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Should you ever lie in a job interview?

  • Story Highlights
  • Expert: Don't lie, but explain "incident" so you look like a responsible person
  • For past crime, tell them you've paid a price for that mistake and learned from it
  • Lots of people get fired, so tell your side of what really happened
  • Have different resume versions, listing the qualifications for particular jobs
Rachel Zupek writer
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Rather than lie during a job interview, there are ways to shade the truth.

Rather than lie during a job interview, there are ways to shade the truth.

Ask any hiring manager, recruiter, human resource executive or career coach, and they'll all say the same thing: Never lie in an interview.

But maybe you got into a bar fight in college that went on your permanent record and you don't want to include it on your application.

Maybe you got fired for standing up for what you believe but you're worried a potential employer won't see your side. Or, maybe you quit your job but haven't updated your résumé to that effect because you've found employers find you less desperate.

You're not supposed to lie, so how do you explain away all these things and remain in the running for a job? Or, the better question is, can you?

"The honesty police may arrest me but I'd have to say that everyone has probably shaded the truth in an interview," says Alan Guinn, managing director of The Guinn Consultancy Group. "It's not that as applicants we're inherently dishonest. It's that society places such a critical importance on success achievement that we look for ways to present ourselves in the best light possible."

Guinn says that honesty is generally the best policy when it comes to your interview, but in some cases, it can be hard to explain actions in which you have been peripherally involved or caught up. While you shouldn't flat out lie about anything, you should position your answers so that you are the responsible party, rather than the one to blame, Guinn says.

Some situations are more tempting to fudge the truth in than others. Here are 10 of those situations and how you can be honest with a potential employer and stay in the running for a job:

What if ...

1. I am one credit short of graduating?

Some employers ask for proof of a diploma -- some don't. It's not worth risking that you won't be asked to show a certificate or diploma and have it blow up in your face.

"Be totally up front and ask the employer if they have a tuition reimbursement program which would help you finish that last course you need to graduate. I've actually been asked that several times and have gone to the employer to secure assistance for an applicant if a formal policy was not in place," Guinn says. "This makes the employer look good ... they are supporting the personal and professional growth of their employees."

2. I was fired?

Being fired today doesn't hold a lot of the social stigma it once did, Guinn says. If you're asked why you left a previous position, tell the interviewer what really happened.

"Lots of people get fired for lots of reasons. You may be a totally innocent party in a financial scandal. You may be a qualified, competent employee working for a company which must shave head count. There are many reasons you could have been fired, or let go, or made redundant," he says.

3. I have a misdemeanor or felony on my record from a long time ago?

The employer will most likely do a background check and this will come up on the search. If you're asked to elaborate, be up front with what happened.

"My guess is that you have more than 'served your time' or 'done your punishment,'" Guinn says. "If the employer asks, be honest, and tell them that it was a long time ago, you made a mistake and you paid the piper." Share what you learned from the situation.

4. I don't have any experience in the field or industry?

It will be clear in the interview that the experience you have from one position may not be in line with your needs working in a new position, Guinn says. "There is nothing in that which is inappropriate or in which any fact is being misrepresented." Stress your interest and what you can provide in the position and discuss what specific training you will be offered to create competency in your role.

5. I know my boss will give me a bad reference?

"Many bosses today refuse to discuss past employees with potential ones and turn these questions over the HR department," Guinn says.

"If you know your boss will give you a bad reference, tell the interviewer that you have concerns your reputation may be tarnished by working for the past employer, and you'd appreciate knowing if there was anything improper said about you during the reference checks."

6. I am overqualified for the job and want to leave some credentials off my résumé?

You've worked hard for those credentials and you should be proud of them. Guinn suggests having multiple résumés that differ based on the level of position for which you are applying. "List the qualifications you truly hold that would be of benefit in securing the job you want to have," he says.

7. I have an injury or illness that prevents me from doing necessary work for the job?

Many applicants are hesitant to address an injury or illness for fear that the employer will see them as a potential insurance liability. But, Guinn says most employers will make accommodations for great applicants with a handicap. He suggests asking if any accommodations can be made and if not, seek out an employer that is willing to make the adjustment.

8. I made much less in my last job, but think I deserve a significant raise?

It's tempting to want to inflate your past salary to earn more in your next role, but with more employers doing credit checks, you'll probably get caught. You're better advised to share the range of salary you received and ask about opportunities for improvement of salary, Guinn says.

9. I only intend to stay for a few months and/or don't want this to be my career?

"Employers invest large sums [of money] in finding the right candidate for a position. What's to say this can't be a great, long-term job for you?" Guinn says. "Many of us started out in a role with no plans to stay, but found that the job we took was meaningful; satisfied our personal and professional needs; and paid us a worthy salary. You don't know what is going to happen in six months; always leave your options open."

10. I already have a vacation, wedding or getaway planned?

If you're hired, the employer is obviously going to find out sooner or later that you need some time off. If you offer to follow the appropriate measures, most employers will find a way to work around any previously planned events, Guinn says.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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