What to Avoid Highlighting in an Interview
In job hunting as in life, it’s best to be honest and never to tell an overt lie. One’s resume, cover letter and other materials should be fact-checked for accuracy, and in interviews, candidates should stick to the facts as well.
Yet honesty doesn’t mean you have to advertise things about your background — especially things that wouldn’t affect your performance in a job but which, if you highlight them, might likely end (or certainly complicate) your candidacy for a position. The reality is that recruiters and hiring managers all have their own biases, even if they are trying to be objective about candidates, and by advertising certain things about yourself you may trigger such a bias.
If asked a direct (and legally permissible) question, you should answer to the best of your ability — it’s never a good idea to try to “trick” a hiring manager, as the truth is likely to come out in other ways and then they will question your honesty. And why take a job for which you have to lie about your qualifications? But at the same time, if something may be a prejudice on the hiring editor’s part — not wanting to hire “older” workers, for instance — why highlight parts of your background that may play into that bias? Some of this may get into ethically gray areas, and each job candidate will have to figure out their comfort zone for such things. The point is not to highlight certain things in an interview while staying on the good side of the truth.
Here are some things that hiring experts say candidates should avoid highlighting in a job interview:
*Personal facts that are not relevant to the job. For instance, your age or references to your age, or when you went to college, etc., if you are worried about age discrimination or simply bias against older workers that a hiring manager might have, thinking workers of a certain age could be “out of gas” or “not adept at dealing with new technology.” This bias is often very real and there’s no reason to play into it. Also, you might avoid references to where you’re from, especially if you sense that could trigger some bias from the hiring manager (though if you have a foreign accent or were born in another country and you worry that they could think you’re not legally able to work in the United States — or would need the company’s support to stay in the United States, a situation in which organizations are increasingly reluctant to enter — you may mention your status here if you think it will reassure them). Also, younger women — unless it’s relevant for some reason, and it rarely is — should avoid mentioning if they are married as some hiring managers may wonder, though they’re unlikely to say this aloud (as it’s discriminatory) if you’re “likely to start a family” any time soon. The problem is that if you trigger certain worries on their part you’ll never know whether you didn’t get a job because of their bias, or because another candidate was better qualified. So it’s just better not to mention personal details that aren’t relevant to the position.
*Uncertainty about your career path going forward or how you might fit into this company. Never ask a hiring manager, for instance, what they think would be a good position for you at the company, or whether they think you’d be a good fit. You want to project confidence about your abilities and appear focused. Job seekers should do enough research about an organization to determine whether it’s a good fit for them, and then should pitch their skills accordingly. If they ask what positions you favor, describe your skills and make the best educated guess you can. Showing any lack of direction about your career isn’t a great idea — even if you do have some uncertainty about where you’re headed next, it’s not a good idea to bring that up in a job interview.
*Medical information. Sometimes when candidates have recently had cancer or another serious illness, they feel morally obligated to let a potential employer know this. If you’re healthy now and able to handle the duties of the job being discussed, there is absolutely no good reason to share medical information with a hiring manager. Believe me, bias about medical conditions is real and could be a big impediment to getting a job. It’s really none of their business. Some situations are trickier: If you’re pregnant (and not yet showing so it’s not obvious) or are in the process of adopting a baby, you’ll want to think hard about letting the hiring manager know this if you’re a finalist for a position. If you tell them, you may not get the job as what employer would be excited about hiring someone who will likely go on leave soon (and with the Family Leave Act, they would be legally required to grant unpaid leave)? Yet if you don’t tell them and they hire you, this could complicate your relationship with the company going forward and they may be unlikely to promote you in the future. Also, leave out medical information about family members — again, it’s none of their business.
*Dwelling on the reasons you left your most recent job. If asked if you were laid off or took a buyout from a previous employer, you’ll obviously want to answer honestly. But there’s no reason to go into great detail about why it happened, which might make you appear defensive. Explain the basic details — for instance, if there was a reorganization, your company was sold, or they were offering voluntary buyouts and you were eligible. You might try to spin it a bit — saying this gave you a chance to redirect your career. But don’t bring it up unless they do and don’t dwell on it. And never say anything negative about the former organization or people there, even if you still feel the sting of a recent layoff, for instance. You don’t want the hiring manager to think you could be a “problem” employee going forward and speaking ill of a previous employer could make them wonder just that.