Of all the bits of interview advice I’e heard, few are as dangerous as the following:
Joke around … be comfortable and make the setting comfortable.
Ummm… yeah, you need to be careful here.Yes, you are in a tense situation when interviewing and finding a way to relax. Smiling and laughing (sincerely) when an interviewer makes a respectful joke is certainly a good way to show your persona and sense of humor (remember, an interviewer wants to see if you are a personable individual as they would be working with you for years to come if hired). Telling your own humorous stories related to interview questions can be a great way to connect with a hiring committee. That said, fitting into an interview that I have a sorta pet chipmunk who I got an engraved water bowl for is likely pushing things.
So Where is the line in the sand? How do you know when you’re sharing too much? No, there is no easy answer here, but there are some indicators based on questions asked and the mannerisms of interviewers that came give you direction. From a physical comfort level, if you show up in frmal business attire and everyone is wearing shorts, taking off your suit coat and loosening your tie would be a great way to show you are a good fit and are able fit into a relaxed atmosphere. That said, I don’t recommend you ditch your tie and slouch back in your chair (and put your feet up on a nearby, vacant chair) – remain professional in your actions but find the little things to do to fit the situation.
For discussions, take cues from the tone of conversation during introductions. If they (hiring managers and committee members) are using first names and even tell you to call them by their first names, do so. But, only use first names if invited to do so. Also, if there are committee members who are using a nickname for someone of staff, don’t use that nickname unless the person the person with the nickname asks you to use that nickname. My boss at Canisius College, Dean Lily Adams-Dudley, called me “Tigger” because I bounced around the office getting work done. Yeah, while I loved it when she called me Tigger, I don’t allow anyone else to call me by that nickname. And if an interviewee had ever called me that nickname… they sure the hell wouldn’t get my vote.
Moving onto conversations before, during and after your interview, you may be invited, formally or informally, to contribute to a conversation about politics, sports, religion or some other hot-button issue. Be careful here. Taking a side may be the proverbial nail in your coffin if you discuss your perspective at length, a perspective that harshly criticises opposing views. I think most people are relaxed in agreeing to disagree, but there are definitely those who are rabid fans of their own position and hold grudges against opposing views. Frankly, staying out of such discussions during an interview and after being hired is a good way to go.
In the end, finding a comfort zone during an interview is crucial in order to show your ability to connect with potential teammates. Just don’t get too comfortable.