
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During a job interview, sharing personal information can help the employer see you as a whole person rather than a set of qualifications. On the flip side, oversharing can mark you as inappropriate or unprofessional. By reading the tone of the interviewer and choosing your anecdotes carefully, you can leave a lasting impression without crossing the line.

Read the Room

Every job interview is different; some employers have the time to chat, while others simply want to vet your skills and move on to the next candidate. At the beginning of the interview, take stock of the room. If the employer seems businesslike and efficient, or if he jumps right into his list of questions, proceed with caution. If he looks relaxed and friendly, or if he takes a few minutes to talk about the weather before getting down to the interview, he might be more receptive. Following the interviewer's lead throughout the session can keep you from overstepping.

Make Connections

When the time seems right to reveal personal information, be selective with your stories. Offer details or anecdotes that make a connection, either to the employer or to the position. Look at the interviewer's desk and office decorations to find conversation starters. Comment on a finisher's medal and mention that you're training for an upcoming race, for example, or use a travel photo as a way to mention your year of traveling around the world. Alternatively, work a personal story into an answer to a job interview question. When asked about leadership experience, your might give your professional history and explain that you also lead teams of volunteers for a local nonprofit.

Choose Details Carefully

A personal story can get out of hand quickly, especially when you're already nervous about the job interview. As a rule of thumb, start with a short statement and reveal additional details only if the employer asks. Stay away from topics that might activate the interviewer's biases: politics, personal beliefs and opinions about current events are best left unsaid. Don't be afraid to express enthusiasm for a hobby or interest, but be wary of stories that provoke a strong emotional response. If you must talk about sensitive information — by way of explaining a career change or a gap in your work history, for example — offer as little detail as possible, keep it matter-of-fact and move on.

Avoid Legal Issues

American employers are bound by anti-discrimination laws. When you are offering personal details, avoid anything related to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's protected classes. Employers are not permitted to ask about race, religion, gender, age or disability during a job interview. To protect everyone involved, it's important to avoid these subjects.

When handled correctly, personal stories can give you a competitive edge over other candidates. By treading carefully and tailoring the information to the individual job interview, you can paint a memorable picture of yourself as both a professional and a person.

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