Interviewing with Honesty
There is a lot of advice out there for what to say, and what not to say, during a job interview. You’re supposed to be concise, but not robotic, confident, but not arrogant, and so on. It seems that none of this advice ever mentions anything about how to be truly honest without tanking your possibility of success. We are more concerned with learning what to hide (though no one seems to admit this is what they are promoting), what to highlight, and what words hiring managers want to hear. So how can being honest help you shine in your interview?
I’ve had a lot of job interviews, and I’ve conducted quite a few interviews. In each instance that I interviewed, I was honest, but still kept in mind that I could emphasize the positive. I got a fair amount of offers, so I guess my honesty didn’t hurt.
Here are five ways you can tell the truth without saying the wrong thing.
- Play up your love for something instead of your dislike for the other. When I wanted to move back to Michigan and I was applying with companies in Grand Rapids (at a time when GR saw itself as starting to revive), I played up my love for the area instead of talking about how much I didn’t like Buffalo. Instead of saying, “Everyone in Buffalo seems like they hate their life,” I’d say, “Grand Rapids has an energy and vibrancy that not a lot of other midwest cities have, and you can tell it’s on the rise.” Doesn’t that sound better?
- Say that you can’t say. Sometimes you can’t say why you want to leave a position, and that’s okay. That shows tact and respect. If something confidential has gone down at your company and it’s a doozie that is making everyone abandon ship, just say, “Some things at the company have been declining and it’s bringing down morale. I hope you understand that I can’t discuss the details, but it’s been unpleasant.” And leave it at that.
- Let them know what you’re looking for. Some people suggest you shouldn’t disclose your need for a flexible schedule during the interview because you should wait for an offer, gain the upper-hand, and then negotiate your schedule. Maybe these folks have been around the career block know more than I have, but I have been the interviewer and I would rather know that someone needs a flexible schedule early on, rather then find out (at the last minute) that they are incompatible. And as the interviewee and potential employee, would you want to waste your time doing several interviews just to find out at the end that the schedule won’t work for you?
- Don’t be afraid to mention your family. I know people who think family is completely off-limits when it comes to interviewing, but I disagree. I used to handle the hiring at an organization and I was impressed by a woman who was very upfront about her situation. She said, “I’m a single mom with a six-year old. I can’t be getting called in during off hours.” That doesn’t make me think that she is inflexible or bad for a normal schedule. She was being honest and I’d rather hear that than find out after hiring someone that they have family commitments that might need to be worked around. Plus, when I moved back to my home state, I told people I realized how much I missed living near my family. Most said, “Aww,” and if anything it made me look stronger because they knew I wasn’t going to move away soon.
- Admit when it’s a bad fit, but frame it as a new opportunity. So you got hired somewhere and it did not meet your expectations. Maybe the company is not the growing, creative environment you were told it was. Instead of walking into an interview and saying, “Oh boy was I wrong! This place is the pits!” you can frame it as just a bad fit for your values, BUT with the caveat that the company with which you are applying fits your values better. You could say, “It turned out to be a lot less ____ than it sounded in the beginning, so I gave it a chance, but now I’m looking at a couple dream companies like yours for openings that will really fit with my skills as well as who I am and what I care about.”
Remember that interviewing should not be a beauty contest or a sale—it’s more like a date. You’re looking for a good fit and you don’t want to get hooked up with the wrong company, nor do they want to hire someone who won’t work out.