While there’s a difference between blatant fabrication and slightly massaging the truth, at the end of the day both are a form of lying.
As children we’re taught that it’s bad to lie. My lesson came the hard way, with a three week TV ban for a little white lie I told, saying that no, I hadn’t been recruited into a neighbourhood “daredevil club” of six-year-olds. In my defense they had red cordial, which was banned at my house, so I felt the pay off was worth the risk. But when questioned by my parents I feigned ignorance and, of course, I was caught out (perhaps my red stained teeth gave me away).
Ever since I’ve been an ardent truth teller. So when my colleague said he believes that most people would lie during a job interview, I was quick to rather indignantly say: “I never would!”
“Really? You’ve never pretended you wanted a job more than you actually did? You’ve never acted as if you were there because you believed in the company’s mission when in fact you just needed to pay your rent?” He had a point.
So if I, the poster child (okay, poster adult) for honesty, have fallen victim to stretching the truth in a job interview, it might be more common than I’d thought.
The truth about lying
Apparently, 41 per cent of Australians feel it’s acceptable to lie during a job interview, according to a recent survey of 4,800 Australians by conducted by Perspicacious on behalf of SEEK. I’d argue that this number is actually much higher if you were to consider the brown-nosing most candidates have to endure to get their foot in the door.
Of the fibbers amongst us, SEEK’s data says that men are more likely to tell tales than their female counterparts.
We’ve heard this before. There’s plenty of research out there suggesting that male candidates are more comfortable to upsell their abilities to get the job, with women needing to know they can tick every item off the list before they’ll confidently claim competency of a certain skill.
SEEK’s survey also showed that 54 per cent of people between the ages 18-34 years were comfortable lying during an interview. Is that because us millennials truly are absolute scumbags? Or are we just more tactical than other generations?
My colleague (the one who opened my eyes to the fact that I’m a bit fat liar) said he tried the honesty approach in job interviews, telling prospective employers: “I’m just here for the money”, which, surprise, didn’t go well. So by taking a strategic approach and saying what employers want to hear, without compromising your bottom line, maybe the millennials are onto something.
When some media outlets sensationalise this information to say all young men are modern day Pinocchios, I have to disagree. I think we all are.
What is a lie anyway?
Many people will sit on opposite sides of the fence when identifying what constitutes a lie.
Some take the straightforward approach – anything that’s not completely factual is a lie – whereas others choose to tailor make a set of principles that might not be practiced society-wide. Your understandable exaggeration is my outright falsehood. My decision to hold back a detail is your lie by omission.
That being said, what lies do we more or less think are okay?
Embellishing your skills or experience may not be the best idea. It’s the kind of lie that’s likely to turn around and bite you in the future. For example, you might feel compelled to mention that during your year abroad you “became fluent in Spanish” when in fact you only know how to ask where the closest toilet is and order yourself a beer. While you may appear momentarily cultured, you will be exposed when asked to translate a meeting for a client visiting from Spain.
For me, it’s okay to lie about your dedication to the business’ overall mission in your initial interview because that passion might eventuate as you spend time in the organisation. Maybe it won’t, but no one should be expected to have emotional buy-in from the get go and most employers know that.
An invisible contract
It’s almost as if an invisible contract exists between you, the candidate, and the person interviewing you. When you reference and praise a piece of work they did three years ago to demonstrate your knowledge of the business, they might guess you’ve been frantically flicking through their archives in the foyer while waiting for them to call your name. And they might not care – it shows ingenuity and dedication.
They also might doubt you’ve “always wanted to work for this company”. But they’re not going to call you out on either. Both parties internally agree that it’s a good sign that you want to say it.
And at it’s worse, it’s like running into a mild acquaintance and promising to “catch up for a coffee sometime soon”. You both know it’s unlikely to happen, but it’s still polite. Does this constitute as lying or are we simply abiding by the unwritten rules of social conduct?
Common lies told in interviews
SEEK outline other common lies told during job interviews, including:
- Reasons for leaving your last job
- Previous experience
- Social interests outside of work
- Personal weaknesses (I work too hard, I care too much, I’m just too honest – lie, lie, giant lie)
Employers are guilty too
How many times have you been promised you’re about to become part of a “great company culture” full of social events, flexible options and fantastic colleagues, only to find you’ve stepped into something far less glamorous?
Employers are also guilty of up-selling their end of the bargain to secure your employment, because sometimes the whole truth just isn’t that enticing: “What’s a typical day like? Well, Helen and John really hate each other and constantly engage in passive-aggressive arguments in communal spaces and can you smell that? That’s an ongoing problem with our sewage system that we just can’t seem to figure out.”
If you were told everything that was wrong with a company upfront you’d probably go running for the hills. Very few are the perfect cultural balance of fun and productivity we’d want them to be. And just as you’d persist through a blind date who’s a little shorter than they’d disclosed, you might just find that pushing past your company’s sore points could eventuate in a blossoming career.
So, perhaps there’s a little liar within us all. Maybe sometimes a slight stretch of the truth, one that doesn’t hurt anyone in the process, isn’t such a bad thing? Sometimes you just really want to drink the red cordial. Sorry Dad.
Learn about strategic recruitment approaches, basic industrial relations legislation and legal and ethical requirements in the workplace, with this AHRI short course ‘Recruitment and workplace relations’.