Of course, you should prepare for The Interview. Google the heck out of the company and hiring managers. Visit their websites and LinkedIn profiles. Scan Meetup groups and Facebook pages for signs of hobbies.
But how much should you let on that you actually know?
The stalker’s paradise that is the internet makes way pretty quickly for the diligent applicant to become the weird one. And yet small talk is necessary in an interview for both parties to let their guards down and gauge, simply, how they get along.
Maybe it’s easier to know what not to do: Once during an interview, Scott Sorochak was asked how he coped with raising three children after divorcing his wife of 15 years. “I thought it was a very odd thing to ask (and not) related to the job,” says Sorochak, who is the senior vice president of sales and client services for social curation company, Livefyre.
Sure, Sorochak expects candidates to have done their research about the company’s social commenting platform. They should know what the company does, be able to talk intelligently about customers and relate it all back to their skills.
He’s also a fan of small talk. If you’ve been on his LinkedIn profile and seen that he’s a Boston Red Sox fan or that you have friends in common, it’s fine to raise those interests in an interview. But questions about parenthood are too much. Apart from the invasion of privacy it doesn’t reassure him that the candidate will be on the ball with clients. “I’m worried that if they’re out to sell, they’re looking for irrelevant things,” he says.
Other topics that are generally off limits: those wild college years, your relationship status can tip you over the edge. Approach the issue of children with caution; take the interviewer’s lead.
“Everyone googles,” says Ginny Manocha, the marketing and accounts director at the careers and recruitment platform Brazen Careerist, but “your goal is not to be their friend, you’re focused on selling yourself as a smart candidate.”
She says to limit information—both in the give and take—to what is relevant to your candidacy. If the interviewer wants to get down to business and stay there, then let them.
And the size and industry of the company matter. “Are you interviewing with a startup or a Fortune 500 company?” asks Manocha. An interview for a startup might feel more relaxed than the latter. But don’t let your guard down too much, cautions Sorochak. “You need to be extremely focused on getting the job, whether it’s a Fortune 500 company or not.”