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Crossing the Line

May 23, 2013
by Tim Tolan
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Guidelines for maintaining a professional tone during the interview process
Tim Tolan

When candidates are deeply entrenched in the interview process, there is often a very human desire to connect with the audience they are speaking with in a more personal manner. Some call it building rapport, while others attempt to take the discussion to a whole new level by “letting their hair down” so they can openly share all of their deepest, darkest secrets in an effort to connect with the person or persons on the other side of the table. That strategy is flawed in so many ways!

The reality is when you cross that line and share too much information you actually open up a can of worms that can create a whole host of issues with your candidacy. Turning a professional conversation into a personal one can be very risky, and generally speaking, the outcome is predictably not good. During the course of the interview you may find yourself laughing and really having fun with the interviewer, maybe even thinking that somehow you’ve made a strong connection and become instant friends with this stranger you’ve barely known for 30 minutes. You like them—you feel that they like you—so why not open up and share a few secrets to strengthen the bond? Bad move. This is where things can quickly get out of hand and change everything. You may not even realize what has happened until it’s too late. Things you should avoid discussing in an interview should be common sense for most of us, but unfortunately not to all. They include:

  •  Medical Information: Sharing HIPAA-related data in an interview is never a good thing. Unless you bring up a medical condition that either you or a family member has, it should never be discussed by the organization conducting the interview. It’s illegal for them to broach the subject, so make sure you leave your private health information private. Even if they open up the door with their own health-related story, make sure you don’t reciprocate. Stand down.
  •  Divorce/Separation: Again, this topic is very private and nobody’s business. If you are in the middle of a divorce or separation in your personal life, that discussion has no place in an interview. Sometimes an interviewer may ask leading questions to uncover issues in your candidacy. Leave your marital issues out of the discussion entirely. That is a private and personal matter and completely off limits. No exceptions.
  •  Political/Religious Views: Another set of topics that can be very risky for the candidate. Your political view and position on faith and religion have nothing to do with your ability to perform your job functions—so by all means stay far away from either topic. Your views may be in conflict with the person interviewing you, and it is simply too risky to test either topic with someone you barely know. Way too risky.
  •  Personal Issues at Home: If you have a sick child or aging parent that you care for, don’t spend valuable interviewing time explaining your personal issues to your future boss. Employers are looking for leaders that can focus on work-related issues, and if your conversation gives the interviewer the impression that you have too many personal issues that could impact your performance, you may find that your interview ends sooner than planned. Not the outcome you are looking for.
  •  Salary and Vacation: These two items are critical to most candidates and, yes, should be discussed in a fair amount of detail at the right time. However, when the candidate brings up compensation, benefits and the amount of vacation time in the first interview, it usually is a display of poor judgment and bad timing. This action could create a not-so-perfect storm of concern from the interviewer that could cause them to take pause on you as a candidate. It also sends the message that money and vacation are the two most important elements in landing a new job. It’s not the right message to send to a future employer…ever.

Interviewing for a new position can be a minefield of potential missteps, but if you avoid getting too personal with any of the above behaviors, you should be well on your way to the next step in your professional life. Good luck!◆

Tim Tolan is senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT practice. He can be reached at or (904) 875-4787. His blog can be found at