A job seeker had seen an ad for an IT specialist at a company she really wanted to work for. So, even though her IT expertise was thin, she applied, putting as much patina on her expertise as possible. And she got the job. Alas, within the first two weeks, she had managed to seriously damage the company’s IT infrastructure and was fired.

It’s understandable that job interviewees gloss themselves. After all, many thousands of dollars are at stake. But ironically, the more gloss, the more likely they are, if they get the job, to be unsuccessful and unhappy.

The key to truly successful job interviewing is to treat it like a first date: You’re both candidly trying to assess if there’s a match. Let’s say a job description calls for a team player. In truth, you’re happiest working mainly on your own but you want the job so you claim to love collaboration. If you land the job, you’re likely to be unhappy having to do all that cooperative work. It’s critical in your application and interview to be candid about your strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. You’ll be screened out of misfitting jobs and screened into those in which you’re likely to be happy and successful.

But what about clear weaknesses? It’s worth being candid, even in the extremis. Let’s say you just spent the last ten years in prison for armed robbery. You might be tempted to claim, for example, that you were doing consulting all those years, listing your friends as your clients. Of course, the most important reason not to do that is integrity—You’re lying, thereby being unfair both to the employer and to other candidates who applied honestly. But even just pragmatically, chances are the employer won’t be impressed enough by your being a consutant for ten years, even if you made up cock-a-mamie stories about your accomplishments. It will somehow smell funny and the employer might well probe some of your “clients.”  In contrast, imagine you were the employer and our ex-felon practiced radical honesty:

I suspect you’ll be tempted to throw my application in the trash when I say that I just got out of prison for armed robbery. And I wouldn’t blame you. But if, just maybe, someone gave you a break when you needed one, might you consider interviewing me? Like most ex-felons, I say I’ll never do it again but I truly believe it. And I expect nothing from anyone other than an entry-level job and a chance to prove myself reliable, honest, and, frankly, a nice guy, which despite my mistake, most people say I am. I do have the skills to do the job (enumerate how you meet the requirements.) Thanks for reading this far and even considering me.


Mightn’t you give this candidate an interview? Might you even be more likely to interview this person than if s/he had claimed to be a consultant for those years?

Especially if you’ve been un- or underemployed for a long time, it’s tempting to cut ethical corners in resume, interview, and references. But it may be worth considering that from both ethical and pragmatic standpoints, the wisest path might be radical honesty.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

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