It’s good to be truthful when talking to a prospective employer, but being too honest could cost you the job. Here’s when you can — and probably should — fudge the truth or omit information.
Your job title doesn’t reflect what you actually did
Did you do a lot more work than your title implies? Go ahead and embellish it if your actual job responsibilities went far beyond what you signed up for. This is particularly true in startup cultures, where resources are limited and everyone wears multiple hats. Be careful with this one though.
“If you’re talking about actual dates of employment, background or education, those are definitely items where you just never want to go off factual information,” says Angela Payne, General Manager of career management site Monster. “That can get you in a lot of trouble because with the access to information that everybody has, those things are easily verifiable. It gets a little more grey with things like job titles and job functions.”
Your last company showed you the door
This one depends on the circumstances that led to your being let go. Were you fired for cause or let go because you just didn’t gel with the new boss? If the former, don’t bother lying.
“If you were caught lying or stealing or cheating a customer or embezzling from the company, you’re going to have a hard time regardless because those are things that can easily be fact-checked,” says Payne. “Someone just has to do a reference check and they’ll find out. It’s very risky [to lie].”
However, if you were let go because you underperformed or just didn’t get along with coworkers, it’s ok to keep this to yourself. Instead, say it was not a good fit. Say that some of the functions that were required of you didn’t meet your background, but stress that the job you’re applying for is more in line with your skills.
You may also be concerned about frequent gaps on your resume. Payne recommends tweaking your resume to cover this up.
“If you’re trying to mitigate gaps in employment history, go to a functional resume,” she advises. “That’s a lot easier to do than a chronological resume, which will show gaps in your history. The functional resume will focus on your skills and competencies, and your fit. That’s a better way especially when there’s a very specific job that you’re trying to tailor your resume towards.”
Your former manager was a massive jerk
Lie like Richard Nixon here. Under no circumstances should you ever tell a prospective employer your old boss was sexist/misogynistic/homophobic/[insert appropriate adjective]. Consider this the professional equivalent of badmouthing an ex on a first date — it’s bad form, and would make the person wonder if you’re the “crazy” one, or what you might say about them after the relationship ends.
Always say something nice about your previous employer, even if you don’t mean it, and then move on swiftly to why this new role is a perfect fit for you.
‘Why do you want to work here?’
Maybe you’re interviewing for your dream job, or maybe you’re like most other people who just want a job they don’t hate so they can pay the bills. Do not express the latter to anyone interviewing you. Instead, feign passion. Like 50 Shades of Grey passion. Yes, it can be hard to get excited about that Data Entry Specialist gig in the suburbs, but Payne suggests thinking deeper about what the role really means.
“In manufacturing, for example, are people passionate about putting a widget on an assembly line?” she asks. “No, probably not. But do they care about working in an environment that is productive and safe? At the end of the day, do they really want to work with people? Yes, they work in an assembly line but they get to have camaraderie instead of being stuck in an office. That’s something to care about.”
You don’t have the exact skills in the job description — yet
Obviously don’t say you know how to operate a forklift or that you’re fluent in Chinese if it’s not at all true, because it would be easy to verify those things with potentially disastrous consequences. But there’s no harm in stretching the truth to something that could easily be true.
“If they are looking for someone who’s very proficient in Excel, what does that really mean?” says Payne. “If you’ve been interviewing for the last several weeks and working on your excel skills, you can absolutely tell them you have good excel skills and you’re continuing to work on those skills. That’s perfectly fine.”
Payne stresses that the interview is only one piece of the bigger puzzle. What’s also very relevant is the preparedness and passion around the job, not to mention knowledge of the organization you’re trying to work for.
“While the interview is a check in the box, the fit and the culture of the organization is much more important,” she says. “Do you have to be passionate about the product or the organization making, for example, feminine hygiene products? No, but you can care a lot about successful women and wanting them to feel confident. You could spin that a whole bunch of different ways.”