Pursuing Honesty In The Job Search.
By Amy Lindgren for the AJC. Do you ever wonder where to draw the line in your job search when it comes to honesty? This moral value seems so clear when things are uncomplicated (don’t lie, don’t steal … got it!). But as we grow older, the lines tend to blur. We come to appreciate that honesty is a good guideline — “the best policy,” as they say — but it’s not always strategic; nor is it always best for all involved.
To appreciate this point, remember the famous classroom hypothetical involving the German family hiding a Jew during World War II. When asked by Nazi soldiers if they have seen the person being pursued, this classic ethics scenario asks the student to decide: Should they answer honestly?
Luckily, most of us will never face such dramatic scenarios. Our situations are more mundane – which actually seems to complicate decisions. For example, does it really matter if we’re honest in our job search? Who would it harm if we weren’t? And who would know?
Rather than dive into areas where my training can’t help me, let me say this: The ethics of dis/honesty in job search is a matter I don’t often broach, but the strategy of being honest or dishonest is right up my alley. Here are some thoughts to consider while waiting for the winter solstice to bring up the lights once more.
When NOT to be dishonest:
1. It’s a terrible idea to be dishonest about past job duties, titles or anything else that can be checked. Not because you might be caught (although that’s a good reason), but because it indicates something wrong in your strategy. If you’re seeking jobs that require skills you don’t have, they’re not the right jobs.
2. Similarly, you should never lie about degrees, military experience or any credential. If you’re tempted to do this, ask yourself: If I want this so badly, why don’t I get it legitimately? Otherwise, can’t I just accept myself? A solid job search is based on the skills you have. If a lack of credentials holds you back, networking will be the key to your next offer.
When to CONSIDER being honest:
1. If you have been fired, honesty won’t always be strategic. Of course, you shouldn’t lie, but couching your response on applications may be the only way to get the interview — where you can provide more of the details if needed. Again, networking with people who already know you may be your best strategy.
2. Job seekers who are currently working may see advantages to telling their bosses that they are searching for new work. Being open allows more freedom in networking and the opportunity to use the boss as a reference. But of course, it can backfire if the boss tends to be mean-spirited.
When to ALWAYS be honest:
1. Be honest on your resume when accounting for employment gaps. Sure, use years instead of months. But filling in a year by claiming to be a consultant? Only if you’ve had clients (paid or unpaid), or at least a work product (White paper? Research?). If you have nothing to show for this period, it will be evident in the interview. A better strategy would be to start actually consulting and, again, increase your networking.
2. You must always be honest with yourself. If you’re not pushing yourself on this job search, or you’re going for unrealistic goals, admit it so you can start troubleshooting.
And finally, here are two caveats to consider when determining how honest to be, and when.
Caveat 1: There’s honesty and then there’s blabbing. So when the interviewer asks, “Have you ever had conflicts with a boss?” don’t respond, “Boy howdy, have I!” A more nuanced answer could be, “I make it a priority not to have conflicts with my bosses, but when our opinions differ, I try to explain my reasoning. But in the end, it’s the boss who gets to decide.”
Caveat 2: There’s a difference between honesty and accuracy. You may honestly state your self-assessment about your skill set, but that assessment could be wrong. Say, for example, the interviewer asks, “Can you use xyz software package?” Instead of rating yourself (“I’m only so-so, but I can learn”), try answering with the known facts: “I’ve used it for smaller projects and I’ve been able to pick it up quickly.” In this way, you’re being honest, but you’re not doing the interviewer’s job, which is to evaluate your skills for the position.
Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at email@example.com or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.