Should You “Lie” During Job Interviews?

OK … I got a fun question for you today …

Should you LIE during a job interview?

Before you answer, let me give you a bit of context as to where this question comes from…

My First Job Interview, in 1999

I was 14 years old, at my first interview at McDonald’s.

I remember wearing a suit that was way too big for me (my grandpa insisted I dress up) and I was sitting in front of a manager. The interview was going well and all the questions were fun and light. I remember laughing a lot and thinking she was really nice.

Then came a trick question… The manager asked, “If you worked here for one whole year, how many times do you think you’d be late for work?”

Since I was raised to be 100% honest, I thought about the question for a second. 🤔  Hmmm… I thought… out of 365 days, how many days would I be late?

My answer was 5. I told her that “I would probably be late 5 times.” You know, because of traffic, or sometimes my siblings hog the bathroom in the morning, or the train might be late coming home from school, etc. Shit happens, and I was just being honest!

The manager looked disappointed. Really disappointed. She shook her head. Obviously she was hoping my answer was ZERO. Employers want their workers to be late ZERO times each year! But, I was just an honest, innocent little 14 y/o boy trying to tell the truth. I didn’t know any better. 🤷‍♂️

Luckily, they hired me anyway. I worked there for 4 years – and if memory serves me correctly, I wasn’t late once!

Anyway, that interview changed me. I remember thinking afterwards… Maybe I should have lied? Maybe I should have just told the manager what she wanted to hear so I could “impress” her more?

Telling People What They Want to Hear

Maybe it was my training in sales. Maybe it was my immature desire to always be liked… Whatever the reason, over the years I got pretty good at telling people what they wanted to hear.

An interviewer once asked me: “How do you feel about cold-calling people?” I replied that I had cold-called hundreds of CIO’s in my sales career and closed many sales deals from it. I know how to do it and I’m good at it! (This is technically 100% true.)

But what I didn’t say is that with each outbound cold-call, my heart dies a little. Although I love making money and will do anything asked of me, I truly don’t enjoy interrupting busy executives in the middle of their day to push my agenda over theirs. Cold-calling sucks!

But you can’t say stuff like that in a job interview, right? You have to hide some of the truth, right?

Same with the “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question… I remember once a district manager asking me this, and I replied, “Sir, I would love nothing more than having a position like yours in 5 years. I hope to climb the ranks here and get promoted internally. I think this company could be my forever home.”

But what I didn’t share were my true thoughts, which were like… “Sir, in 5 years I see myself handing you my resignation and telling everyone here byyyeeee 👋. I’m secretly buying rental properties for passive income and I really dgaf about your corporate ladder.”

Too Much Lying Can Backfire …

Upon reflecting, I think hiding too much of the truth is one of the reasons my sales jobs never worked out over the long term. I’ve now learned that lying in interviews can be like lying to myself. It’s a red flag that things probably won’t work out with that employer.

If the interviewer/employer doesn’t like me – the REAL me – then I’m signing myself (and them) up for disappointment.

Today I have no problem telling interviewers exactly how I feel and my real thoughts. I won’t lie. I just can’t do it. And thankfully, things are working out just fine. I’ve been offered some killer roles over the past few years and found an awesome home with my current employer without having to hide any truths.

But, maybe I’ve just been lucky recently?

Should You Lie During Interviews?

I definitely want to hear your thoughts. But, I’ll leave you with 2 final points.

First, it’s no secret that employers sometimes lie. Have you ever been promised something in an interview, only to start working there a few weeks later and realize it’s actually the opposite? Companies tend to tell you the good things about working there and brush over bad details. Is it just expected that both sides are lying during interviews? We’re all saying the same shit just to land the job/worker.

Second, if you’ve had an interview lately, no doubt you’ve googled “Top Interview Questions” to prepare yourself. The internet is full of articles that not only tell you the questions that will be asked, they tell you how to respond and what to say. This is just like telling interviewers what they want to hear. Is this lying if everybody does it?

Those of you interviewing right now… What’s your experience?  

Any recruiters in the crowd who want to chime in?

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  1. Nita January 14, 2022 at 3:07 AM

    Come on Joel! It’s interviewing, not getting a good mark at school.
    In your interviewer’s case, her reaction is actually telling a lot about her more than about you. Not flexible, not understanding, unwilling to listen, probably hard to work for. If the candidate has other interviews, she lost points there.
    Sure it might land you a job. A job you’re happy in and prosper in… unlikely.

    1. Joel January 16, 2022 at 11:00 AM

      When I was a teenager I thought good marks in school meant good marks in real life too. I guess I didn’t know any better.

      You’re right though — interviews are just as much about reading how the managers act and talk as they are watching and hearing you.

  2. Liz January 14, 2022 at 7:35 AM

    The part about not telling the whole truth on the hiring side….I was trying to change roles and the rest of the team was gone. I was over worked & didn’t like the role anymore. I didn’t fib that is was amazing, but I couldn’t tell interviewees how unhappy I was, or I’d never be replaced and move to the new role. Due to being there a while, and normal change over, I’d trained 2 other teams of people, who had moved on. I’d liked the job & role at some point but was outgrowing it.

    As the interviewee, I think there’s a fine line to not get over your head, claiming to be an expert in something they expect you to do as soon as you start, and not being overly honest. Just like any relationship, there’s the investment of time to know each other. After working there a while your 5 times late answer with your reasoning would have likely been better received when they knew you weren’t late so you were thinking of extreme circumstances.

    A few years ago, it was only a light snow & I skidded off the road. Due to major accidents on bigger roads, good luck getting a tow truck. I am still grateful to this day for a crew/ van of guys who got me back on the road. I’d given myself extra time, checked the traffic etc. I am also thankful that I had a job that needed me there the 8 hours to do a job, but didn’t require a specific start time. I am honest with bosses that especially as my current role has plenty of computer work, I’m not risking my life in bad weather.

    Happy Friday!

    1. Joel January 16, 2022 at 11:07 AM

      Must be hard to hide your feelings when speaking to new recruits… especially after years of experience in the role and feeling burnt out. I can see it’s a tough situation.

      Glad to hear your road accident wasn’t worse! And that you have a flexible and understanding workplace!

  3. Chris January 14, 2022 at 8:46 AM

    I have been interviewing on and off for about a year now. Some of the questions are so stupid, I hate to say this. Like rate yourself on a scale of one to 10 with (insert random skillset here). Do you lie and say “oh, 8 of course!” or are you honest and say “sorry, only a 2 with this one.” Do they really want to hear a truthful answer or do they want to convince themselves that you are in fact an “8.” Maybe they should have put more effort into structuring a really good question for you instead? Another one, where do you see yourself in 5 years? I mean, seriously lol, first of all, hardly anybody stays at a job for more than 2 years anymore because they want to advance, make more money, learn a new skill, and staying someplace for 5 years can be a coffin nail In your career if the company just wants to keep you in the same spot. Another one I was asked recently, “How do you feel about telling the truth?” Omg, I kid you not. Of course, you say yes, but what if you want to take a sick day because you are burnt out and not really sick? Do you lie? Everyone lies, it’s just a part of being human. Most lies are harmless, other lies, not so much. So, do I lie? I try not to, but, sometimes, it’s difficult not to.

    1. Joel January 16, 2022 at 11:17 AM

      Glad to hear you think some interview questions are dumb too. Why ask questions that you already know the answer to (or know people are going to stretch the truth with)?…

      I agree that putting more thought into the questions will bring out better and more transparent answers :). Thanks for sharing, Chris!

  4. CeeLee January 14, 2022 at 4:54 PM

    In one of my first interviews, they asked me where I wanted to be in 5 years and I told them I’d love to own a bakery. This information was, and is still true. However, it was in no way the answer they were looking for. and not only was the rest of the interview brief and awkward but I certainly did not hear back from this company, who specialized in installing Christmas decorations. Whoops!

    1. Joel January 16, 2022 at 11:18 AM

      haha it’s probably for the best CeeLee! Now, about that bakery… How can I help you?

  5. Nicoke January 16, 2022 at 11:22 AM

    Many years ago I interviewed for a job with a different company than where I was. It was a panel interview with about 4 people on it, and it was intimidating. For one of the questions that I was answering, the person I would be reporting to interrupted me and said ‘I don’t think you understand the question’ and went on to repeat it. The way she went about it was very rude. For me it was insight into her personality and I realized I didn’t want to work for someone like that. For them it may have been my nail in the coffin for a job it turned out I wasn’t that interested in.

    I am a Recruiter now and I carry that experience into all of my interviews I conduct. I try my best to make people welcome and comfortable and treat it as more of a conversation than a high pressure situation. I find most people do give honest answers in this setting instead.

    1. Joel January 16, 2022 at 11:32 AM

      Hey Nicole, THANK YOU for this. It’s nice to hear that you consider how the other side is feeling. I hope more recruiters follow suit! I’ve had some very comfortable interviews in the past and can tell you that I open up WAY more when the people asking questions are understanding, welcoming, and real people! Thank you again :)