September 15, 2014

Job Interviews: When To Lie

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He that covers his sins shall not prosper. Ancient Jewish Proverb. There seems to be a disturbing trend that all business owners are facing: job candidates who lie.

Mitch, The Window Manager, one of the best business blogs in the business, had a reader in a job interview with a dilemma:

How does a job candidate handle embarrassing, possibly unethical questions from a hiring authority?

He gives three options. “I see the hiring process as a battle with HR and will use any means, fair or unfair, to trip them up,” says Mitch. That’s because he views questions about why you left your previous job as “unethical” to begin with. So Mitch asserts that an unethical question does not deserve an ethical answer.

Your Business Blogger is not so sure.

I once asked my favorite management guru, Bill Oncken, about the challenge of dealing with supervisors who cross ethical lines from right to wrong. His wise advice was to separate, or fire, or not hire, or run away from any hint of a lack of character.

Only deal with people with integrity, says Oncken; who is filthy rich and never married with no hungry kids who need shoes and private schools. (His hobby is skydiving — out of boredom, I believe.)

But as Mitch outlines, sometimes you really, really need the job. We’ve all been there. “. . .and the HR kumquat is a jerk who didn’t ask a fair question, or a legal question, . . . and no one will ever find out if there’s fudging on the job application. Evil deserves contempt. (Anti) Personnel departments don’t actually add value to a company, anyway.” Or so the thought goes.

When faced with an unethical boss or an unethical hiring manager, Bill Oncken suggests leaving immediately. Even when the hit hurts your wallet.

“Sometimes,” Oncken says, “You have to finance your integrity.”

And this requires monetary as well as emotional maturity that not all of us possess.

I would not recommend lying as a response to any question, no matter how awful the interrogation. But Mitch does suggest humor or a superlative as a possible way out of troubling questions. As in “I took time off to train for my ascent of Everest.” Or something close.

My heartfelt response to questions about my misspent youth is, I’m not responsible for anything that happened during the Nixon Administration.

If humor or deflection does not work — that last sentence never worked for me — brutal truth might be necessary.

Years ago, I was once fired by a company — twice — in the same month, both times by fax, the insulting medium of the day. I would always reveal this firing whenever asked. I would explain that it was the dangerous downside of working for thinly capitalized companies in trouble — and my explanation had the added benefit of being true.

I would always get the hard stuff out of the way early. I would put it all on the table. Just as in sales: Whoever raises the objection, owns the objection.

On my hiring travels as interviewer and –ee, I’ve learned that there are two kinds of problems: big and small.

Many small problems perhaps can be side-stepped — without being untruthful, like my little incident deep in North Carolina. (Hint: Never throw drink bottles from a ’57 Chevy at high speed.)

Early in my career, whenever that “Were you ever arrested?” silly question would come up, I would always write in “NA.” Drag racing on the interstate highway system was truly “Not Applicable” to the entry level sales job I was hunting. And if any explanation was required, I wanted to do it in person, rather than be eliminated by rote in HR.

Fortunately, I don’t have big problems, like a felony conviction, but the terminations come close. I have been fired more times than any single reader of this reputable blog. Goodness, I’ll bet I’ve been fired more than ALL you readers combined.

But there is hope for big problems on this side of eternity: Find a Friend. Any real position or client these days will be 1) A created position, 2) In high technology and 3) With someone you know.

Clients and projects and employment come these days through a network of friends and contacts. Who love you.

Like I do.

And that’s no lie.

To thine own self be true,
and it must follow,
as the night the day,
thou canst not then be false to any man.
Shakespeare.

So. When to lie? Never.

Don’t bear false witness, even about yourself.

3 Comments ▼

Jack Yoest




3 Reactions

  1. I really like this post. Especially the humor you use when dealing with embarassing matters regarding your past. In my opinion, honesty is always appreciated. In both personal and professional relationships.

  2. Chris, thank you for your kind words. But this honesty, this ‘Honest Abe’ Lincoln best policy cultural trait, also makes America unique in the world.

    Honesty cuts down on transaction costs where there is a measure of trust between each actor. See:

    http://www.yoest.org/archives/2006/03/differing_weights.php

    Thanks again,

    Jack

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