Research shows the older you get, the more you overshare – which can hurt your career.
Loose lips sink professional relationships.
Most employees are aware that they can be fired for something they overshared on social media – but they need to be conscious about blabbing private business in person, too.
More than 3 in 5 workers said they had at least one colleague who overshared once a week or more, according to one SurveyMonkey survey.
And telling too much about yourself is a cardinal sin of job interviews. Employers told CareerBuilder that 1 in 5 applicants provides too much personal information during the interview – and 17% even asked the hiring manager personal questions.
Some of the most outlandish things candidates told employers in another CareerBuilder survey include one person bragging about being in the newspaper for stealing a treadmill from an older woman’s house, and another who asked to call his wife mid-job interview to make sure the starting salary was high enough.
Katie, a fashion designer who wished to remain anonymous, recently interviewed a confessional job candidate who brought unwelcome baggage to the table.
“Mid-interview, while discussing her past work experience, she came out with, ‘I was with this guy for 14 years, and we broke up this year. We were never married. So now I’m going out on my own. I got my own place,’” Katie told Moneyish. “As an interviewer, how are you supposed to respond to that? It was just awkward, and completely inappropriate for an interview.”
She hired the oversharer anyway – and soon regretted it. “As early as lunch on her first day, her seatmates and manager knew all about her ex, her living situation, her current dating situation and her sex life. It was a lot,” Katie said. The chatty colleague was let go within a week – and while it wasn’t because of the oversharing, that onslaught of personal drama was still an early sign that she wouldn’t work out.
“Lesson learned,” said Katie.
Turns out, offering TMI isn’t just a kid thing. The cautionary tale above involved someone in her late 30s.
And researchers from The University of Edinburgh and Northwestern University in Illinois have found that the risk of sharing irrelevant details in conversations actually increases with age. Plus, tests on 100 people ages 17 to 84 years old reveal that the older we get, the less we’re able to ignore distracting information during discussions – and we retain more of that irrelevant info, too. We also grow less able to switch to a conversation partner’s perspective – as in, considering what they might think about the tangent we’re going off on about our recent doctor’s appointment.
We’re also more likely to spill personal information when we feel nervous or rejected, because sharing intimate details helps humans bond – under the right circumstances. Which is perhaps why many candidates suffer this worst kind of word vomit during their job interviews.
“People are nervous, and they tend to just spew and overshare,” Ladan Nikravan Hayes, a career adviser at CareerBuilder, told Moneyish. “You do want to show some of your personality … but at the same time, you don’t want to share things that are just unnecessary.”
The most taboo topics include venting about what you didn’t like about your last boss, drama with your former coworkers or speaking negatively about your last workplace. You also want to avoid getting into your divorce or relationship problems, or going too in-depth about your children, or the fact that you got engaged.
“You want to make sure that what you share has a purpose related to your skills for the job,” said Hayes.
Yes, it’s OK to say you have two kids and you coach their Little League team – that illustrates you are a parent and a community leader. “But there’s no reason to pull out your phone and share family photos, or talk obsessively about your wedding,” explained Hayes.
Leadership expert and career coach Dr. Todd Dewett agreed. “When you want to build a rapport with a person, you need to start with non-controversial and non-emotional topics, like your hobbies,” he told Moneyish. “Once you’ve worked with someone for a while, then you can dip your toe in the water, deviate from the professional script and start adding in personal conversations on a case-by-case basis.
“But keep your personal life out of the job interview,” he added.
You also want to avoid incendiary subjects like religion and politics – as you should do in the workplace, in general. “A good hiring manager is not going to like you bringing that up, even if you are both on the same page,” Dr. Dewett said. “It makes you look like the kind of person who is going to raise divisive topics at work and cause problems.”
And don’t aim for sympathy points by airing your financial troubles, or how badly you need this job right now because you’re caring for a sick family member. “The empathy route is a pretty big risk to take. You want to keep it as professional as possible,” said Hayes. Guilt-tripping is more likely to make a potential employer feel uncomfortable – or, worse, annoyed.
So how do you stop yourself from running at the mouth? “If any of these things are top of mind, it is easy to stray onto these topics without realizing it,” added Cheryl Palmer, an executive coach at Call to Career. “That’s why I highly recommend practicing your answers to interview questions. You can get feedback from someone that you trust, and identify areas where you may tend to stray from the topic beforehand.”
And if you do slip up and get personal, don’t draw attention to it by saying something like, “Oops – I probably shouldn’t have said that.” Just move on. “It’s time to refocus the conversation on the purpose of the interview,” said Palmer, who suggests finishing the sentence you’re on, and segueing with, “As I was saying, the reason that I am really interested in this job is,” or, “The point that I wanted to get to is …”
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