How honest is too honest in an interview?

Interviewing stresses most people out – especially if you’re new at it.  Not to stress you out more, but just one statement or even word can cost you the job. Unfortunately when we’re nervous we go into one of two modes, Paralysis or Potty Mouth.  We either clam up and can’t answer questions at all or we nervously ramble on and on to fill the awkward silence.  Either way, I’ve heard emerging professionals say some pretty stupid things in an interview.

The biggest mistake I see them make is trying their best to answer each question honestly.  Which means they give every detail just because it’s true.


How honest should you be?

Every now and then I find myself conducting an interview that generates a mental text, “OMG, LOL!” due to the level of personal disclosure from the candidate.  I continue to be amazed at how much I’ve learned about a person, unrelated to the job, by asking simple interview questions.  Although it’s important to come across as authentic, there’s a fine line between being honest and accurate and divulging every detail about you just because it’s the truth.

I’ve created the guide below based on real interview responses I’ve personally experienced that made me think twice about how well the candidate might fit into the company or new position.


When asked… Honest Too Honest
Why you have a long gap in time between jobs. You explain you used that time to earn a professional certificate, finish your MBA, care for children, or even took a sabbatical to travel throughout Europe to study art. You say you were unemployed because you wanted to experience one last summer with your besties before making a full-time commitment.
Why you’re looking to leave your current job. You tell the employer you’re looking for an opportunity with more growth potential, are ready to take on a new challenge, or have been with your current company for 2 years and would like to apply that knowledge in a new industry. You tell the employer you got passed up for a promotion because your boss has it out for you because of some gossip they heard you’d said about them, which was really made up by a backstabbing co-worker that’s mad at you because you flirted with their significant other at the company holiday party.
What you like to do with your spare time. You talk about sporting activities, art interests, coaching the community little league, trying new restaurants and community groups or activities you participate in. You go into great detail about your repetitive trips to Indian Casinos, reputation for making the best martinis in your building, or recent online dating disasters.
What your ideal workday looks like. You explain you like to collaborate with others, have focused time on yourself, and continuously prioritize work so you can meet deadlines, keep a regular exercise routine and effectively balance work and family priorities. You tell the employer you need an hour and a half lunch on Mondays and Wednesdays to take a yoga class, aren’t a morning person, or like to be logged out by 5 pm on summer days so you can still enjoy the beach for the season.
What type of team or culture you’re most productive in. You provide examples of past teams you worked in that were successful; “I once worked on a team that met weekly to solve new problems and another where everyone was accountable for their project deliverables”. You provide examples of past teams you worked on that were unsuccessful; “I worked on a team of slackers where I end up doing all of the work.  I never want to do that again!”

Almost everyone at one time or another has been guilty of disclosing a little too much or perhaps not enough in an interview.  Below are simple interview tips to help you keep a good balance in your next interview.

  • Define your personal brand – Before you interview have a clear picture of your top 3 strengths, personal values, and how you’ve applied them in the past to achieve results. You should be able to clearly and briefly articulate the value you bring to the organization.
  • Be authentic – Effective interviewing is all about being you and connecting your talents and experiences to the needs of the position and company culture. You don’t need to have all of the answers. Instead, focus on real experiences you’ve learned from.
  • Stick to the facts – Always provide accurate dates, degrees, and career history like titles and organizations you worked for.
  • Practice and prepare – You can use the questions in the chart above to practice articulating your opinions and experiences into statements that are true, yet also professional. Avoid preparing canned responses; rather focus on having a variety of real examples at your fingertips.

Your personal brand can be at risk if you’re not accurate with facts and able to articulate and connect your experiences and opinions with the position at hand.  However, you can do even more damage to your personal brand if you can’t decipher between authenticity and the disclosure of every detail about your life just because it happened.  There really are times when it’s best to stick to the facts and not spill your guts – interviewing is one of them.