In this day and age, it's not uncommon to find resumes that are exaggerated in one way or another to leave a good impression. And I imagine this is also seen in job interviews.

My personality is such that I would rather be completely honest (read: can be blunt as hell). I'm also this way about myself. So I was wondering, if I was totally upfront in a job interview, will that just bite me down the road? My concern is that if you have one candidate that says "Yes, I can sometimes forget to pay attention to details" and another that seems on point with everything, they'll go with the second regardless of how accurate that impression is.

So as a general rule, is it best to try to keep up with the crowd in terms of exaggeration and painting oneself in a better light, or is honesty really the best policy?

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    Never be dishonest about verifiable facts. But many questions in interviews are subjective, ex: "How good would you say you are at x skill?" It's not necessarily dishonest to say you are better at it than another person would say that you are, because evaluating skill is highly subjective. – Kai May 20 '16 at 16:41
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    Lying about yourself in an interview is a great way to end up getting hired for a job you can't do and/or don't want. Not really an answer, but something to keep in mind... if you have to lie to get the job, it's probably not going to work out well for you. – HopelessN00b May 20 '16 at 19:03
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    The example you give is rather bland and inconsequential. I don't think it's the actual example that you're worrying about. When interviewing, it's good to be honest, but it's also important to show a degree of social intelligence, and that also means not saying too much at specific times. But without a real example to talk about, it's really difficult to tell you to go one way or an other. – Stephan Branczyk May 20 '16 at 19:09
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    @StephanBranczyk Actually, that is my real worry (at least the one that prompted this question in my mind). I have a chronic problem of missing the trees for the forest. especially the first few times I do something. And nobody likes an employee that has to redo a task 6 times, or what have you, because they keep missing things. – amflare May 20 '16 at 19:49
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    My favourite true story about being honest in an interview was a candidate I had who, when I asked "why do you want to work on this team?" -- a softball question if ever there was -- answered "I don't, but the team I want to work on isn't hiring. I want to work for your team for a year and then switch to the other team when there is an opening." Thumbs up for honesty, NO HIRE for obvious reasons. – Eric Lippert May 21 '16 at 0:02
up vote 64 down vote accepted

Is it best to try to keep up with the crowd in terms of exaggeration and painting oneself in a better light, or is honesty really the best policy?

Honesty is the best policy, but you shouldn't be so brutally honest that you talk yourself out of a job.

Be honest about your strengths. Don't exaggerate. Don't claim to be good at something if you are not. Otherwise you may find that your continued employment depends upon a skill-set that you don't possess.

If you do talk about your imperfections, take time to focus on the actions you are undertaking to improve. Maybe you set up follow-up reminders in your email client, or you leave yourself post-it notes. Whatever it is, try to accentuate the positive.

You don't need to be so brutally honest about your faults. No one is perfect. Unless the interviewer specifically asks about your ability to stay on task, you are not obligated to bring it up.

With that said, bringing at least one fault can be an effective strategy. If you can find a way to be self-deprecating, while keeping a positive spin, the interviewer may be more inclined to believe the honesty of your claimed strengths.

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    I like this answer, especially the bit where you DON'T volunteer to say anything negative about yourself. – Kilisi May 21 '16 at 0:10
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    A good interviewer will recognize an interviewee's bullshit immediately. When I sense someone is exaggerating in an interview, I start asking questions to see if they are exaggerating. When you ask the right questions, it quickly becomes apparent whether or not they are telling the truth. – Keltari May 21 '16 at 3:17
  • @Keltari: Indeed. A few months ago I had someone who thought he was god's gift to the world, and the other interviewers were fawning all over him, but something didn't quite click for me. I insisted on progressing through some of our pre-prepared technical questions (that the others wanted to skip "because what's the point") and it very quickly became clear that the candidate had no idea what he was talking about. Worse, he couldn't admit it so ended up bumbling around giving bizarrely tangential "answers". Rejected, and then he personally phoned a few days later to beg reconsideration. Odd. – Lightness Races in Orbit May 22 '16 at 12:35

My concern is that if you have one candidate that says "Yes, I can sometimes forget to pay attention to details" and another that seems on point with everything, they'll go with the second regardless of how accurate that impression is.

Depends on what you mean. There are different flavors of truth. If you say, "Sometimes I miss details." That is a bit different from saying, "When I get a project, I insure every detail that I can think of at that moment is thought of. Here's a example of a previous project I worked on and a detail that was overlooked and how we corrected it."

If you said the first, I would be disappointed that you don't elaborate. Now if you said, "I never made a error or overlooked a detail ever" that wouldn't be an exaggeration but a flatout false statement that nobody would believe.

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    Agree: just saying "Yes, I can sometimes forget to pay attention to details" makes it sound like you don't care if you forget details or not, you make no effort to avoid it and you have no interest in improving yourself so you're more attentive in the future. You need the elaboration. – Rup May 20 '16 at 16:27

Interviewing is in many ways like dating. You're presenting your best self to someone else, while minimizing any flaws. But like dating, at some point they will see your true self and that needs to match up with the interview.

Don't lie. Ever.

Without getting into a treatise on the importance of honesty and integrity, there are specific, tactical reasons not to do it as well.

  1. Whatever lie you tell may be found out. Don't rely on or assume that something can't be verified. Sometimes the lack of verification can be viewed in a negative light.
  2. Except for people who are dishonest as a matter of course (and sociopaths), every has tells when they lie. It's not necessarily a tangible act either. It could be certain mannerisms, the way and where you look or body language. It's entirely subconscious and to someone adept at detecting such things, it will betray you.
  3. If the interviewer thinks you're lying then you are, at least in his mind. So you must not only tell the truth, but you need to be credible while doing it.
  4. Exaggeration is lying, just to a lesser degree and it is fraught with the same problems as a complete fabrication.

What you can do.

Just because you're determined not to lie doesn't mean you need to sabotage the interview. There are things you can do to remain honest without giving reasons to eliminate you.

Focus on accomplishments

Every answer needs to have a success and you can do that without lying or exaggerating. No circumstance was universally horrible. Focus on the positive aspects of any response and then say what was positive about it and helped the company.

Don't bring up the bad stuff

We've all screwed up. That doesn't mean we volunteer it. Even in a train wreck of a job, find the parts where you helped and accentuate that by describing how it benefited your employer.

Minimize the bad stuff that does come up

They weren't there. They have to take your word for it mostly. So if you do have to go over something that was bad, it wasn't that bad and you learned something. Don't blame others, but don't fall on the sword either.

Anything can be positive

You gave the example of a person volunteering that they weren't good with details. Obviously, you don't want to volunteer your flaws. Unfortunately, it's very common for someone to want you to tell them what your flaws are. Even then you can make something positive about it. If your flaw is that you genuinely aren't good with details, say that but refer to it as something that you've dealt with. "In the past, I struggled with keeping up with details, but I've developed strategies to successfully handle them. I keep lists and I write everything down and at the end of the day I review what I've done and what still needs to be done and write that down as well"

Competence and confidence. That's what makes interviews successful. Don't exaggerate. Be believed because you told the truth. But don't sabotage the interview by telling truths they don't need to hear.

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    5. It's much harder to remember lies than the truth – Raystafarian May 21 '16 at 9:04

Remember this: All employees are human and humans are prone to making mistakes. If an employer is expecting to find an employee who never made a mistake in his/her life and never will, they are plain delusional. The point here is, if you learned from your mistake and what have you learned. And for this you can put a positive spin to no end.

Again as it was pointed out earlier, do not volunteer to put out negative things about yourself, but when specifically asked, do not fib or try to change the subject. Embrace the fault head on and tell your story about how you fixed that problem.

Also, employers, especially hiring managers, are well seasoned to filter out the grandiose bulls#!+ from honesty. The one looks like the perfect candidate for the job and point on everything for the requirements, means, he studied the position to the hilt and prepared himself or herself for those questions. Otherwise, in my 25+ years in my IT career, having gone through may be close to 100 interviews, I have never had one that I knew the answers to all questions asked to me or have all the requirements and good to have strengths of any position that I applied for. If employers think they hit the jackpot by finding someone who is the perfect fit for the Cinderella's shoe, should prepare themselves to see the pumpkin when the clock hits the proverbial midnight. So, do not overwork yourself over BS artists. They tend to weed themselves out of the picture, rather quickly.

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