Ask the Headhunter: Should I tell very personal stories in job interviews?
In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.
Question: I’m in my late 20s, and I just graduated law school. I have a young family, and life is good. My father died when I was 5 years old, and my mother was an alcoholic. This forced me to grow up fast at a very early age. Perhaps it’s not relevant, but I think it provides an accurate picture of who I am and what I’m about. Give me rain clouds, and I’ll spit out sunshine.
My question: How do I speak about this in an interview setting without providing too much information or sounding like I’m looking for pity? Thanks for your advice.
Nick Corcodilos: Good for you for making sunshine through all that. But I don’t think I would use it in interviews.
I think difficult personal stories turn people off. Not because of the stories themselves, but because it just smacks of getting too personal with someone you don’t really know. It’s risky, because you don’t know who will respond well to it and who will be bothered.
I would find some work-related examples of your dedication and character and talk about those in your interviews instead. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of them, whether they’re from other jobs you’ve had or from law school work. Anyone with a history like yours undoubtedly has prevailed over difficult situations in other parts of life – specifically, having to do with work. Talk about those.
I would hold back on the very personal stuff until you’ve become close friends with someone at work. Be proud of your resilience, but use those stories judiciously and only where you know they will be received as you intend.
If anything I said helps, I’m glad. Please remember one thing about other people’s advice: Use it only after you leaven it with your own good judgment. No one knows a situation like you do yourself.
I wish you the best.
The reader replies: Thanks much for your response. My family and close friends with whom I discussed the issue tried to convince me that I ought to bring it up, but your response perfectly addressed my hesitation. Thank you again.
Dear Readers: Do you discuss very personal issues in job interviews? How do you think employers would respond? What’s your advice to this reader?
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