Insights from Carrus Coach Natalie, former recruiting manager from Facebook and Cisco.
You finally made it to an interview for that company you are desperate to work for. Friends and family are excited for you and tell you to “really sell yourself”. They say, “just make things up”, “tell them what they want to hear”, “everyone bends the truth in an interview”. You decide that honesty is maybe not the best policy, after all, lots of people bend the truth!
Whether it’s exaggerating by taking full ownership of a project you were part of, inflating your sales figures, giving a strength you wish you had, or just making something up, beware that fibs – no matter how small – can often have the very opposite effect of what you had intended!
Read on to learn how stretching the truth will backfire on you and the rare cases where it’s okay to soften the truth.
6 Scenarios where stretching the truth can go totally wrong:
- When what you say doesn’t match your CV
If you start embellishing your seniority or talk about that great promotion or size of your team when put on the spot, then it may not match up with your LinkedIn, Cover letter, CV or even what a referral has shared about you.Example: You said on your CV that you speak fluent Spanish and the interviewer is Spanish and thought it would be nice to greet you in their first language – but you stare back at them in silence.
- You can’t talk in detail about specific examples
Interviewers are often trained to probe further into any scenario based on behavioral questions. If you have provided an answer that isn’t true you are likely to trip yourself up when asked follow up questions like “what you could have done differently”, “how did you measure success”, or “what other options did you have?”Example: You tell the interviewer you love listening to podcasts to grow and develop. The interviewer asks you to give an example of the best podcast you listened to recently. You start scratching your head.
- Your stories don’t match
Interviewers often come together to review interview feedback and may share your specific example. If you used the same example for a similar question and started to ‘embellish’ your story, you are likely to get caught when the story doesn’t match what other interviewers heard.Example: You tell one interviewer that you love the company’s products. The interviewer finds out from another interviewer that you couldn’t identify your favorite feature or recall what the products are.
- A third party shares different evidence about you
Hiring managers will likely check your references or background checks. If you stretch the truth, you can get caught when a hiring manager tries to verify information about you. Alternatively, there could be someone in the new organization who knows you and is surprised to hear that your team grew from 3 to 10!Example: You said in your CV that you have an MBA. During your background check process it’s discovered that you started an MBA years ago but never quite got around to finishing it.
- You sound like a robot
You have researched so much and think you know what answers the hiring managers want to hear (instead of what you actually believe or would actually do in a scenario. You have rehearsed it so well that you might as well read from a script. When this happens, you will wind up sounding exactly like other candidates and make the interviewer switch off.
- Your language use gets shifty
Another way that hiring managers can tell that you’re not being completely honest is when you switch between using “I” and “We”. This happens when a candidate tries to take credit for a project by saying they did it on their own (“I”), then forgetting what they’ve said and implying that a team really accomplished a project (“We”).
Hiring managers have seen it all. You may think you come across as genuine, but don’t be fooled into thinking interviewers won’t pick up on exaggeration or lies.
3 additional benefits to being honest, beyond avoiding being caught
For starters, telling the truth is simply the right thing to do. And even though it’s tempting to say what you feel will increase your chances of getting the job, there are a few other benefits to being honest.
- You get started on the right footIf you want to set yourself up for success and show the real you (the one people will see every day once you get the role) then this starts with the first conversations you have with the hiring team.
- You show up as your authentic self which makes you stand out from the crowd.You feel confident in your answers (as you know them inside out), helping you show up as your best self. A lot of companies want diversity of personality and diversity of thought in order to create great teams. By sharing your true thoughts, you are likely to be more memorable and the interviewers are more likely to see you as part of their team. Keep in mind that many interviewers do back to back interviews in one day so being memorable is key.
- Admitting that you don’t know something can show that you are aware of any weaknesses or gaps. Often honest and integrity are the values the interviewers are looking for. An example of admitting you actually needed help to complete a task shows you are able to admit when things are not going to plan and can pivot accordingly.
At the end of the day, transparency helps set you up for success after you get the job in that people are clear on what you can bring to the table and it’ll be comfortable for you to get to know your team members.
The rare cases where it’s okay to soften the truth
At times there is a thin line between honesty and authenticity vs embellishment and lying. Honesty is about being clear what you have been responsible for, without adding embellishments that can exaggerate reality. The definition of “embellishments” could be up for debate; for example, a micro embellishment could be saying that you received “great” feedback when you received “good” feedback. At the end of the day, the key is to only talk about things you have really done and also keeping in mind not to take credit for others.
There may be times where you don’t want to divulge too much info, for example if you are looking for a job because you hate your boss or have to relocate to look after a sick family member.
In these circumstances, try to focus on the positives as brutal honesty may not show you in the best light. If for example, you hate your boss which is the core reason why you want to leave your current role (“push factor”), then why not focus on the pull factors for the new role or company, for example focusing on a role more suited to you, company culture, location, or product.
Let’s say a hiring manager asks you, “Have you ever worked with a colleague you didn’t like, and how did you deal with this situation?” You might want to say that you worked with a total narcist that tried to bulldoze things through. And while in some circumstances you may say this frankly, perhaps you can think about what you actually did to overcome some of the obstacles of working with that person or think about what it taught you. Here’s an example of a good response:
“I worked with someone in my previous role where our opinions regularly clashed. I realized we had very different personalities and my natural style was to collaborate whereas his was to bulldoze. It taught me the importance of identifying different working styles and being comfortable having difficult conversations. I would explain the business rationale of liaising and tie my strategy back to the company goals, one of which was transparency and collaboration.”
By focusing on what you learned from the experience and how you overcame the scenario, you’re showing the interviewer how you think and can act in these scenarios.
So, you got the job even though you weren’t honest. Now what?
Typically what happens when a candidate gets a job through stretching the truth is disappointment. Disappointment for the candidate, and or disappointment for the employer. For example, if you tell people that your greatest strength is in collaboration when really you thrive when working alone, you are likely to end up in a job that you are not great and also do not enjoy.
Or, your fib might catch up with you later: for example, let’s say you told the company that you implemented a new accounting software which was a huge success, but really you had a small role in the large project team and really didn’t have much visibility. Fast forward to the first few weeks in your new role when they ask you to present on best practices for implementing a new system, and you’re at a loss on what to say.
And finally, perhaps you wind up setting expectations way too high. Like overplaying your skills and experiences which made the company think that you could help them change everything resulting in a disappointing ramp up and onboarding process which is hard to come back from. By being honest about what you really enjoy, what you are really good at, and what you have experience doing is likely to help you end up in a job that…..yes you enjoy, you are good at, and have some of the skills to ramp up quickly and make a net impact!