Lying in a Job Interview: Should You Always Tell the Truth?

Most people will tell you that lying in an interview is a bad idea.

While that’s certainly true most of the time, in reality, there are situations where lying in an interview is actually the most optimal approach.

This article will build a case for lying in a job interview, cover the different types of lies you can tell, and detail specific situations where you should choose to bend the truth in your favor.

A Case for Lying in a Job Interview

Before we get onto what makes for a beneficial lie in an interview, it’s important to understand how lying can be justified in the first place.

Here are two big arguments to consider:

Reason #1: Employers Are Probably Lying to You About the Job

That job ad you just read? Well, chances are, it’s not entirely truthful.

Employers love to oversell whatever position they’re advertising in order to attract the best talent, and this can result in a number of mistruths.

It could be about the salary and bonus structure, it could be about opportunities to advance within the company, or it could even be about flexible hours or remote work opportunities.

The list of potential lies goes on and on.

And those don’t even include lies you might hear in a job interview, which even further warp your expectations.

Of course, most recruiters and hiring managers won’t exactly view this as lying. Some of them believe in their own hype, some just see it as embellishment, and some are misinformed about the reality of the job they’re hiring for.

There are also cases where they skip over certain facts because they reflect poorly on the position, especially if you don’t ask (which is why those end-of-interview questions are so important.)

If employers can get away with bending the truth for their own gain, why shouldn’t candidates be able to do the same?

Reason #2: Other Candidates Are Probably Lying to Get Ahead

Job interviews aren’t just about selling yourself, they’re about selling yourself over other candidates trying for the same job.

It’s a competition, and it’s important to understand the playing field so you can eliminate any unfair advantages.

Here’s what you need to realize:

It doesn’t matter how suitable you are for the job, it only matters how suitable the interviewer believes you are — and you should know other candidates will stretch the truth to make that happen.

They might lie about their experience, their qualifications, or their skills. They might even lie about people they’ve met or places they’ve been.

My point is, like it or not, people lie in job interviews all the time.

This leaves you with two options:

  1. Stay 100% truthful and risk giving up the opportunity to someone who is prepared to gain an unfair advantage over you.
  2. Be ready to push some ethical boundaries in order to put yourself at even odds with everyone else in the running.

It’s not an easy choice, but it is one you’re going to have to make.

But Wait, How Far Should You Really Take This?

Despite building a case for lying in a job interview, there’s another aspect to this we still need to tackle.

Not all lies are created equal.

You could describe lies in various ways, but I think these 7 categories are a good representation of how it all breaks down.

Here’s how I would order them from mild to severe:

  1. An error is when you lie by mistake (you don’t have all the facts)
  2. Omission is when you intentionally leave out a relevant detail
  3. Reframing is when you distort the context (to slightly alter the facts)
  4. Exaggeration is when you make something out to be more signifcant than it really is
  5. Minimization is when you make something out to be less significant than it really is
  6. Denial is when you dismiss a particular truth (no matter how obvious)
  7. Fabrication is when you completely invent false truths

You could almost look at this as a scale and ask yourself, how far am I willing to go to get the job?

Of course, the further up you go on this scale, the higher your risk of being caught in a lie. (And yes, being caught in a lie might just be the most surefire way to fail a job interview.)

That’s without even getting into issues surrounding your own moral compass. I mean, we all need to sleep at night.

So the question remains, just how far should you be willing to go?

This is always going to be up for debate, but I would say anything more than restructuring is where risk can start to outweigh reward, though exaggeration and minimization certainly have their place.

Denial and fabrication are where I believe everyone should draw the line, as these not only come with a huge risk of being caught out but also severely undermine your professional integrity.

Things You Should Lie About In a Job Interview

Let’s start talking about real scenarios where a degree of dishonesty (remember, there are levels) can actually work in your favor.

Here we go:

When Talking About Past Bosses or Coworkers

Sometimes, interviewers will ask about your relationship with your previous coworkers or bosses.

Other times you may get a less direct question that still requires you to touch on the quality of those relationships, such as questions around confidentiality, stressful work scenarios, or work-related challenges.

Either way, there’s a good chance it’ll come up.

Why is that a problem?

Well, according to a survey by BestLife, 59% of workers have quit their job over a bad boss, and badmouthing previous employers rarely pays dividends in the context of a job interview.

Regardless of whether your old boss was a micromanaging nightmare or your old colleague was one of the most toxic people you’ve ever met, telling the truth here will only hurt you.

When Mentioning Your Employment History

This isn’t to say you should make up places you’ve worked at.

You shouldn’t.

What I’m saying is, there’s nothing wrong with omitting places you’ve worked at because those experiences are not beneficial to your candidacy.

And that doesn’t only include work experience that isn’t relevant to the role, it includes any past instances where a potential negative conclusion can be drawn by the interviewer.

In other words, if a past job could reflect poorly on you, don’t mention it.

Maybe you got fired from a job, or you left on bad terms. Maybe it was a short stint that isn’t worth shining a light on, or you just can’t talk about that period of your life without sounding bitter.

Whatever the reason, know that you don’t have to play all of your cards when it comes to employment history.

When Referring to Your Skills

Employers love to evaluate candidates based on their past experience, qualifications, achievements, and current skill set.

While most of those are verifiable pieces of information, however, skills are much more open to interpretation.

For example, being able to speak a foreign language is a skill, but there’s no hard definition of fluency. You may only be half as proficient in Spanish as the next candidate, but you can both “speak Spanish”.

Being creative is also a skill, but there’s no official way to measure creativity and there’s no certainly standardized metric to compare against.

The point I’m making?

Exaggerating your proficiency is not the worst idea in the world, especially when you know you can get up to the required standard.

Note: The only caveat is if you’re talking about a skill that’s critical to your ability to perform on the job, or you know there will be a skill proficiency test following the interview. Otherwise, this one may come back to bite you.

When Talking About Your Interests

We all have hobbies and interests, but not all of them are suitable to share in a job interview setting.

So when an interviewer asks you an interest-based question — like “What are your hobbies?” or “What do you like to do in your free time?” — think carefully about how you choose to answer.

Being completely open and honest might just mean admitting you enjoy sitting in front of the TV every night, binge watching the next trending Netflix show with your partner or spouse.

I call that a good time, but it won’t fly here.

Instead, you’re far better off exaggerating interests and hobbies that are widely considered helpful or productive, and omitting anything else that doesn’t fit that description.

Focus ojn sports, developing new skills, helping others, etc. — even if these things only contribute a small part to the truth.

When Talking About Other Opportunities

Interviewers will sometimes try to gauge how in-demand you are by asking a very point-blank question.

It’ll be something like, “Are you currently interviewing with other companies?” or “Do you have any other job offers to consider right now?”

Make no mistake, what you say directly influences how desirable you will be as a candidate. All things being equal, the candidate with more interviews and job offers on the table is the more attractive candidate.

It’s a form of social proof.

It’s why you’re more likely to buy a product that other people have bought and endorsed, and it’s why interviewers are more likely to hire a candidate other employers have already expressed interest in.

So what if you don’t have anything lined up?

Well, rather than focus on the absence of interviews or offers, reframe your answer by highlighting the connections youv’e made, the interviews you’ve had, and how confident you are that an offer is just around the corner.

Even if you do have some offers on the table, you might consider omiting company names out of courtesy to those companies.

When Being Asked About Salary

Money is always a touchy subject in a job interview.

It doesn’t always come up, but when it does, it can manifest through a number of different interview questions.

Direct questions like “what are your salary expectations?” press you into sharing hard numbers, and if you’re uncomfortable sharing those numbers, you can use a combination of reframing and minimization to skirt the question.

Instead, tell them you don’t currently have any expectations and you’re just getting a feel for the opportunities in front of you right now.

Then you have indirect questions that can sometimes broach the subject of financial goals, like “why do you want to work here?” or “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

These a much easier to avoid by simply omitting financial intentions from your answer — which is recommended as it could lead to more direct (and harder to dodge) questions around salary.

Things You Should Never Lie About In a Job Interview

Just as little white lies can sometimes help you, there are many scenarios where they can also be your downfall.

I’ll cover the two main ones:

When the Question is Looking for Weaknesses

This might be a controversial one, but hear me out.

I’m sure you’ve heard or even experienced interview questions that try to uncover your weaknesses, most commonly in the form of a direct ask: “What is your greatest weakness?”

You’ve probably also heard that you should try to avoid answering the question, lie about your weaknesses, and worse, lie about having any weaknesses at all.

But here’s the thing:

A big part of why interviewers ask this question is because they want to see if you have the ability to identify your own flaws.

If you’re claiming to be a faultless human being, not only do you sound ridiculous, but you’re also demonstrating that you have zero self-awareness — thereby failing the question.

Ultimately, if the interviewer is looking for a weaknesses or vulnerability, give them something.

When Your Answer is Easily Verifiable

No matter how small the lie, anything that can easily be verified during or following the interview should always be off limits.

While some recruiters and hiring managers place less emphasis on fact checking, a single red flag is all it takes to lose out on a job opportunity.

It’s simply not worth the risk.

You also have to consider that these little “white lies” can find their way back to you days, months, or even years later, often resulting in potential termination of employment. (Like what happened to this guy on Reddit.)

So when you’re asked any fact-based questions around your qualifications, experiences, achievements, stick to the facts.

The same goes for references and companies you’ve worked for.

Conclusion: Should You Always Tell The Truth?

No, not always.

While nobody should advocate outright lying in a job interview (and to be clear, I don’t), sometimes, a degree of lying is objectively the best approach to take.

The difficult part is not only knowing when to lie, but also to what extent — which is why it’s often easier stick to the full truth, regardless of what that might mean to your candidacy.

If you’re confident in your ability to make that call when the opportunity presents itself, you absolutely should. Period.

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