Don't Fake the Funk During an Interview

Written by Ismail Abdur-Rahman, CEO

After my post about reasons you might still be unemployed, I got lots of email asking for more job advice - specifically how to ensure a successful interview that results in a job offer.

While there are undoubtedly as many ways to answer that query as there people asking, there are certain things you should absolutely NOT do during an interview, but today I will focus on only one: lying.

I can certainly understand the temptation to embellish a bit during an interview, especially when times are tough and you are desperately in need of a job. However, you must fight the temptation at all costs, as my experience has been that it will eventually come back to haunt you in one way or another.

The first thing to keep in mind when interviewing for a job is that in most cases (though there are some notable exceptions), you have no leverage as a job seeker. The ultimate decision making power lies with the company who short-listed candidates after screening dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes that might not have been appreciably different from yours. In other words, unless you are a highly specialized expert, it is far more likely that you need the company (and the job) more than the company needs you.

Most large companies invest considerably in their HR departments, and the interviewers are trained to look for specific things to eliminate candidates during the preliminary interviews. They are checking for things like misaligned values, egocentric behavior that suggests there could be difficulty assimilating into the company culture or as part of a team, and deceptive depiction of previous experience - ie, lying.

While it is possible in this age of computerization and automation to pass the first round of interviews having lied about some experience or qualification, the chances that you can continue to get away with that during the successive interview rounds decrease exponentially. For example, I had a client in my job coaching clinic who was looking for an IT job that he honestly wasn't qualified to get. He thought he could have a friend take the technical screen for him because it was computer based, but during the live interview a couple of weeks later, he was eviscerated by the interviewer when he was asked technical questions that were not dissimilar to the ones his friend had answered for him previously. Needless to say, he didn't get the job. Worse than that, he was told that because he had the audacity to lie during the interview, he would be permanently black listed from ever working at this company. Sounds harsh, right? But that's the reality of job hunting. Companies spend loads of time and resources to attract, retain, and develop top talent, so the time they spend interviewing a candidate who lied his/her way into an interview is wasted and brings the company no closer to filling the job vacancy. I'd be pissed, too. As a matter of fact, I have been.

Case in point: I recently interviewed a consultant for an upcoming project with a major client. I had been out of town on business, so I hadn't had a chance to carefully review the resumes that had been submitted. On the third day of candidate interviews, my 2pm appointment walked in with a firm handshake and a megawatt smile. Good, positive first impression. I was initially hopeful as we danced through the preliminary questioning. Then, with only 3 questions it all fell apart.

I asked him to tell me about a major consulting project that he had led. He stumbled through that question, initially refusing to name the client, then unable to specify the nature of the project. Then I asked him how the consulting project aligned with the client's high level goals and the value his team added. His response was amateurish and incomplete. Then I asked him to walk me through the methodology he used to solve their problem. Crickets. He tried a few incomprehensible verbal pauses before be buckled. I was almost tempted to bail him out by ending the interview then and there, but as I canceled a lunch invitation in order to meet this guy, making him squirm was the least I could do.

The problem solving question will inevitably separate a pro from an average Joe. If you really solved a problem, you will be able to recount to the interviewer the problem and the methods you tried to solve it in explicit detail, and on multiple levels. A superficial answer to this question will likely get you a "Don't call us; we'll call you" smile, handshake, and unceremonious exit.

Tip: if you are in the ballpark of experience and academic requirements for an advertised job, but you are not perfectly qualified, admit the experience shortfall in the interview. Then compensate by elaborating on the experience you do have that has developed transferable skills that can help you perform in the role you are seeking. Interviewers will appreciate your honesty and will then determine if you display enough potential to develop the skills necessary to do the job effectively.