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How to Navigate the Sea of "Too Much Information"

We live and work in sea of public information. The growing popularity of social and professional networking sites, YouTube, blogs, and so on, has created an environment where people regularly (and often, unwisely) share all kinds of personal information with a broad audience. But in the workplace, HR and other managers and executives must be aware of the dangers of too much information (TMI).

In an interview situation, TMI is information that is irrelevant to a candidate’s suitability for a particular job. It is any information that does not add value to his or her “professional story”—data that will almost always take the interview off course. Some of the most common examples include age, marital status, race, religion, finances, and health-related topics.

Interviewer TMI
Interviewers need to remain alert to their own possible lapses into TMI. The interviewer must beware of divulging TMI regarding the position, people connected with the role, and the company. He or she must not reveal any personal issues, corporate gossip, or proprietary information. In some instances, explicit details about the job may violate confidentiality agreements and put sensitive information at risk.

Sharing too much information can steer the discussion in unnecessary and inappropriate directions. The first step in avoiding TMI is to frame the objectives of the interview so that the interviewer has a clear sense of where the interview should go and how to get there. The objective is to sort though the information provided by the interviewee and to guide the dialogue so that it covers all of the candidate’s relevant technical skills, experience, and personal skills.

Interviewee TMI
Often, less skilled interviewers rely solely on a candidate’s résumé as fodder for the interview questions. A skilled interviewer asks questions based on specific, predetermined success criteria that go well beyond the basics listed on the candidate’s résumé. He or she knows how to steer through the sea of information to guide the interviewee toward the points of interest. This is the surest way to avoid a side trip into the world of TMI.

If an interviewer sees that an interviewee has taken a personal turn and the candidate has become entangled in TMI’s web, it’s up the interviewer to toss out a lifesaver to the candidate to get things back on course. One highly effective approach is to change the subject. Politely interrupt and ask the candidate to revisit an earlier, non-TMI portion of the discussion by saying, “I have been thinking about your comment about…earlier in our discussion. I really liked what you had to say and I was wondering if you could elaborate a bit more.”

In the case where a candidate has completely veered off topic and the interviewer does not think that the candidate will be a good fit for the position, it is best to gracefully end the interview by telling the candidate that he has all of the necessary information and thanking the person for his time.

Some confident interviewers prefer to end the interview as candidly as possible. If that is the case, it is best to reiterate to the candidate what the company is seeking and then go over what the candidate has presented. Once both sides have been presented, the interviewer should go over any gaps between the two so that the candidate knows where he or she stands when the interview is completed.

Sometime, a candidate may be asked to have separate discussions with a number of interviewers, all of whom may be stakeholders in the position. However, not all the stakeholders may possess excellent interviewing skills. Savvy HR managers may want to conduct brief training or practice sessions for managers who will be interviewing candidates, especially for a critical or sensitive position. It is also advisable to provide each interviewer with specific questions and/or topics in order to avoid redundancy. The more specific the guidelines, the less likely there will be an opportunity for TMI to disrupt the journey.

Concluding Thoughts
An interview is a valuable assessment tool that can become ineffective if its objectives are not clearly outlined in advance. Skilled interviewers understand the interview journey and know how to cover the key points without venturing into the shadowy world of too much information.