We’re usually told that lying is bad. It’s not hard to see why. Lying is a form of deception that fills the world with distrust, is morally wrong, and becomes a chore on the liar’s mind. On the other hand, lying is human nature and even necessary at certain times. Let’s not kid ourselves.
Always telling the truth isn’t appropriate in society. After all, white lies exist for a reason. They can help us move past awkward situations without causing any real harm to anybody else. One example that comes to mind is a job interview. To be clear, we’re not suggesting you lie to a potential employer so you get a job offer. Lies about your qualifications can have serious repercussions when the truth eventually comes out. Instead, we’re talking about how to handle interview questions in order to keep the interview on point, or to redirect the conversation to highlight your best qualities.
Let’s take a look at six things you should always lie about in a job interview. These are arguably acceptable things to lie about, as long as you’re not hiding any career-ending skeletons in your closet.
1. How are you doing?
A job interview begins before you sit down to field questions. The small talk before the typical interview questions start is a vital part of the interview process. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology says this early interaction sets the mood for the overall interview.
When asked, “How are you doing?” you should recognize that it’s more of a greeting than a real question. The hiring manager doesn’t want to hear how terrible your life is since losing your last job six months ago, or how much trouble you had finding the building because your GPS gave you the wrong directions. Instead, you should smile, make eye contact, and simply reply, “I’m doing well. How are you?”
Remember, you’re probably doing better than you realize. You’re alive and the company liked your resume enough to bring you in for a job interview.
2. Why are you looking for a new job?
It’s said that people quit their bosses, not their jobs. Perhaps your previous boss was a micromanager, played favorites, or simply took you for granted. No matter the poison, the hiring manager will see red flags if you start describing your old boss like this. What you consider micromanaging might actually be a problem with authority. Playing favorites could really mean you were seen as a weak link. Seeing yourself as taken for granted might reveal an entitlement complex. It’s a tricky job interview question you’ll have to answer with finesse.
Sure, you want a better work environment that comes with higher pay, but think of the question from the hiring manager’s perspective. Using this question to showcase your skills and sincere desire to achieve more with a new company will go further than criticizing your previous employer. Answer the question by saying something nice about your previous employer, then move on to what you’re looking for long-term and how this new job opportunity fits your search. The point to convey is that not only are you the perfect person for this position, but the position is the perfect role for you and your long-term career ambitions. Turnover is a costly business expense hiring managers want to control as much as possible.
3. What’s your greatest weakness?
This is one of the most dreaded questions in a job interview. It’s also one of the most common questions, so you’ll need to be ready for it. When an interviewer asks for your greatest weakness, you don’t need to actually tell them about your greatest weakness. The interviewer is looking for your ability to analyze yourself and see how you address shortcomings.
Answer the question by naming a real, minor weakness you have — one that won’t affect your ability to perform the job. Then immediately follow it up with how you are successfully addressing the weakness or eliminating it. Whatever you do, don’t try to avoid the question by saying you don’t have any weaknesses, and don’t provide a cheesy answer that won’t be taken seriously, like “working too much.”
Career coach Mike Simpson refers to this as an “onion question” partly due to the question’s layers of complexity and the variety of ways it can be answered. “An onion question is a question with multiple layers … just like, well … an onion! And like an onion it can make you cry, but only if you tackle it unprepared. First off, this isn’t a simple question you can rattle off a quick answer to or parrot back some easy-to-memorize statistics or facts and move on. It’s a question meant to make you think, and think hard,” said Simpson, on his site.
4. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Job hopping is more common these days because it’s one of the best ways to receive a big raise in a sea of stagnated wages. A hiring company doesn’t want to take the time and money on training a new employee that is likely to leave within a year or two. This question is aimed at finding out your career goals and if you enjoy the line of work, which may indicate a long-lasting and successful career at the company.
The interviewer doesn’t expect you to have a perfect crystal ball. You don’t really have to divulge where you think you’ll be in five years if you think it will cost you the job. Stay positive and keep your answer fairly general if you don’t expect the position to be long-term. You can add specifics by focusing on the overlapping job responsibilities for this position and your ideal position. Truth be told, life has a funny way of surprising you. Don’t blow your chances at the position by openly telling the interviewer this job has no place in your long-term career path. It’s good to have options.
5. Tell me about a time when you worked on a team project
This request is less about project specifics and more about how you worked on a team to accomplish a common goal. While you might be tempted to explain how difficult it was to work with a previous co-worker and how you took on more than your fair share to avoid conflict, you need to steer clear of complaining so the interviewer doesn’t suspect that you’re the difficult one. Furthermore, admitting that you took on additional work merely so you wouldn’t have to deal with a co-worker shows you lack communication skills, leadership, and a willingness to confront problems.
You should focus on how you contributed to the project and how you helped bring out the best in your co-workers. You can mention a minor challenge in completing the work itself, but make sure to describe how you overcame that challenge with thoughtful strategies or creative ideas. Simply using the word “challenge” instead of “problem” helps you describe the situation in a positive way. End your response by highlighting how the team met the deadline and how it benefitted the company.
6. What are your interests/last book you read?
On the surface, questions about your personal interests or latest reading material seems quite innocent. They often come near the end of interviews, and feel like a nice way to start wrapping things up on a less-formal note. However, you need to keep your guard up. The interviewer is still analyzing you and how you might fit in at the company. Don’t consider the interview to be over until you send a follow-up thank you email from the comfort of your own home.
If you’re asked about your personal interests, make sure you don’t lie about something you won’t be able to perform down the road. Don’t make yourself sound like a professional golfer if you spend more time in the woods searching for your ball than on the fairway. It could come back to hurt you if you’re invited out for a round. You want to name reasonable interests that help you practice skills that are relatable to the position. Keep your Netflix-binge hobbies under wraps, but showcase teamwork skills through any sports you participate in. Even individual sports and fitness routines can show commitment.
If the hiring manager asks about the last book you read, and the last book you read was something not relatable, talk about the last book you read that could help you demonstrate that you keep up with your industry and really do “have a passion” for the work you do. The hiring manager for an accountant position probably doesn’t really want to hear how much you love The Hunger Games.
Follow Eric on Twitter @Mr_Eric_WSCS