Home > Career Advancement, Communication, Job Hunting, Networking > How Much is Too Much – What Not to Overdo in an Interview

How Much is Too Much – What Not to Overdo in an Interview

Three things could happen during the course of your job search.

1) You get into almost all first-round interviews (you must have a very strong resume) but you don’t land anything for real. 2) You don’t break through to many first-round interviews but you got almost all the offers from those firms you interviewed with(You must be great at interviews). 3) You hardly get interviews and you don’t get offers (er…I’ll leave you alone for now).

Let’s focus on the first scenario. So you have a strong resume, and they would like to know you more. You feel you did a pretty good job at your interview, but what could possible go wrong? 

Don’t Overshare

You can’t imagine how many people don’t know how to answer “tell me about yourself”. This is NOT a question to invite you to elaborate on your life-time stories, how many guys you dated, how your parents divorced when you were nine, or even how you did part-time jobs for all college years to finance your own education (save that for later). It is simply a question of “what are your major skills/qualities that will contribute to this job?” 

So now what? Highlight your education which gave you a good foundation of a certain market/sector, point out one major experience that is very related to the position you’re applying for, and mention you’re very excited/passionate/motivated/curious about this industry and the firm. That’s it. That’s concise and pretty.

Don’t Oversell

So I was interviewing with a major consulting firm my senior year at college and this was the second round interview (out of the three rounds). Different from many others I’ve had, there were no brain-twisters or case studies, and all we did for the first half hour was talking about his travel experiences in Europe. In the final 10 minutes, he finally moved on to my resume, didn’t ask any of my internship/working experiences, but just casually asked about a few organizations I was involved in.

I was very surprised. Toward the end I decided to take some initiatives myself so I said something in line with: you know I am very excited about this opportunity and I really like your firm, and I think my blablabla experiences will help me to contribute more to your organization. I looked at the interviewer anxiously and was expecting him to ask me to tell him more.

But he rolled up his eyes and then smiled and said, yes I know. These are all great, and you certainly proved you’re a very solid candidate during your first-round of interview (a quite creative case question). The further you go, the more you should be laid back. Of course you’re excited about this, we all do, and your skills and qualities are all out there as we all can see and feel. But you need to relax, you need to let these things naturally flow. No need to push for anything.

Later on I realized you don’t always have to say it out that you’re good. People can tell anyway.

Don’t Overwhelm

A friend was interviewing with one of the most prestigious investment banks. He met with multiple members on the team and the conversation went very well, until the last one with the staffer. Half way through the interviewer said let me tell you more about our group. For some reason he got this weird impression that the staffer thought he’s not qualified to be on the team and said, No. I know what your group does. And if I want to be a part of your group, I should know this, right?

What jump to your mind? Surprised? Too defensive? Too aggressive? No matter how you were mistaken about the interviewer’s attitude, that one “NO” is strong enough to overwhelm him, and makes him wonder: why are you getting so defensive and almost aggressive simply because I want to tell you more about what I do?

Even though you already know all the answers, it doesn’t hurt to sit straight and listen up. After all, typically the person on the other side of the table has longer experiences both in the industry and with the group. No matter how good you feel about yourself, you need to and should listen to what he has to say, especially during an interview!

The last thing you want to do in an interview, among others, is to overwhelm, scare or intimidate your interviewer. Believe me it happens. Let’s hope it will not happen to you.

  1. H.X.
    May 7, 2010 at 3:52 am

    This is VERY helpful! I’m often intimidated by interviews and your article gives a lot of useful advice(especially the one about how to respond to the “tell me about yourself” question)! What do you think is the appropriate way to react when the interviewer just keeps talking about himself? Should we just relax and listen? Oh and just out of curiosity:did you get the third round interview at that consulting firm? Again,great blog!

    • May 7, 2010 at 9:19 am

      Thanks for stopping by and I am glad you found this helpful. I think the best thing to do when the interviewer keeps talking about himself is 1) Listen, smile, nod, and make him feel good. 2) try to relate to your own experience. If he talks about traveling or learning a foreign language, after he’s almost done, you could say something like: I had very similar experiences when I was studying abroad at XXX, and then start tell him more about yourself as well.

      I did get into 3rd round. Sometimes it’s hard to tell I agree, coz ultimately it’s someone else making the decision. But the more practice you do the better you will get, no matter it’s behavorial or case interview.

  2. GRB
    February 8, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    This was a great article, thank you. I do have a question for you re: overdoing it:

    My line of work is non profit fundraising. After I found out my current organization had been engaged in some illegal activity I started searching for a new job and am still looking. I have applied to about 25 organizations so far, had twelve telephone interviews, seven in persons (so far) and have made it to the third interview of an organization I am particularly keen on.
    Yet its been a week and still no offer, which brings me to my “did I overdo it?” question.

    With every organization I apply to, I do some major research even before the phone interview.

    With this one in particular I was compelled to put together a power point presentation which helped answer the question of how I would sell the organization to potential donors and my initial thoughts re: a development plan moving forward.

    This, along with the interview packets I handed out which included a hard copy CV, the numbers I achieved for my current employer, stewardship and strategic planning as well as collateral I had designed throughout the past 15 years really impressed them and I was invited to meet the second half of the interview committee.

    I thought I’d better step it up, so using all the information I gathered at interview number 1, I put together a 22 page proposal for a Development Plan for the organization, which the Board Chair had indicated was one of the first tasks the new employee would be given.I had it bound and presented it to my second set of interviews. Once again, they seemed a little stunned by the amount of work I’d put it.

    So on I go to interview number 3 and its down to me and one other candidate. This time with the remaining 4 members of the Board and the Executive Director. I applied all the knowledge from interview number 2 into an updated and bound now 28 page plan, I gave them a revised power point presentation and, having researched all of them on the net was able to wish one of them a belated happy birthday as well as engaging another on our mutual love of theater.

    Once again, they were all pretty taken aback, not only by my level of work prior to even getting the job, but knowing information about them that they didn’t expect – (I do take the Gordon Gekko approach to fundraising i.e:”the most valuable commodity I know of is information”) Still I wonder if it might not have been too much too soon

    Naturally no one responded to my thank you notes or even thanked me in turn for the work I’d done. This is to be expected these days it seems.

    Yet disturbing to me was that, during interview 3, I got the dreaded “we’ll let you know either way” line from the Executive Director who seemed less enthusiastic about me than the Board did.

    It’s been a week and I called to follow up with the Executive Director. She said that they had made no decisions because they had decided to bring in a third candidate.

    So, I felt I needed a game changer. I called a few friends of mine in the philanthropic community and got one of them to agree to reading a grant proposal from the organization, as a favor to me. I also reached out and made a connection with a good fundraising database provider, now willing to entertain a proposal from them for free licenses. I emailed all this to the committee and added “I know how tremendously difficult a decision like this must be for all of you and I felt that it is my responsibility to demonstrate that I don’t just talk-the-talk.”

    This is my modus operandi as a candidate: stand out in a big way…….but I guess I need to know, is it overdoing it?

    Thank you for all and any comments!

  1. November 4, 2010 at 2:41 pm
  2. November 15, 2010 at 7:55 pm
  3. January 27, 2011 at 12:34 pm
  4. January 27, 2011 at 4:31 pm
  5. February 19, 2011 at 10:21 pm
  6. February 24, 2011 at 8:08 pm
  7. June 5, 2011 at 11:39 am

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