Why Being Honest in an Interview Is Harder Than You Think

By Mary Truslow on


Here’s the truth—honest people can be dishonest (unintentionally) in job interviews. On both the employer and jobseeker sides. Interviewing is a nerve-wracking, unnatural experience for most people. And while hiring companies and jobseekers strive for transparency, being direct and honest is harder than you think.

Employers might gloss over or avoid articulating why a jobseeker wasn’t offered a role. This can be justified as “letting them down easy.” For jobseekers, they want the job. They aim to please. And as they adapt on the fly in an interview, trying to deliver what they think an interviewer wants to hear, the truth can become muddy.

Rather than accept a lack of transparency as unavoidable, here are a few ways to promote a more honest discourse in the interview process:

For employers:

Flesh out job requirements and confirm your budget before you recruit. Whether you’re hiring on your own or working with a recruiter, take the time to solidify what the job pays and what it entails. Be sure all decision-makers have weighed in and approved the job description before the first person comes in for an interview. And if you’re unclear whether or not your position is aligned with the industry, partnering with a recruiter, who sees scores of job descriptions and compensation packages every day, can help.

Respond to every applicant. Even if the person isn’t a fit for the role. Even if they seemed like a good fit, but something changed mid-process (which shouldn’t happen if the requirements were vetted and approved up front), close the loop with everyone you interview. You’ll keep your company’s name, brand and reputation in good standing with this group of jobseekers and the larger market.

Communicate compensation, travel, flexibility and benefits early. Hiring a new employee in 2019 should bear no resemblance to buying a car. A process that is convoluted, drawn out and eventually culminates with a number being slid across a table on a sticky note will not yield top talent. If you’ve interviewed someone multiple times, with multiple team members, and determined that they’re the right fit, the last thing anyone needs is to find out at the 11th hour that this “ideal” candidate won’t commute to your location. Or that your budget and their salary expectations are $40k apart.

Be honest, fair and diplomatic in your feedback. You are not doing a jobseeker any favors by sugarcoating or withholding your rationale if they are not the right fit for your role. If you are too busy to provide feedback at each appropriate step in the process, work with a recruiter to take that work off of your plate.

For jobseekers:

Be yourself. This may sound trite, but rather than trying to come across as someone you think the company wants, be who you are. It is your personality and skillset that needs to meld with a company’s culture, the team you’ll work with, the job you’ll perform and the workplace you’ll be going to every day. You cannot be everything to everyone.

Know (in advance) how to talk about difficult situations. Honesty can go too far, e.g. badmouthing a former boss, and it’s imperative to practice how to articulate less than savory work experiences. On your own or with a recruiter, determine how you’re going to talk about everything from a layoff to a gap in experience before you sit down for your interview.

Be clear on your goals. A hiring company isn’t only interested in what you can do right now. They also want to know where you’re going. This doesn’t mean you need a fully vetted 10-year plan, but give some thought to your career path. You’ll be better prepared for the less predictable questions that almost always arise.