Eight ways to separate truth from fiction in a job interview

By Ciaran Ryan

Let’s face it: we’ve all embellished the truth a little in interviews, particularly job interviews. It’s human nature. We talk up our abilities and accomplishments and skate deftly over our shortcomings. We airbrush out of our CVs the pock marks and skirmishes of our professional lives, presenting a photo-shopped version of who we really are.

The problem with this is, recruiters have this uncanny ability to see through the white lies and tend to probe into those dark areas of our lives we would rather remain entombed.

The truth – however uncomfortable – is the best remedy in such situations. As Mark Twain wrote: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

The following eight points are red flags to a recruiter.

  1. The job applicant left his previous job and is currently unemployed: this is a major red flag. Unless it is a woman who left her employment to have a child, or complete a university degree or travel, the gap in the employment record spells trouble. The recruiter would need to check the circumstances under which the candidate left the company – in some cases, the candidate left a trail of destruction and incompetence in their wake. That being the case, the recruiter is unlikely to recommend the candidate for any position.
  2. The candidate has a history of “personality clashes”: they bad-mouth their former bosses and spin elaborate tales of victimhood. No-one wants to employ a trouble maker.
  3. The candidate is generally critical of their former colleagues and bosses. Same deal as above. No-one wants a difficult and spiteful individual as a work colleague.
  4. The candidate has a history of job hopping, spending 12 or 18 months at a company before skipping off to the next green pasture. Sure, their CVs may claim that they left each job to further their career prospects, and every employer understands this to a degree. But if the candidate has had four jobs in the last five years, this reeks of opportunism and weak loyalty. Few employers will give serious consideration to serial job hoppers.
  5. The referee cited by the candidate is unwilling to provide a reference. Bad sign. It means something went terribly wrong in the previous job and the referee is too polite to go into the details.
  6. The candidate doesn’t answer calls. Again, a bad sign. If the candidate has changed his or her mind about taking a new job, it is better to be up-front about it and tell the recruiter. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to contact a candidate who ducks and dives because they lack the courage to come out and say they have had a change of heart. There is another point to bear in mind: a candidate willing to burn bridges in this fashion probably has behaved similarly with other people. This is just plain bad manners. Candidates who behave this way with recruiters will likely do the same with other people. It signals a lack of courage and integrity.
  7. Candidates who tell half-truths are likely to get caught out. For example: “The reason I left my last job was because I wanted to further my studies.” Sounds plausible. But a recruiter who checks out this story finds out that the person was on the brink of being fired for incompetence, and only later went enrolled in a study programme. A vital piece of the story was missing. Once the candidate has been caught out with this half-truth, the recruiter will begin to suspect other pieces of the puzzle have also been conveniently left out.
  8. Finally, on a more positive note, the mark of a good candidate is the degree to which they remain on good terms with previous employers and colleagues. This is something a skilled recruiter will be able to check with ease. Their former bosses are willing to give positive references, and the candidates talk positively of their experiences in former companies. All this is a good sign and speaks well of the candidate.

Recruiters are practiced at seeing through the camouflage, so a word of advice for candidates: stick with the truth. No matter how uncomfortable, you get more respect from recruiters and employers. Mistakes are more easily forgiven than lies. And, as Mark Twain put it, you don’t have to invent anything so long as you stick with the truth.