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How personal should you get in interviews?

Here, career experts weigh in on how personal is too personal when it comes to job interviews.


If you’re preparing for a job interview, you’ve likely gotten a lot of tips on how to behave. You know that employers want to see you’re capable of performing the work and presenting yourself in a respectful manner. You’re also aware that employers are looking for someone who they’ll enjoy working with on a regular basis and who will fit in well with the team dynamic and company culture.

But where a lot of job seekers get tripped up is in finding the right mixture of professionalism and personality to display in the interview. Being stoic and formal can prevent the interviewer from getting a feel for who you are and what working with you might be like. However, acting too casually and oversharing run the risk of making the interviewer uncomfortable. So, how do you find the right balance?

Here, career experts weigh in on how personal is too personal when it comes to job interviews. 

Wait for your cue

Many experts suggest that job seekers should wait for the interviewers to set the tone of the interviews. Observe things such as their body language and word choice, then do your best to match their demeanor.

“It's not about setting a predetermined guideline on what to share and what not to share,” says Dena Gillies, managing director of Capital HR Solutions. “Rather, it's about taking your cues from your interviewer. Some hiring managers are completely business and have no interest in your personal life. Other interviewers believe it is just as important to get to know you the person as you the employee.”

For interviewers who are interested in getting more personal background information on you, Gillies advises having a few generic details about your life prepared. “Share cocktail party information – family, kids and grandkids; recent vacations and travel plans and hobbies and interests,” Gillies says. “Never get too personal. Keep it light, make it interesting and be sure to show equal interest in the person interviewing you. Everyone loves to talk about themselves.”

Find common ground

Research is an important part of preparing for an interview, and that’s not necessarily limited to researching the company. It has become commonplace for employers to look at candidates’ Web presences as part of the screening process, and there’s no reason you can’t do the same. Get a sense of the interviewer’s personality and professional background, while keeping an eye out for common interests and other ways you can connect during the interview. 

“The best way to create common ground with the interviewer is to do researchon the person conducting the interview,” says Robin Thompson, president of TT&K Inc. “There is a lot of personalinformation available from Google, LinkedIn and Facebook. It will probablybecome evident that the person loves dogs, enjoys hiking or biking or eventhat they read a book that the candidate enjoyed.”

Job seekers need to be careful in how they wield personal information they’ve learned about their interviewers. “The candidate does notwant the interviewer to feel like they have been stalking them, so theywouldn't want to say, ‘I went to your Facebook page and looked at yourpictures,’” Thompson says. 

Research isn’t the only way to establish a rapport. “We recommend that people take a look at the interviewer's desk to see if there is something that stands out and is somewhat impersonal –a baseball, coffee mug with a humorous saying or a fun trinket,” says Sarah Benz, director of talent acquisition at The Messina Group, a national consulting and staffing company. “You can then ask a question or two about the significance and share a story that relates to the item.”

Get specific with your interests

In some cases, you may not be able to identify any common interests, but don’t panic. You can still stand out from the other candidates by discussing any unique hobbies.

“I find that I remember people the mostwhen they have an interesting hobby or when they’re passionate aboutsomething they do during their free time,” says Tracey Russell, a national recruiter at Naviga Business Services, a specialized recruiting agency. “A candidate who water skiscompetitively or scuba dives, for example, is more memorable than someonewho says they like to run or go to the gym.”

Even if your favorite hobbies aren’t particularly unique, if you can convey your passion and enthusiasm, the interviewer will pick up on it. “If you do like to run, talkabout any races you have competed in or what motivates you to run,” Russell adds. “Tellingthe interviewer about the first marathon you ran or your motivation to runwill help you connect better with the interviewer and help you stand out.” 

Avoid sensitive topics

However, there are some hobbies and interests it’s best to avoid discussing in the interview. As Russell points out, “It’s important to not reveal too much personal information duringthe interview. It’s best to refrain from talking about any interests to dowith politics, religion, etc. Keep the conversation light, but be sure toleave a positive, memorable impression.”

Ultimately, there is no hard and fast rule about how personal is too personal for a job interview. But by following the interviewer’s lead, showcasing your personality in a way that stands out from the crowd and seeking common ground on which to build a rapport, you can greatly increase your chances of getting that job offer.