Yay, you scored an interview! You should be familiar with the five, golden, interview rules:

  • Arrive no earlier than ten minutes before your scheduled interview time (unless previously instructed to do so.) Of course, don’t arrive late, either.
  • Dress for the job—don’t wear jeans and t-shirt…and for the love of God, don’t wear any metal piercings or show tattoos.
  • Be polite, courteous, and cordial…and smile!
  • Make sure your mobile phone is OFF and stored out-of-sight.
  • Don’t wear cologne or perfume or smell like an old sock in a gym locker—be and smell stepped-out-of-the-shower clean.

Sure, you’re nervous—nobody wants to be put under a microscope and you’re afraid that you’ll stick your foot in mouth…which leads to the subject of post: during an interview, shut up. No, seriously, there are times in an interview when you should (in social media parlance), STFU:

  • Whenever someone else is talking. Obvious, right? But when nervous, we tend to blurt out things or interrupt people. If it helps when someone else is talking, gently bite your tongue.
  • Don’t immediately answer open-ended* questions—pause before you speak. If you pause for a few moments, two things happen: it gives you time for you to collect your thoughts so you can give an intelligent answer, and it gives the impression to interviewers that you give thought before saying something. Subliminal as that is, that’s a big plus and is important because on the job, you may be faced with delicate situations where tact and thoughtfulness are needed. If interviewers can subconsciously glean that skill from you, so much the better.
  • While on the subject of open-ended questions, know when to shut up since if you talk too much you’ll give interviewers good reasons not to hire you. The most infamous example of this is the dreaded opener, “Tell us about yourself.” Stick to your work history, skills, and accomplishments that relate to the job you’re applying for. Talking about your personal life can sink you all kinds of ways. Say you answer that question with “One thing we—my kids and I— like to do after church every Sunday is to take our guns and go rabbit hunting in the woods nearby.” In that one sentence you’ve told the interviewers:
    • You’re a single parent or you do things without a significant other. (“Hmm…relationship issues.”)
    • You’re religious. (“He might disagree with or be against our corporate philosophy.”)
    • You have kids. (“How many and how old?”)
    • You have guns. (“You have kids using guns?”)
    • You hunt. (“They kill bunnies? For sport or for food?”)

Each or every one of those items might offend the interviewers or cause doubt as to your responsibility, reliability, and philosophical alignment with the organization. You just talked them out of hiring you.

Most people, in a conversational setting, are uncomfortable with silence so they unconsciously feel the need to fill air space with talking. Police rely on this all the time to nail suspects—they ask open-ended questions, sit quiet to let the suspect do all the talking, the suspect says one thing too many and boom, the suspect gives himself away and is arrested.

 

Then again, there are questions that you shouldn’t answer because those questions are illegal to ask due to federal anti-discrimination laws; they may seem innocent enough, but their answers can be used against you. Some of those questions are:

  • Are you married?
  • How old are you?
  • Which religious holidays do you observe? (Ties to what religion you are.)
  • Do you have children?
  • Which country are you from?
  • Is English your first language?
  • When was the last time you’ve used illegal drugs?
  • How long have you been working?

You may not be asked these questions directly but as said earlier, if you start rambling to fill the silence you may unwittingly answer them. (Giving your age away might be something you’ve already done in your job application by stating when you attended college; one can extrapolate your age range from that info alone…and truth be told that there is age discrimination in hiring decisions.)

 

What should you do if you’re asked an “illegal” question? Should you bolt upright, accusingly point a finger at the interviewers and declare, “You can’t ask me that—I’m going to call the EEOC because you violated Title-Seven. You’ll hear from my lawyer!” It’s a judgement call on your part. You can be diplomatic and politely respond with, “I appreciate the question, but I don’t think you’re allowed to ask me that.” (If they ask why, cite Title-Seven of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.) You could report the infraction to the EEOC and file a lawsuit but what the outcome of that would be no one knows…other than you’ll definitely not get the job.

 

I side on the side of diplomacy—that fact that you know of Title-Seven might impress the hell out of the interviewers and show them that you have the ability to research things—a big plus in your favor.

 

To summarize, “Engage brain before disengaging mouth.” A little thought, and a little silence, may be the ticket to getting the job.

 

*Open-ended questions are ones that go beyond requesting yes-or-no answers, e.g., ‘how’ and ‘why” questions.