Is it ever ok to lie during a job interview?

Warren Buffett once said “You’re looking for three things, generally, in a person, Intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two.” While that is one person’s view on hiring, most people mirror that sentiment. In my career I have seen many offers not happen or be rescinded based on the company finding out that a person lied or omitted something during the hiring process. While most people know it’s a bad idea to lie during an interview, I think it happens because it’s not so cut and dry.  I think a lot of people think “well, if I tell the truth about this they aren’t going to hire me so I might as well lie about it.” Often this can about why they left a role, or a skill they don’t have or perhaps salary information in order to receive a stronger offer.

In the case of lying about a salary you had in the past, it is almost always an absolutely terrible idea. In the past I have seen people lie and say they made more than they did because they wanted to receive a stronger offer. To me this is a terrible idea for several reasons. The first being if the hiring company does employment verification they often also verify salary. If they find out that the amount you actually made was less than you said then they know you lied. I have seen this before and seen the person get an offer rescinded. The unfortunate part was they were more than qualified for the role. Another reason why it is a bad idea is because you don’t actually need to tell them what you were making. If they ask, you are entitled to say something along the lines of “I would prefer to not share my previous salary but I am targeting a salary between the ranges of X and Y.” While they may not love this answer, at the end of the day you let them know where they will need to be money wise if they want to acquire your skills.

People also frequently lie about being dismissed from a previous role. To me this is another poorly thought out move. In this day and age where it’s very easy to get in contact with people you are risking them asking someone who knows of what actually happened. This “backdoor reference” is common in highly connected fields and can torpedo your chance of getting a role.

Another thing people lie about is a skill they don’t have that is required for the role. This is another terrible idea for a few reasons. If it’s a testable skill many organizations my include this skill in later interview rounds and if it turns out you don’t have this skill then you just wasted everyone’s time. Even worse you might accept the role and some time into your employment be required to do something you aren’t capable of which might lead to your dismissal. At a very minimum at will put you on very bad terms with your boss.

The safe bet is to always tell the truth. It most instances the lie won’t work and it will tarnish your reputation. If a potential employer finds out that you were lying about something, it is no longer about what it is you don’t have but it becomes about your lack of integrity. The sad thing is I have seen several instances where a person was going to be hired but solely based on the fact that they lied, they didn’t receive in offer. In many of these cases the thing they lied about could be overlooked but the lie itself could not. Hiring is expensive and no manager wants to commit to hiring someone who they feels is going to lie to them, especially right away.


Instances in which you can blur the truth


Like everything I feel like there are some exceptions. For example, if they ask you about your last job never be negative. You may have hated your boss and hated your team and hated the company but you can never say that. Even if all of it is true it is way more likely to reflect poorly on you than it is to reflect poorly on the company. Instead focus on the positives like how much you learned in your last role and how much experience you gained. Trying to be positive and reflecting kindly on past experiences that may have been very difficult is much different than lying to cover up a past indiscretion or lying in order to try and get a higher paying offer.


A personal story


In my first year as a head hunter I had a role where I was searching for a Foundry Manager. I had a great candidate who had awesome experience working in leadership at several prominent foundries. He had the experience, he interviewed very well and for most  purposes, looked to be a great fit. However there was a problem. When they checked his education, it turned out the establishment where he received his master’s degree was a “diploma mill”. A diploma mill is a non-accredited university where people can use life experiences for credit and basically buy a higher education. Usually when one of these exists people find out about it and it is shut down. When the company found out about this, they decided that him leaving that on his resume and acting as if he had obtained that higher education was ultimately an integrity issue and they decided against offering this candidate the job. The frustrating part about this story is that they didn’t require even a bachelor’s degree. They would have been willing to hire someone with a High School education and the requisite experience in a foundry environment in a leadership capacity. Ultimately he lost on getting the job (and I lost out on getting that placement fee) because he lied about something completely unnecessary to the role. He was more than qualified but they considered what he did to be unethical. At the end of the day integrity matters to companies and in most instances you are better off telling the truth.

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