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TMI: How to Talk Yourself Out of a Job

Stop talkingWhen you interview for a job, nothing will hurt you more than revealing too much information (aka TMI) in response to a question. No, I don't mean going on for 10 minutes about what your greatest weakness is (though a 10-minute response to one question would be pretty bad, too). I mean over-sharing personal details; telling the interviewer about your recent or soon-to-be divorce, your struggles to come out, your chaotic living situation, your childcare woes, the medical conditions that run in your family, or ... well, you get the idea.

So when a friend told me she had divulged a similar set of personal information during her second interview – information the interviewer had no business knowing – I had two thoughts: A) what was she thinking? And B) had the interviewer blatantly asked her for this information? (But that one touches on legal issues, a topic for an entirely different post).

The Do-Not-Disclose List

If I'd had the chance to advise her before that disastrous interview, I would have given her this list of subjects an interviewee should never disclose:

  • Your marital/relationship status or sexuality. Whom you are married to, divorced from, sleeping with, or pining for simply does not factor into how well you can do the job. And while it's illegal for employers to discriminate based on these factors, it doesn't stop them from seeing another candidate in a better light because of it. Case in point: Telling the interviewer you're currently separated from your spouse, planning a lavish wedding with your partner, or hoping to become pregnant in the near future can make the interviewer believe you're emotionally unstable or will be distracted on the job.
  • Your current living situation. Your mailing address is on your resume, and that's about all you need to say about where you live. The interviewer doesn't need to know you live with your parents or bounce between a friend's couch and a significant other's house because you don't have a permanent place to live. All that tells the employer is that you could be unreliable and unpredictable – two unattractive traits for a new hire.
  • Your medical condition (or anyone else's). Your history of irritable bowel syndrome has no place in the interview room, and unless you hobble in on crutches, there's no need to bring up your medical problems. This is yet another instance in which the employer could write you off as unable to do the job adequately.

Moral of the Story

You never want to leave the interviewer with a bad impression or a reason not to hire you. Openly discussing any of these topics could do just that. So how do you avoid handing over too much information? Answer the question as succinctly as possible. See the following examples:

Their question: Have you worked or earned a degree under another name?
What they're digging for: Your marital/relationship status.
Your answer: Yes, I received my BA under the name Jane Smith.

Their question: What is your current address and do you have any alternatives where you can be reached?
What they're digging for: If you have a permanent residence or if you're house-hopping.
Your answer: My mailing address is 123 Anywhere Lane in Pittsfield.

Their question: How many days of work did you miss last year?
What they're digging for: If you have any serious health conditions that might impose on your work schedule.
Your answer: I took the four weeks of paid time off allotted for my position.

So, I wasn’t at all surprised that my friend didn't get the job. Even though she's reliable, competent, and able to handle the tasks of the job, her answers to these questions probably led the interviewer to think otherwise. Don't let this happen to you, too.

[To learn more about what interviewers are trying to get out of you with the questions they ask, check out this insider's list from an HR perspective.]

Have you ever divulged more than enough information in an interview? How did it impact your chances at landing the job? Tell us about it.

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