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Do Interviewers encourage Job Interviewees to lie?

November 26, 2008

I agree with Alvin’s post Be honest during your job interview. Come clean when you present your case to your interviewers. You don’t wanna get fired for falsifying something because the damage to your career can be permanent.

When I managed talent for a short spell, it was my job to try and understand behaviors. It was the year when we removed one senior manager who had falsified 90% of his background – his education, past employment, industry connections, family background, even the number of kids he had. About the only thing he didn’t falsify was his name, legal info and home address. It taught us a valuable lesson – that even if the President and CEO personally recommends someone, do your homework before you let him in.

Honesty is a common problem. Boys tend to exaggerate when they meet a girl they like and girls do the same too. Sellers exaggerate to buyers all the time. People like to manipulate situations to get a favorable response. I notice that as the stakes increase, so can the tendency to stretch the truth.

I do ask myself, might the same mojo be at work in the interview room?

Look at the interaction. Some interviewers focus disproportionately on pieces of paper. They tell you, “Is that all you got?” when you present them your pride and joy – a common Bachelors or MBA degree. Some probe for signs of leadership when what they want is a follower. Some dwell too much on, “What’s so special about you?” when they know you’ve only worked in backroom jobs – a place where you’re paid to be like everyone else.

If you happen to be among the lucky few with a genuine talent, then being honest about your abilities is great. But if you’re Mr. Average with a profile that puts you at par with 75% of the workforce, the hard truth is you’re just one green apple in a box of green apples.

Honest Mr. Average may not get the job but after this lesson in personal branding, he might just try to become Mr. Universe in the next interview. One thing I can rely on is people’s ability to adapt. So the old market rule sets in: sellers will adjust themselves to what the buyers want. Sound familiar?

This is how I suspect interviewers subconsciously train candidates to lie.

I’m sure its not done on purpose but there’s something about human nature that when you buy something, you don’t want to buy average. You want to buy perfect. People notice that so its not surprising that the more ingenious ones will ‘adapt’ and start dramatizing themselves to get the deal. It leads to funny situations where employers go, “Hey what happened to the bunch of superstars we hired? Why is it so quiet around here?”

None of this justifies dishonesty of course but it does prove one sad point – that in a tough job market, averageness and plain truth can be a hard combo to sell.

Note: I’ll repeat that the best way to go in a competitive job market is honesty PLUS a unique and genuine selling point. What that point is is something you need to develop. It can be an extra skill you picked up, friendships you’ve developed, something companies might find useful. Above all it needs to be genuine. That’s the only honest way to be a red apple in a box of green apples.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2008 1:14 pm

    That’s why it’s up to us, the candidates, to make ourselves “unique”. Otherwise, we’ll just be another “candidate” to the job interviewers.

    Learn to “highlight” the few things which you are really good at and things that you feel the company needs. The rest, just be honest and say you don’t know.

    That’s right. The thing is though, people discover its easier to pretend to be an expert than to be a real expert so they take the risk. Once in my previous company, we hired someone who said he did a lot of work on Web 2.0. Its one of those things that’s new and non-certifiable and we took his word for it. Months after he was on board, we put him on a Web 2.0 project and he couldn’t do it. His excuse: he had forgotten some of the stuff because its been some time ago. The project was delayed as he learnt it up, we suspect from scratch. Although he escaped being kicked out, his team leader made life hell for him after that.

  2. November 26, 2008 4:30 pm

    Interviewers are equally sleezy as well to insist on knowing your salary history.

    I usually don’t waste my time with these people because I know they would never treat their employees well.

    Using HR to lowball us is the fastest way to drive away real talents.

    Yeah, its the divide and conquer routine. The hiring manager will ask the professional stuff and HR will nitpick on personal stuff like salary.

  3. November 27, 2008 10:57 am

    “…honesty PLUS a unique and genuine selling point…”

    Now I remember how, years ago, when my interviewers perked up when I showed them some random sketches of parts and equipment I used in past jobs during an interview for an engineering post. They must have seen me as a ‘Quick-draw MacGraw’ who’d come in handy to communicate ideas, inter-company or with equipment suppliers when discription by words fail to inform. Then, there was no internet, digi-cams or MMS. So, at times I would be called in by the boss who’d say, “Teh, I need to borrow your right hand. Make a sketch of this part so that we can fax it to so & so. He can’t figure in his mind what I’m talking about…”

    That’s a neat talent to have. I know someone whose colleague was a bearded lady. Well, not exactly. She was hairy like most Italians and you could see a faint mustache. Amazing how how quickly problems get solved when they placed her in front of an irate customer. 🙂

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