How honest should you be at a job interview?

Posted October 13, 2011, by Helen Isbister

It would be a rare person who doesn't have some career baggage, whether it's being fired from a previous job, a poor reference, a major character flaw, a criminal record, being slightly under-qualified or another skeleton which doesn't want to be yanked out of the closet just yet. However, far too many job candidates take the 'honesty policy' to one extreme or another.

Choosing to reveal everything that could be possibly perceived as a career wart before even sitting down or alternatively concocting an elaborate tale of professional prowess will both probably kill off any chances of a second interview.

Here are a few rules to follow which can help you find the balance between lying and giving away too much information.

Keep it clean from the outset

It's easy to get caught in a web of lies. A slight distortion of the facts on a resume may score you an interview, but the truth will eventually come out whether it's in the interview itself, during a reference check or when you turn up for the first day on the job and have no idea what to do. Know the difference between dressing up the facts to make them look good and making them up altogether.

Keep it to yourself

Do yourself a favour – if you don't get directly questioned about something that you know will require a slightly unsavoury answer, don't just go and bring it up anyway. Only answer the questions you are asked and if possible try to stay focused on the positives.

Don't try and bluff

When you are asked a direct question, like why you left your last job, don't think you can weasel your way out a response. Answer it directly, honestly and with a smile, without losing your composure or getting defensive. Most situations aren't the big deal many candidates perceive them to be, so if you don't blow it out of proportion the interviewer probably won't either. Plus, professional HR types are trained to detect a bluff from a mile off, so while you think you are pulling the wool over their eyes, they are probably taking note of what your eyes are doing to see if you are playing by the rules.

Be true to yourself

The last person you want to lie to is yourself. If you tell the interviewer you are keen to take the job (salary, working hours and conditions all taken into consideration) then be prepared to live with it! If you ramp up your qualifications or lie about your current salary to get a better starting price, you will have to be prepared for higher expectations and heavier workloads.

Inappropriate questions

If you are asked a question which you deem as inappropriate or discriminatory, whether it be your age, if you have any children or your sexual preference you are within your rights not to answer.

Illegal questions are those in relation to race, disability, sex, marital status, parental status, religious or political beliefs. Legally permitted questions are those that relate to the skills, experience and knowledge required to do the job.

A good response to an illegal question is to remain pleasant and ask about the relevance of the information to the job. Pointing out that a question is illegal will only put the interviewer on the defensive.

A positive mindset

Remember the worst thing you can possibly do is rock up to a job interview focused on your negative points. Be proud of you experience, skills and character and use the interview as an opportunity to show them off. By focusing on the positives, you might just slip through with minimal emphasis placed on the negatives, without actually having to be deceptive.

Helen Isbister

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