I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have a big mouth. And while you might think that I’d reign it in a bit for a big interview, the fact remains that when I get talking, I can’t help but share personal stories. Even when I’m interviewing.
In some instances, this has helped me answer an interview question more clearly. But in others, it’s led me down some borderline insane rabbit holes that lost me opportunities. If I’d prepared better, I probably could’ve avoided these kinds of situations altogether.
And while you might think you can avoid this because you’re the epitome of professional, know that I thought the same. It’s just that when you’re staring at a stranger and being asked for specific examples to illustrate your responses and you can’t think of anything applicable, you sometimes find yourself saying things you can’t unsay. (Nerves—they do funny things!)
For example, these three mistakes are pretty common when you’re unprepared:
1. You Forget to Answer the Question
It’s always jarring when a hiring manager asks you something that you aren’t prepared for. In fact, I can remember a time when I panicked and started detailing an appearance I made on a certain reality TV show in a desperate attempt to stall.
But here’s the thing—it might give you some breathing room to start telling an unrelated story during an interview, but if it doesn’t eventually answer the question, you’re not impressing the hiring manager, even if your anecdote does get a laugh or two.
2. You Veer into NSFW Territory
When I say NSFW, your mind probably goes to one place. However, even if you’re not exactly sharing sordid details about your life, you might be veering into that territory without even knowing it.
Earlier in my career, I learned this the hard way when I somehow ended up telling an interviewer about a field trip I went on in high school. I won’t tell you everything, but let’s just say that I had an unfortunate uniform malfunction. It’s a funny thing to reminisce over with my friends, but definitely should not have come up in an interview.
3. You Start to Vent About Past Experiences
You think you know better than to complain about a former boss or co-worker during an interview. But you’d be surprised how quickly you can find yourself in that dangerous territory if you’re still touchy about a few issues.
In many cases, you’ll find that it started with an innocent question about your previous experience, perhaps about a mistake or a situation you would’ve handled differently. Before you know it, you’re halfway into a diatribe about your former boss micromanaging you.
Trust me, if you’re nervous about making these mistakes, I’m right there with you. Some of the most irrelevant stories I’ve brought up during interviews were a symptom of the fact that I just was not prepared. And while I didn’t get the job in those instances, I learned a lot about how quickly things can go haywire if you try to wing it.
So do yourself a favor and prepare! That means doing mock interviews, having a “Tell me about a time when…” stories ready to go, and knowing what to do if you do find yourself at a loss for words. (Hint: Career expert Lily Zhang recommends working through your process aloud to give yourself a few extra seconds.)
Here’s the good news: If you’re reading this article, that’s a great sign you’re doing as much as you can to make sure you’re ready. And because you’re trying so hard, I have a feeling you don’t have nearly as much to worry about as you think.
Photo of interview courtesy of julief514/Getty Images.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.More from this Author