Job interviews have a reputation for requiring stiff, professional conversation, but showing a little personality never hurts — in fact, it can be the difference between getting passed over and being hired. How much pizzazz is appropriate, and how much is too much? Here’s how to decide.
The Beginning of the Interview
Candidates will have a chance to make small talk at the beginning of most interviews. This is a great opportunity to display a warm, personable nature and get to know the interviewer. It’s the perfect time to ask how they’re doing and perhaps even if they have plans for the weekend.
The interviewee’s body language goes a long way in a job interview. Candidates should always convey confidence regardless of the position they’re applying for. Standing up straight, making eye contact and smiling are important to make a good first impression. However, there is a difference between confidence and arrogance — coming across as cocky or self-absorbed reflects negatively on a candidate, while relaxed, friendly self-assuredness is positive.
A job applicant’s outfit and overall appearance can also convey personality. Candidates should research the company they’re interviewing for when deciding how to dress. If it’s a casual, modern graphic design company, candidates might get away with an extra pop of color in the form of a unique hairpin or bright shoes. A serious, highly professional business firm interview probably requires more neutral attire.
The Middle of the Interview
When the interview is in full swing, the interviewer will likely ask the candidate about their biggest weakness. This is a great time to display personality — but not too much! It’s important to reveal honest traits that aren’t considered universally negative.
For example, saying, “I don’t have any weaknesses” comes across as either a lack of self-awareness or a lie. Listing an inability to get along with others, chronic lateness or addictive tendencies is also a bad idea.
Other traits to avoid bringing up include anything that would preclude a person from working at a particular company. For example, if interviewing for a teaching job, bringing up a strong dislike of children probably wouldn’t go over well.
Another common interview question that can feel a bit like a trap is, “What did you dislike about your previous job?” The candidate should start by listing a few things they liked, which shows they’re a positive person who gets along with others. Then, they should list only one thing they thought the company could have improved, phrased positively, like: “One thing I thought they could have done better was ….”
In the middle of the interview, employers will also give candidates several opportunities to share stories about themselves. This is the perfect chance to display beneficial personality traits. Explaining why they should be hired in the form of a story lets people share their strengths, including the eagerness to learn, knowledge of different subject matter or ability to work well independently.
It’s important to highlight traits that mesh well with the company culture, which candidates should research before going in. These characteristics can vary depending on the specific job a person is applying for within the company.
If applying for a job with the National Park Service as a wildlife technician, a candidate should convey toughness, experience and confidence with a personable nature. However, someone interviewing for a front desk job in the same park might want to talk about their good time management, neatness, curiosity and friendliness. A person can have all these positive attributes but choose to highlight specific ones depending on the position.
The End of the Interview
As the interview concludes, employers might ask about a candidate’s hobbies or what they like to do for fun. This question allows the interviewee to show off their personality outside of the workplace. They can list hobbies that convey a few last positive traits, like dancing, gardening, playing guitar or coding.
Finally, the interviewee should ask the interviewer two or three questions when given the chance. The candidate should take a genuine interest in the company and try to learn more about it at the end of the interview. Doing so shows they’re willing to learn more and are invested in the company.
Being Personable and Professional
Job interviews can be intimidating. Candidates may receive conflicting advice, such as to act completely professional or just be themselves. The truth is that while interviewees should be poised and polished, that doesn’t mean they should be robotic. Displaying positive personality traits when given the chance is the key to getting hired.
Devin Partida writes about investor technologies, big data and apps. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com.