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Interview Advice: What not to talk about

There are plenty of things that you should talk about on a job interview: your qualifications, your experience, your good grades if you have them, law review, etc.

How about the things you shouldn't talk about? There are a lot of things that will highlight your inexperience or put up a wall between you and the interviewer. The bad news: you might not even be aware of them. Without encouraging that you try to hide who you really are or try to be somebody that you aren't, here is a start to a list of things you should leave out of your interview conversations in order to avoid leaving a bad impression or alienating your interviewer...

  • The current value of the state lottery.
  • A sport or specific team unless you follow them regularly and can have more than a one sentence conversation about them.
  • Your boyfriend/girlfriend, no matter how cool he/she is or how 'serious' the relationship is. Your boyfriend is an especially bad answer to a question asking you to name the most fascinating person you know.
  • Your pet, unless it has some amazing characteristic that sets YOU apart from the rest of the field. Same thing goes for your roommate(s).
  • Religion, politics, sex, war, and other items on the list of things that you might argue about with your family once everyone has had too much to drink on Thanksgiving.
  • Your weight or your age.
  • Britney Spears, Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan (unless the 2nd year associate that is interviewing you, and has no real say in whether you are hired or not, brings the topic up first.)
  • High school -- not a peep, even if you were the valedictorian or captain of the state championship water polo team.
  • Reality TV shows in the genre of Big Brother, The Biggest Loser, or My Super Sweet Sixteen.
  • Myspace, Facebook, and other sites that older people have no idea about or that younger people could be drawn to to find a side of you that you don't want found.
  • Your drinking game championship ring or other undergrad party antics.

I think you get the picture. However, some of these things were things that I would have talked about in my younger years and some of these things are topics that I know were discussed by others in their interviews. Of course, this is just my opinion (and an attempt at a little humor) but I offer it in an effort to assist those who have never interviewed for a professional job and those that don't realize that these topics are ill-suited for a professional context.

2 Comments

bethb

I don't necessarily disagree that some topics are unsuitable for interview conversation, but I think your list of "don'ts" needs some modifications- or perhaps should more explicitly allow for exceptions. 
As someone who just completed a series of on-campus big firm screening interviews, I can safely say that it's not always possible to control what an interviewer will ask about or want to discuss.  I think as long as you are comfortable discussing the topic, you shouldn't feel like you need to limit yourself to discussing only your credentials and accomplishments.  I have friends who, when asked why they are interested in a particular location, will mention that their partners or significant others reside in said location.  I don't see anything inherently wrong with discussing a significant other in this context. 
I do think certain things (like politics, sex, etc.) should absolutely not be discussed during the interview under any circumstances, even if the interviewer brings them up.  However, if your interviewer asks about your interest in public service, and you haven't done anything of that nature since high school, why not bring up your volunteer service from then?  (I am also on the young end for a law student, so high school wasn't too long ago for me.  This may be why I don't see bringing high school into the mix as problematic.) 
I guess what I'm essentially saying is that while it is important to try not to alienate your interviewer by discussing certain things, it is equally important to go with the flow of the conversation, and to answer questions honestly, as long as you feel comfortable doing so, and you don't feel the interviewer is being too intrusive. 
These interviews (and again, I'm talking about big firm interviews here, so it is probably different for government work, or non-profit or other types of jobs) are a way of showing your personality.  Interviewers have your resume, so they already know your various achievements.  They are trying to see if you are someone they'd like to work with, someone they'd get along with, and someone who will work hard for their firm.  If talking for a little bit about something that's not directly related to your work on law review or your last summer job will help you and the interviewer connect, I don't see any reason why you should shy away from the topic.
*I would, however, agree with the above author that you should not be the one to bring up these topics.  If you are asked a question that might lead to a discussion, that's one thing.  But I wouldn't be the one to bring up the latest Yankee game before your interviewer does.

Mack

I'd like to chime in only because in my own experience, my significant other was an unavoidable topic of conversation.  This was because during my job hunt, I was looking for a firm that had a presence in my current big city location and a smaller secondary market, which was where my boyfriend was from and where we hope to relocate in a few years.  This obviously limited my options, but I was fortunate enough to find a terrific firm that fit the bill, and I was even more fortunate because I was able to work there. 
My addendum is therefore that my relationship was inevitably part of every discussion that I had this summer.  I knew this, so I was not evasive or shifty when queried.  The usual conversation went like this:
Firm Person: "So, how long are you working with us?"
Me: "I'll be in the Big City office for ten weeks, and then the Smaller City office for two weeks."
Firm Person: "Really?  Are you from Smaller City?" (Or:  did you go to school there?  Do you have family there? and so forth.)
Me: "No, actually my boyfriend is from there."
Etc., etc.  These people weren't prying in a bad way, but it was part of the normal lunch chit-chat that I had every day.  I didn't shy away from the topic, and I don't think that anyone really though negatively of me.  To be honest, the people I was working with were interested in my significant other (and the significant others of my co-summers) because that is a part of who we are, and they were just genuinely trying to get to know us. 
The one thing I felt bad about, even though I know I shouldn't, was that "boyfriend" was an inappropriate word in a way—we have been together for a long time, and got engaged over the summer while I was a summer.  But it's hard to convey that I was not contemplating moving to any old city for just some guy, rather for the person I will spend the rest of my life with, and that this was a mutual decision that we are both making.  But! that is another conversation.

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