I was reading a career coaching website the other day, and one "rule" that was tendered was to never volunteer personal information during an interview, even if asked.
While there is some truth to this, as blanket advice it's misleading at best. As an employer, I do ask some non-work-related questions during interviews and I'm not impressed by candidates who are evasive or unresponsive.
There are many laws about what interviewers can and can't ask, and non-work-related comprise much of the list of forbidden questions. Asking about your living situation or health, for example, are both illegal. A good interviewer won't ask these types of questions. (How to respond if an interviewer does ask these types of questions is a subject outside the scope of this article, but it's covered in most interviewing books.)
In contrast, it's not uncommon to face questions about hobbies, for example. Or warm up "chit-chat" like, "Any big plans for the upcoming holiday weekend?" These generally aren't loaded questions, but there are good answers and bad answers.
When describing hobbies, for example, share the ones that are relevant to the job or professional skills, or are likely to be viewed positively. Perhaps you belong to Toastmasters or spend your Saturday mornings teaching reading at a local library. In contrast, there is no need to mention that you spend Friday nights playing poker or that you ride with a local bike gang on weekends.
During chit-chat, don't volunteer excessively personal information. "I'm going north camping over the holiday weekend" is fine. "I just went through a painful divorce and I'm meeting with my financial planner to try to put my finances in order" is simply too much information. Small talk about golfing or cooking is fine; religion and politics are completely taboo.
Your ability to chat may actually be an important part of the interview, and it may be evaluated. After all, in many jobs, the ability to make small talk - comfortably and appropriately - is essential.
George Blomgren is an Operations Manager with The Benefit Companies. He brings vast experience on both sides of the table, and is currently on the hiring side. As an employer, George offers solid, practical tips to get hired.