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April 19, 2017

When Should You Share Personal Information in an Interview?

The candidate had a solid background, but there were some strange transitions on his resume. He’d landed a big overseas posting with a prestigious company, then abruptly left a year later for a lesser position back in the US. It didn’t make sense, and I assumed he was fired.

I asked the candidate what happened, and he gave me a response I wasn’t expecting.

“My only child was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. He was in his twenties. I had to get back to the States, so I immediately quit and got a job near him. After he passed away, I moved on to a better job in a new city.”

I felt for him and appreciated his honesty. Of course, his explanation put all my concerns about the job transitions to rest.

To be sure, it can be difficult and uncomfortable to share intimate details of one’s life with a stranger. But there are times, like this one, when it is necessary. Sometimes personal considerations — illness, death, divorce, disability — drive decisions about work, and it’s impossible to adequately explain one’s past actions without revealing some personal details.

Think hard, however, before you decide to talk about challenges you are facing in the present. You don’t need to give prospective employers reason to question your ability to devote your full time and attention to the job.

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