How Honest Should You Be in an Interview?

We’re told from a young age that we should be honest – with our friends, with our parents, and with our partners. Being honest at work and in interviews is recommended too, and not just from the perspective of ethics.

Everyone knows that it’s important to impress an interviewer if you want to have any chance at being the successful candidate for the job or internship that you’ve applied for. It’s also important to show interviewers the authentic you, so that neither you nor they will be unpleasantly surprised when you start working at their company.

So what should you do when there’s a conflict – when dishonesty might be the key to being successful? Should you impress your interviewer even if it means being dishonest? Or should you be honest and show them the ‘real you’, to avoid headaches down the track?

The answer, almost always, is the latter.

Don’t be arrogant – be honest

Being honest in an interview means being honest about your qualifications, about your experience, and – arguably most importantly – about your skill set. If you mention that you have advanced Excel skills in your interview, for example, when in reality you’re not even at an intermediate level, there is a very good chance you’ll be found out.

Because we need to be honest in our resumes, it logically follows that we should be honest in our interviews too. Remember that authenticity and humility can be seen as a strength, in spite of the revelation of shortcomings.

Don’t be dishonest – be strategic

One of the most common instances of dishonesty in an interview occurs when the interviewee is asked a technical question which they don’t know how to answer. If you’re caught in this situation, be honest and say that you’re not sure, but then give them your best shot at answering. End with saying “…this is something I’d really like to learn about during an internship with you”.

Let the interviewer know that you’re keen and that you possess a great, can-do attitude. Do this and what could have been an embarrassing or awkward situation becomes a moment in which you convey your keenness, passion, and interest in the opportunity and company. What could have been a perceived weakness can become a strength.

Be smart, be honest, be strategic

To summarise, here are some guidelines to follow as you prepare for, and participate in, interviews:

  • Don’t exaggerate your strengths (you’ll be perceived as arrogant)
  • Don’t lie about your level of skill (you’ll be found out)
  • Don’t hide your weaknesses (you’ll be missing an opportunity to show them the real you)
  • Don’t talk about weaknesses unless you’re specifically asked about them (doing so would signal a lack of self-confidence)
  • Do be authentic (authenticity and humility will make you more likeable)
  • Do demonstrate a desire to learn (don’t be dishonest – be strategic)
  • Do mention what you’re doing to overcome weaknesses (accentuate the positives)

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