A reader writes:
Several months ago, I attended an interview and was stopped halfway by the HR person to ask how I had prepared for the interview. I was surprised, as I was in the middle of answering a question, and I responded that I had practiced a lot with friends and colleagues. (Note: I had really wanted this job and basically practiced, practiced and practiced.)
The HR person said, “Hmm okay.” I asked if there was any problem, and she said that my answers were a bit too perfect and I was too fluent in my answers. Naturally, this flustered me a bit.
Is there something as practicing too much? Or was she out of line? I had tailored my answers to be ale to answer any question and to give specific example of situations. Now I have another interview at the same organization, for another position, and am nervous. I always thought as an interviewee you should be prepared and organized. But apparently there’s something as too much? Where is the fine line?
Yes, there’s such a thing as over-preparing, if it gets you to the point that you’re sounding rehearsed.
Preparing is generally a very good thing. It means that you’ll have thought through how your background and experience lines up with the needs of the job, it means that you’ll have come up with examples from your past that demonstrate the key qualities they’re looking for, and it means you’ll have thought out answers to tricky subjects that might come up (like salary, or why you left that job you were fired from, or why you want to change fields, or so forth). It also means that you’ll have thought rigorously about what you want to find out about the job, so that you’re able to do the information-gathering that’s part of your role in the interview.
However, you certainly don’t want to sound rehearsed in an interview; you want to sound like you’re having a real conversation with the interviewer. That means that it’s bad if your answers sound stiff, or memorized, or like you’re reading them off of a paper in your head.
Preparing shouldn’t be about memorization. It should be about the pre-thinking that I described above, so that you’re not considering the interviewer’s questions for the very first time when you hear them in the interview room. The idea is that by the time you’re in the interview, you’ve already done deep thinking on your fit for the role, and those thoughts are fairly easily retrievable and ready to be turned into answers.
But I have no idea if you were coming across as delivering memorized, overly rehearsed answers or not. And there’s a danger in putting too much weight on a single person’s feedback to you, because it’s possible that she was off-base. “Fluent answers,” as your interviewer put it, aren’t a bad thing. We don’t know if she really meant “these answers are too good!” (which would be silly) or if she meant “you sound like you’re reciting this rather than actually having a real conversation with me.”
She certainly wouldn’t be the first interviewer to deliver silly feedback that you shouldn’t act on. But then, you also wouldn’t be the first candidate to deliver rehearsed sounding answers. So I’d just take it as a flag for you to consider whether you feel rehearsed when you interview, and to work on counteracting that if you do.