Is honesty really the best policy during your interview?
Job interviews are a lot like first dates. While everyone is trying their hardest to present the best version of themselves, all the baggage will eventually come out of the trunk. Although it is always a terrible idea (and sometimes illegal) to blatantly lie during an interview, it is rare to find a job seeker who doesn’t have at least one shortcoming they’d prefer to keep under wraps.
Most of the time, being honest is a no-brainer during an interview. After all, why would you want to claim to be a SCRUM master if you don’t have the slightest clue what that is? Landing a job under false pretenses will only create anxiety and an ever-present sense of impending doom as you continually wait for the other shoe to drop. If you can adopt the perspective that there is a right fit for you somewhere, you can ease out of the fear of being rejected for a job you’re not appropriate for, and show your true colors.
But there is a ‘gray zone’ where complete, raw honesty might not serve you best. As a recruiter and HR consultant, I’ve asked tough questions, knowing full well that no candidate in their right mind is going to be completely honest in their answers. But that’s somewhat of the beauty of these questions. They are a gauge of a candidate’s social intelligence. I have great respect for candidates that reveal a chink in their armor while managing to avoid hoisting any scarlet flags with their answers.
So how exactly do you do that? Begin by taking an honest look at your deficits and your assets. It is a rare person who never improves or learns from their mistakes. In fact, it is often by failing that we learn the most. To distinguish yourself, take a risk to reveal a little more about your flaws and what you learned from them.
Below are examples of three common interview questions and the appropriate way to give an honest answer without destroying your chances of landing the job.
“What is your greatest weakness?”
Bad: “I tend to mess up details when under extreme pressure and I have a really bad temper.”
Good: “I’m a recovering perfectionist. In the past I was way too hard on myself and others with some of my expectations and I had to learn the hard way to celebrate progress. I also had to be more patient than comes naturally, and when I do that, my team morale and overall productivity is much better.”
This shows that you have identified a legitimate flaw, (not a strength pretending to be a flaw), put in the work to mitigate it, and actually turned that awareness into a strength.
“Did you ever have a boss you didn’t like?”
Bad: “Yeah, the last one was clinically diagnosed as a sociopath and I would have quit years ago if not for my staggering student loan debt.”
Good: “I had a boss who I really conflicted with earlier in my career. He was pretty emotional and when he was angry, he would blow up at people. It could get really uncomfortable. It taught me how important it is to be professional and treat people with respect. Once I got to know him as a person, I realized he was a pretty good guy, but I think he hurt his career with his outbursts. From what I hear, he’s improved a lot, which I think is a good thing.”
This shows great emotional intelligence on your part for recognizing the behavior and not holding it against the person.
“Is there anything that would prevent you from working overtime, weekends, and early shifts if asked?”
Bad: Yes, it’s called my LIFE.”
Good: “A traditional schedule works best for me right now, as I’ve learned to manage my time very efficiently. I’m willing to do what it takes to get the job done. If that means working outside of normal business hours, it is best for me to take the work home than stay on site.”
Questions about your availability can be tricky. If you really don’t have any flexibility, there’s no point claiming otherwise. On the other hand, it’s somewhat the norm to ‘prove oneself’ at the beginning of a job and earn more flexibility as you establish your credibility within the company. A response like the one above indicates your willingness to contribute but also establishes any boundaries that are not flexible for you.
There is a fine line between putting your best foot forward and deliberately obscuring the truth during a job interview. Learn to walk on the right side of that line and you’ll never fear a follow-up question or reference check again.
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