Know how in the movies somebody struts into a job interview, sits back, rattles off tons of impressive information about the interviewer and the company, blows everyone away, and lands the job? Good luck doing that in real life. Being overprepared and knowing more than you even have to isn’t necessarily a bad strategy. But it’s actually a little creepy to let a hiring manager know, unprompted, that you’ve memorized the title of their college thesis.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but the point is that the main reason to go over the top in preparing for your job interview isn’t to show off how much you know about the employer, industry, or role. That can actually make you look bad if you overdo it. Overpreparing isn’t really about focusing on them. In other words, it’s about you.
You And Your Soft Skills, Under Pressure
The first way job candidates go wrong is by trying to impress interviewers with how much they’ve prepared. You do want to impress recruiters and hiring managers, but your interview-prep skills aren’t high on the list of things they typically look for. Job interviews are much more about giving the people at the company a chance to get to know you and decide whether they want to work with you.
And that comes down to attributes that are harder to quantify. By bringing you out for an interview, they’ve already decided they’re interested enough in some of your hard-and-fast credentials. So now’s the time to show off your emotional intelligence and other soft skills. For a while, companies like Google were asking job candidates curveball interview questions in the hope that they’d learn something about people’s creative abilities. But that habit has largely been retired, and the focus instead has shifted to more interpersonal matters.
The only challenge is that we tend to be better at navigating interpersonal dynamics when we’re comfortable. And we’re most comfortable around people we already know reasonably well. That’s why making good first impressions stresses so many people out. Whether it’s a networking event, a job interview, or even a first date, meeting somebody unfamiliar might make you feel a little tentative or awkward. And there’s a risk that that will be interpreted as part of your personality—not just a reaction to the pressure situation.
This is where interview prep comes in.
Where Overpreparation Really Counts
You should get overly prepared for the interview in order to counteract the novelty of the experience—just enough to put you at ease. Learn about the company and its history. Reach out to people you know who worked there to get a sense of what it’s like. Hunt around on social media for the main people you’ll be meeting with. Read up on their accomplishments, job histories, and so on. But not to regurgitate all that information—most of which you won’t “use” at all.
What you can do, if you’re highly type-A or just feeling nervous and want to brush up, is to grab a friend or mentor and run through a practice interview. Give the mock interviewer potential key questions in order to practice your replies. You can also get some feedback on the impression you leave in an interview.
Do this until you’re feeling more at ease talking about your experience and why you’re such a good fit for the role. Once your nerves are settled, stop. The main goal is to limit how much the added stress of the interview setting throws you off your game, and creates a misleading sense of how you normally interact with people.
But try not to worry whether the interviewer will like you. That’s really common. Lots of people worry they won’t be liked—usually needlessly. The worst-case scenario is that they actually don’t like you, which only confirms you weren’t a good fit for this role. That would have come out eventually anyhow, so it’s probably best to discover your incompatibilities early.