I attended a wonderful job search support group meeting last week in Acton, MA (the Acton Networkers). As with many of these groups, new members are invited to stand up and introduce themselves, telling everyone who they are and what position they are seeking. It’s a great way to practice an “elevator speech” because it is a friendly, supportive group, like most job search support groups. It is also a great way to find others who can help with a job search because they are in the same industry or profession and know about employers who are hiring, other professional/industry networking groups, and relevant events.
One new member, as part of his introduction, shared some details about a serious medical issue that was resolved through surgery and has not been part of his life for over 10 years. It was clearly significant to him, so he shared it openly as part of his elevator speech. Members of the group counselled him, very appropriately, not to share that information with employers because it is not relevant. While it is an important victory in his life, it is not an accomplishment germane to the jobs he is seeking.
Stay on-topic in your interview.
Best thing to do to stay on topic in interviews is to be prepared. Practice responses to the standard questions. Check out the right column of this blog post to see what they are and get good advice on handling them.
Think about your answers to those questions. Have stories ready to tell. Write them down. Read them out loud a few times until you can say them relatively easily without reading (don’t try to memorize the words, just some key phrases, and, maybe, the end). Do it by yourself or practice with a friend or family member who can ask follow up questions. Get familiar with the process and become as comfortable as you can. Remember, a job interview is not an investigative interview for the Personal History Channel (if that existed). Employers want to know if you can do their job and if you will “fit” into their organization. Additional information that is not relevant will either make you look like you are somewhat clueless or, worst case, it may disqualify you, depending on what you’ve shared (more on that below).
The irrelevant - but potentially very damaging – medical information this job seeker shared with the group reminded me of all the things I’ve heard in response to the innocent-sounding ”Tell me about yourself” interview question:
- My spouse and I are having trouble in our marriage as a result of me being unemployed for so long…
- I was caught driving under the influence when I was a teenager. One of my friends got a hold of a bottle of vodka and shared it with me on his 18th birthday. But the record is sealed since I was under the age of 18, so no one knows about it… (until now!)
You get the idea. Do not “spill your guts.” It is not expected, required, or appropriate. Don’t disclose anything not relevant to the job you are interviewing for.
Stay focused and on-topic. This is not an investigation. This is a JOB interview.
Sharing information about a troubled marriage could possibly be appropriate – for someone interviewing for a position counseling people about relationships, assuming the problems were successfully resolved. Bringing up a long term of unemployment is seldom a good idea, unless some important learning or other benefit was derived that is relevant to the job.
And, sharing about being caught driving under the influence could possibly be appropriate - for someone interviewing for a position counseling alcoholics or others with substance abuse issues, assuming it was a one-time event and major life learning experience.
If you are practicing “Defensive Googling” (what “Defensive Googling” is and how to do it in 5 steps), you know what is visible about you to employers, and you know if something in your past needs explaining. If necessary, have an explanation ready so you can handle a tough question appropriately. But, don’t volunteer your darkest secret.
We get by with a little help from our friends!
After the meeting was over and I was leaving the building with a couple of the other attendees, I asked them how long they had attended and if the group was helpful. They had both been attending for a couple of months and found the group very helpful in terms of learning more about “modern” job search (rather than what they did 10 or 20 years ago in the last job search).
So, if you haven’t attended a job search support group, look for one in your area. They can be enormously helpful! Job search support groups can be critical to a job seeker’s success!