When it Comes to Interviewing, is Honesty Really the Best Policy?
My heart was racing and my palms were sweaty. It was the part of the interview where I was asked a curve ball question. Why do you want to work part-time?
Suddenly I was faced with two choices. I could give an honest answer, or I could tell my interviewer what they wanted to hear.
Deciding to go with honest, I replied: “The truth is part-time is perfect for me right now. I have two young kids and this schedule allows me to pick them up after school and spend time with them.” I think I even added in “I love being a mama!”
The look on the interviewer’s face told me I probably should have gone with the “what they really wanted to hear” response.
But here’s the thing. I am unapologetically a mom. The truth is, I’m tired of trying to hide it.
Long story short, I got the job. But it could have very easily gone the other way.
Honestly, if I hadn’t gotten offered the position, I would have probably chalked it up to the job not being a great fit.
Unfortunately we can’t always afford to be brutally honest in an interview situation. Putting food on the table often carries more weight than expressing our “true self” in an interview.
Where is the line in terms of having to lie your way through an interview versus being open and honest about your needs and goals?
Read on to get my take on when and how you should be honest in an interview as well as specific interview tips for moms.
See related: The Number One Interview Questions You Should be Asking
I have never encouraged a client to lie on their resume or in the interview process about their experience. If the position announcement reads “five years of experience” and you only have four, should you add an extra year on your resume?
It might seem innocent enough. However, what if the employer calls your references and they mention the five year thing? It could get a little hairy.
In my opinion it’s pretty simple. Don’t make shit up.
If you feel like you have to invent things on your resume to be considered for a job, it’s probably time to ask yourself if the job is really a good fit.
Your resume will make it into the right hands if there’s a true fit (of course providing you know how to write a compelling resume and network).
See related: Three Simple Tricks to Avoid Age Discrimination
I’ve had clients ask me if it matters how you write your skills on your resume. For example, is there really a difference between writing “highly skilled at____” vs. “basic knowledge of ______?”
The answer is yes. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you apply for a job that has “Fluent in Spanish” listed in the “Ideal Candidate” section of the job description. You really want to be considered for the position. Although your last experience with the language was middle-school-level beginning Spanish, you write that you’re fluent.
You nail a phone interview with the company in two short days. WOOT!!
The first question you are asked is in Spanish. BOO!!
Okay, ’nuff said.
See related: Five Secrets to Keeping Your Skills Sharp as a Stay-at-Home-Mom (SAHM)
Your Professional Relationships
I think it’s pretty common knowledge (and hopefully common sense) that you don’t want to trash talk your former co-workers, supervisors, or managers in an interview.
However, you also want to be careful not to go too far in the other direction. For example, insinuating that you had a closer or better relationship than you actually did. The interviewer will most likely follow-up and call your references. If you say that so and so and you are bff’s, but so and so says that your relationship was not so bff-y, you will appear untrustworthy.
There’s a happy medium to be found. If you left a former job on bad terms, you can be honest about the circumstances while also being diplomatic.
For example, what if you were let go and you are asked “why did you leave your last job?” An honest but positive response could go something like “I was let go from the position. However, I learned a lot from the experience. Unfortunately, communication wasn’t great between my supervisor and myself. I know now that it’s incredibly important for me to check in frequently about my job and make sure I understand the expectations.”
The answer is honest, and the interviewee takes responsibility for the situation. Although having a candidate say they were fired might not be music to a hiring manager’s ears, they would surely respect the candidate for having the courage to be honest.
See related: Top Ten LinkedIn Mistakes for Moms Returning to Work
Why You Want the Job
Here’s where it gets tricky. I’ve seen lots of candidates ask recently on career forums and blogs, “Is it okay to be really honest? Can I say that I just need a paycheck right now and the hours work great for my family?”
My advice is to strike a happy balance between total BS ala “This is my dream job and I’ve waited my whole life for it to come along. This job is like my soul mate” and “I’m a straight shooter: This job is anything but exciting but I need money like yesterday!”
Maybe something more along the lines of “I am impressed that XYZ organization takes time to invest in its employees by providing ongoing training and mentoring. It’s evident that you take pride in providing a great work culture. That’s important to me.”
You’re not lying and saying you are incredibly passionate about the work (assuming you are not). However, you’re emphasizing that you researched the company and there’s a legitimate reason that you applied for the position.
See related: Four Simple Strategies to Land an Unadvertised Job in 2020
This is my most important interview tip for moms, so listen up!
Flexibility is a key factor for parents and caregivers. With the pandemic it’s become a necessity for anyone who wants to practice social distancing. But how and when do you bring up the topic in an interview?
Is it okay to lay it out on the table so to speak? To say “I need to work from home”?
It’s a delicate dance. If flexibility is key for you, you’ve got to make sure the company will offer it. However, if you bring it up too early in the interview process, the employer might get spooked.
As a mom and a career coach, here’s what I recommend. First, don’t apply to jobs at companies that are not family-friendly. You might be wondering how you know if a company is family friendly.
The answer: do your homework.
Search sites like Fairygodboss and Glassdoor which provide anonymous employee reviews about company cultures.
Use your network on LinkedIn to browse for past or current employees at your targeted companies. See if you have any 1st degree connections. If not, see if you can be introduced or send a connection request. Do informational interviews to get a candid look at what the company is really like.
In addition to doing research, at the end of the interview you can ask questions about the company culture or what they are doing to keep employees safe during the pandemic. Their response will give you a good indication about the amount of flexibility provided.
If the company extends you a job offer, you can ask more specifically about flexibility and even do some negotiating.
Is honesty the best policy when it comes to interviewing? I believe in general that it is.
Is it okay to embellish your responses a tad to make yourself sound more enthusiastic or like a “better fit?” As long as you don’t go too overboard and falsely portray yourself.
At the end of the day, you are the one who has to work at the job if it’s offered and you accept. If you’re having to fake too much, maybe the job is not right for you?
In regards to interview tips for moms, being honest about flexibility has become a necessity due to the pandemic. It is my sincere hope that even with all the negativity COVID has brought with it, that perhaps there is a silver lining.
Maybe employers will realize that they need to be more flexible and open to creating family-friendly work environments for moms.
And hopefully parents will not be so intimidated to speak more freely and openly about flexibility in a job interview (without fear of retribution).
I am writing this article after a full day of home-schooling my two young kids, so my brain is a bit fried. If you think I left out an important example of when to be (or when not to be) honest in an interview, please do share away!! I’d love to hear from you.