3 Times You're Overthinking Your Interview (and 3 Times You're Not Thinking About it Enough)
I used to think I was the only person who overthought job interviews. I’d nitpick things to a point that would keep me awake at night. “Oh man,” I’d think to myself, “I didn’t get that job I wanted because of all these things I did wrong. I’m just the worst.” Well, a few years into my career, I learned that I wasn’t the only one torturing myself this way.
But, more surprisingly, I also realized that there were some parts of the process people weren’t giving enough thought to. So, to help you avoid learning some of these lessons the hard way, here are a few moments people tend to overanalyze, plus a few other moments some people really don’t think about nearly enough.
You’re Overthinking How You Worded Your Responses
If you’re anything like me, you probably leave interviews thinking, “Oh geez, I sounded like a doofus when I answered that question about Excel spreadsheets.” And you don’t just beat yourself up about it for a little while, but you let it bother you forever if you don’t land the job. Here’s a little secret: Most recruiters know that candidates will be nervous during interviews. And unless they’re just really, really mean (or unless you’re interviewing for a role that’ll require public speaking), they’ll cut you some slack. If you answered a question thoroughly, that’s what matters—even if it took you a few extra words to get there.
You’re Not Thinking Enough About Staying Engaged Through the Entire Interview
This was something I used to struggle with. Big time. Interviews can be pretty intense experiences, and I used to cope with it by letting my mind wander during longer spiels. “If I can make it through the next 20 minutes, I will reward myself with a brownie the size of my torso.” While I’ll never turn down even a mediocre brownie, there’s a huge issue with this kind of thinking. You’re taking yourself out of the conversation entirely (and focusing only on the dessert that’s waiting for you later on in the afternoon). Staying connected through an entire interview can be challenging, especially when someone’s reeling off information you already know—but ultimately making eye contact, nodding, and smiling during these parts will help you stand out.
You’re Overthinking How Many Questions You Ask
A lot of people think there’s a silver bullet to the number of questions you should ask at the end. “But, if I ask 15 questions, that’ll show that I’m interested in the job, right?” Maybe, but it could also show the interviewers that you have no regard for their time. If you legitimately have 15 to 20 questions for everyone in the interview, and you have the time to ask them, that’s one thing. But if you’re actively keeping people beyond your scheduled time to try and “impress” them, you’re only doing yourself a disservice.
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You’re Not Thinking Enough About Your Thank You Notes
When I started recruiting, I gave people the benefit of the doubt as long as they sent a thank you note. I didn’t care a lot about the content and started advancing candidates without reading them. That was one of the biggest mistakes I made. When I started spending more time looking at the actual messages, I realized that some people were not customizing them, other people were addressing them to the wrong people, and a few folks wrote ones that took them completely out of consideration—even after a great interview. While you shouldn’t wait too long to send it, take a beat and think about the message you want to leave with the hiring manager. (And if you need help, here’s a thank you note template.)
You’re Overthinking How Much You Should Know About the Company
I’ve gone on interviews where the hiring manager’s asked me, “So, how familiar are you with this new initiative we launched last week?” And because I had no idea it was happening, I had to own up to the fact that I knew nothing about it. That made me feel uncomfortable for a while, but I’ve also learned that if you know a few things about the company’s history, they’ll be pretty forgiving of the fact that you didn’t stalk them every single day leading up to your interview. After all, they’re looking to see if you’re interested—not if you’re able to retain large amounts of information only tangentially related to your life.
You’re Not Thinking Enough About How Much You Should Know About the Company
You’re probably thinking, “What are you talking about? You just said I was overthinking this.” And in some cases, that’s true. But in too many others, candidates I’ve met with have known virtually nothing about the company. And it should be no surprise, but this is a pretty big no-no. Sure, you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you don’t know the CEO’s favorite ice cream flavor, but you should have some knowledge of the organization’s history. If you don’t, it won’t be surprising if your interviewers leave the meeting thinking to themselves, “Boy, that person was great, except she knew nothing about what we do. What a letdown.”
Interviews are tricky. But, often times, not as tricky as you’re making them out to be in your head. So, remember, as long as you’re prepared (and I’m sure you are), then you’re going to do fine!
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