It’s important to possess the right skills and relevant background when you are interviewing for a new job. If you have the perfect, on-target experience, attended Harvard, hold an M.B.A. from Stanford and law degree from Yale, but are incapable of connecting with people, you will fail. To succeed in the interview, you need to immediately establish a rapport and build a warm relationship with the interviewer, as well as with all of the other irritating people that you’re forced to meet.
The goal is to be comfortable with yourself. You want the interviewer to get to know the real you. By opening up, the manager will start bonding with you. The interview will start flowing more naturally. For many, it’s a herculean task to play nice, act pleasant, outgoing, not too intrusive, clever, charming and polite. If you don’t possess any of these traits (and most of us don’t), pretend you do. If this is you, try to find someone who radiates charisma and emulate him or her.
Most people enter the interview room and immediately completely change their personality. Their voice drops a few octaves to sound serious, strong and in control. Their body language becomes rigid, cold and unnatural. We subscribe to the notion that you have to be uptight, hide your personality and act like you are a corporate robot. It is hard—and nearly impossible—for hiring managers to get to know and warm up to a plastic, corporate drone. To separate yourself from the herd, you need to let your personality shine through, but only if it is a good one. If not, definitely be someone else. After all, nobody wants to hire someone who is incapable of carrying on a conversation and completely devoid of emotions.
The secret is this—people hire someone who they feel good about. The boss wants a person to go to lunch with, someone to cover for them when they are hungover and are just trying to hide in their office and a willing supplicant to take the blame when things go wrong. The 10 other employees that you meet with at the company will assume that the hiring manager specked you out for the substance and they only care if you’d be a nice and cool person to interact with.
Showcasing your personality may not be the easiest thing to do when you’re talking about boring job-related specifics. “What are your hobbies?” is one of the most commonly asked interview questions. It’s a valid question, but it also opens the door to trouble—namely because in talking about yourself, you might end up revealing certain tidbits of information that could end up costing you the job. Taxidermy, larping, sitting on the couch drinking beer and watching basketball, time travel, gaming with your buddies all weekend (especially if you’re in your 40s), escapology, witchcraft and taking care of your 14 cats may not be enticing to a prospective new boss.
Be careful about other more socially acceptable hobbies. For example, I recall interviewing a person for my company and he mentioned that he arrives to work at the crack of 9:30 a.m. since he takes a morning jog and then, later in the day, takes a long lunch to go work out at the gym. I was seething since I’m in the office by 7:30 a.m. and eat lunch at my desk. Yes, I am a little maniacally compulsive, but I knew right away that his priorities were different than mine.
Talking about your personal life might seem like a natural thing to do in an interview, but there are certain details you should aim to keep to yourself. Say your favorite hobby is volunteering for a political cause. You may believe that this is the best, most worthwhile goal in the world. Meanwhile, the interviewer may hold a diametrically opposed political view from you and is not too happy about your outside-of-the-office pastime. I see this all the time. Candidates will disclose on their résumés which congressperson, governor or presidential candidate they spent time campaigning and ringing doorbells for to help them win. I wince when I read it thinking that the hiring manager would be wound about this if they were in favor of opposing politicians. It is just not worth the risk.
If asked about your current or previous managers, it is verboten to ever saying anything bad about them. Even if you are burning to blurt out that your boss is a horrible, miserable, no-good person, don’t do it. Maybe you worked for a psychopath, but keep it to yourself. If you trash talk prior managers, the manager you’re currently interviewing with will question who really was at fault. Since they won’t be sure about who’s to blame, it’s easier for them to just pass and move onto a new candidate.
As a general rule, you should always aim to keep certain taboo subject matters out of the interview—religion, politics, gossip, your love life (or lack thereof), conspiracy theories and partying. When it comes to family, be careful. If you brag about leaving the office early in your current job to get out of the office in time to be in the suburbs to coach you kid’s baseball game, the interviewer may not have children, live in the city and get angry about your sense of entitlement to just skip out of the office on a sunny, spring day while they are stuck there picking up the slack.
There are times when you don’t have to offer up personal information. Familiarize yourself with what companies are legally allowed to ask and what they aren’t. For example, interviewers cannot inquire about your religion, marital status, sexual orientation, family situation or if you have children. If any of these topics arise, you are well within your rights to reply that you’d rather not discuss that aspect of your personal life. In the real world, you may want to discuss some of these things if it enables you to bond with the interviewer.
Talking about your personal life during a job interview really boils down to striking the right balance. You want to be genuine, but not overshare, and with any luck, the people you’re talking with will get a realistic understanding of your winning personality.