You’re Not Perfect: Don’t Over-prepare for Job Interviews

Congratulations − you’ve got a job interview. All that hard work you put into crafting the perfect, attention-grabbing resumé and cover letter paid off, and an employer actually wants to meet you in person. Now it’s just a matter of doing your due diligence, preparing as best you can, and making a good impression, and you should be a lock for the job, right?

Possibly. The basics of a good interview are not complicated. Research the organization and the position in question; practise answering questions about how you and the job are a good fit; give plenty of examples; put some effort into your appearance and the first impression you make; be yourself – the list goes on.

When it comes to job interviews, most people will tell you that it’s best to prepare as much as possible, then prepare some more. On the surface, this sounds like good advice. Dig a little deeper though, and you’ll find that as bad as it is to under-prepare for an interview, it’s just as detrimental to over-prepare.

But wait a second, can this really be a bad thing? Isn’t it best to know everything inside-out, to feel supremely confident in yourself, to have your answers memorized such that it’s no effort at all to spit them out come crunch time?

The short answer, as you may have guessed, is a resounding ‘No!’

First of all, discard any notions you have of the “perfect” job interview, now and forever. The idea that you can be fully prepared for any interview is a myth – it’s something people will tell you to ease your insecurities, give you false hope, and make themselves feel like they’re helping you out. What they’re really doing is giving you a one-dimensional view of a process that is decidedly three-dimensional.

Here’s the thing. You’re probably taking this job application very seriously (as well you should), and despite the elation you feel about being invited for an interview, you start to feel more and more nervous as the date of the interview draws nearer. “It’s the perfect job!” you say. “The more I prepare, the less nervous I’ll feel, right?”

Maybe. But let’s take a closer look at what’s going on in your mind as you continue to prepare for your interview. At first, your efforts calm you down, giving you more confidence. You feel like you’re doing something, which is better than doing nothing. You’ve got some ideas for answers prepared, you’ve thought of some good examples to illustrate your key strengths, you’ve come up with some questions to ask the interviewers – things are going well.

Before long, though, you start to worry: What if I forget this answer, or this piece of research I found out about the company? What if, in the heat of the moment, I suddenly blank out and totally forget what I was going to say? With this fresh helping of stress on your shoulders, you redouble your preparation efforts, convinced that the only way to ensure this interview goes the way you want it to is to memorize as many of your responses as possible. Your thinking narrows as you attempt to mentally control more and more variables, and the more you convince yourself that you can control things, the more you realize you can’t.

And suddenly, the interview day is upon you. You might now find yourself in any of the following predicaments:

1. You’re too rigidly sticking to the plan.

Good interviewers are notorious for asking questions that are not possible to prepare for. All that effort you put into devising answers won’t help you when it comes to questions you weren’t expecting. You might start repeating answers, or you might have a “blank out” experience and be left with no choice but to awkwardly “wing it.” Worst of all, you might give a response that doesn’t answer the question that was asked.

2. You sound more like a robot than a person.

Trust me, scripted or memorized answers make you look and sound bad. If it’s clear to the interviewers that this is something you’ve said thirty or forty times to yourself in front of the mirror, you’re flirting with losing something that’s very hard to get back: your authenticity. The best interviews feel more like conversations than interrogations, and your ability to be present and conversant will be hampered if you’re busy thinking about what your next response is going to be.

3. You’re more nervous than you would be otherwise.
This might sound weird, but the more effort you put into something, the more nervous you’re likely to feel about it. Once you cross the line of investing too much time and energy into preparing for an interview, the stakes are raised and they’re not coming back down. We all have a cracking point, so it’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself. If you can retain a healthy perspective about the fact that this is one job interview for one job, of which there are likely to be many more, you will lower the pressure on yourself to perform perfectly.

In a way, interviewing someone who’s over-prepared can be just as disappointing as someone who’s under-prepared, because you can see how much they really care and how much work they’ve put into their interview, yet they still didn’t impress you. There’s a sense of lost potential.

So, when you’re getting ready for your next interview, do prepare enough so that you’re well-educated about the position and ready to discuss how you’ll be of value, but leave yourself plenty of room for things that come up in the moment. Be flexible, be adaptable, and most importantly, be human (which means that, no, you’re not perfect).

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