You Don't Say!

When clients tell me they aren’t sure how they did during an interview, they usually talk about all the things they claim they told their inquisitor.  Granted, knowing what to say is important.  But frequently, the success of an interview can hinge on what you don’t say.  And sometimes, what you don’t tell your interviewer can have as much impact as the things you do talk about.
Yes, it’s very important to explain to your interviewer how your skills and experience meet the needs of the employer; in fact that is paramount.  However there really are things you don’t want to reveal in an interview, particularly during your first face to face contact with a prospective employer.
At the top of the list of what not to discuss are the topics that by law an employer should not ask, but some occasionally err by doing so.  These include questions about your age, religion, marital status, sexual preference, disabilities, and place of birth.  In the course of establishing a rapport with the interviewer and becoming conversationally comfortable, it frequently happens that we reveal things that have no bearing on our ability to do a particular job, and these topics reveal nothing about your capabilities.  In fact, they can do more harm than good!
Keep in mind that you are under no obligation to reveal anything about your personal life.  This includes talking about your family background, siblings, children, spouses, aging parents, roommates, etc.  In doing so, your interviewer might be making all kinds of judgments based on the personal information you reveal.  For example, if you mention that you have young children, the employer might then be concerned with their frequency of childhood illness, school meetings, sports and band practices, recitals, and the other work distractions that come with parenting.
Employers must comply with the Family Medical Leave Act (FAMLA) that affords time off to mothers and fathers to stay home with their newborns, or to those caring for sick parents, or other lengthy health issues, but they don’t have to like it.  Employers who know that you are facing one or more of these life-events could decide against hiring you in favor of another candidate they don’t believe will incur the anticipated absenteeism.  The perceived lack of productivity and increased costs to obtain replacement personnel during your absence is a deterrent for employers, so don’t give them a reason to select someone else.
You also don’t want to reveal any difficulties you may have getting to work, dealing with the length of your commute, dependence on public transportation or others for getting to work.  If an employer believes you can’t dependably be there on time every day, they will continue their search until they find someone they believe can!
There’s a certain level of insensitivity to the needs of the individual in business.  An employer doesn’t really want to hear about your personal life and tribulations.  They want to be comfortable with the assumption that you’ll be there to work the specified hours (or more!), and don’t want to deal with the reasons you may miss work, especially if they know this before you get hired.  And the sad reality is that most employers aren’t going to specify the true reason you’re being passed over for the job you want. All they need to say is, “we selected a candidate who more closely matches our needs.”
Once you bring up a topic that is best not discussed, you open the door for the employer to delve more deeply into the matter, whatever it is, because you made the decision to reveal personal information.  If you don’t want that personal information to be part of an employer’s hiring decision making process, don’t bring it up!
Certainly there are exceptions to these rules.  Under certain circumstances there are things you may want to discuss with an employer as condition of being hired.  After all lit is your choice to accept an offer of employment, or not.  You may feel you really need an employer’s understanding and cooperation with your personal situation in order to make the job work out for you.  But 99% of the time, most of the areas discussed here, and others, are best brought up after you are hired.  Once the decision is made to bring you on board, and you start the job and they make you a part of their team, it is difficult for an employer to legally dismiss you once they become aware of your challenges, as doing so opens them up to major legal action which they want to avoid.
So while there’s a long list of things you should talk about during your interviews, remember that sometimes, what you don’t say is also important!
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