Interviews are no laughing matter. Without question, they’re serious business and their outcomes have a profound impact on peoples’ lives. So while my tendency to refer to them as a “game” may seem a tad bit too cavalier, at times, it’s also hard to deny that a healthy degree of gamesmanship takes place during almost every interview scenario. The employer you’re chatting with, in most cases, is working hard to convince you that they’re an absolutely marvelous place to work — and you, the eager candidate, are simultaneously trying to convince the employer that you’re a “rock star” in whatever particular field you happen to work in.
Sound familiar? Would you agree that both sides of these conversations usually try to put their best foot forward — and that in most cases, each party is likely omitting at least a few warts, details, and factoids as they go through the mutual courtship ritual?
That’s where the “game” aspect of interviewing comes in. You’ve got to learn to play this game properly, at least if you expect to significantly improve your success rate in this critical area of the job hunting process. You must embrace the fact that interviewing is all about selling positive perceptions, and that ultimately, the eventual reality of things (on both sides) may turn out to be a little less rosy than initially expected. That’s okay. That’s just the way the process works — and more or less always has when one embarks on the dating process with an employer. Companies almost always fail to mention things like internal politics, funding problems, and pending lawsuits when they’re seeking to add new people to their team — and candidates, well, I’d reckon that at least one or two employers over the years have discovered that the people they’ve hired turned out to have exaggerated their capabilities at least a wee bit.
So while you definitely shouldn’t fabricate things outright during an interview, or make ridiculous claims you can’t back up, it’s equally dangerous to assume that absolute full disclosure is required on your part, either. If you disagree with this, and believe that integrity dictates you must disclose every single nuance of your background to a prospective employer, I’d point out that this notion — while admirable — is a logical impossibility. There simply isn’t time for both sides to share everything they possibly could about each other. A certain amount of editing always takes place. After all, you’re not planning to march in there and say “Hi! I’m an accountant with CPA credentials, 20 years of experience, and a really nagging hemorrhoid that just won’t go away” are you? Boy, I hope not. Errors of omission can be a very good thing, at times.
If and when you embrace this premise, it will free you up to focus on “selling hope” (see a previous post of mine here) and allow you to paint the most positive picture you can of the results you can achieve for the organization. This positive future vision is what employers are actually buying, after all. They want to hear that you can solve all of their problems, make them a ton of money, and make their life a great deal easier than it is now. Many job seekers, however, choke big time when it comes to creating these kinds of perceptions. When asked what they might be able to accomplish for the organization, they pepper their statements with weak qualifiers like “Well, I suppose that I might be able to…” or “Gee, perhaps that might be possible, but X/Y/Z would need to be in place and we’d just have to see…”
Top candidates almost never engage in this form of self-sabotage. They don’t prostrate themselves, qualify their answers, or shy away from making bold claims about their capabilities. But at the same time, they don’t lie, either. They play the game — and confidently state what they know they’re capable of achieving in a perfect world or based on the information they currently have available. As a result, you’ll hear them making statements such as the following:
“Unless I’m missing something, it seems like I’ll easily be able to knock XYZ problem out of the park within 90 days…”
“Based on what you’ve shared so far, I’m positive I could get XYZ done for you in record time…”
“If I understand the situation correctly, I’m extremely confident I’ve got the skills to accomplish XYZ for you…”
See the trick? All you have to do, to maintain your integrity in these situations, is insert an opening clause that covers your rear in the event an employer is NOT being straight with you about the real challenges, pressures, or constraints of the job at hand. If they choose to hold out on you, and not give you accurate or relevant information about the realities you’d be facing, that’s not your problem. It’s theirs. After all, would it be fair for a company to ask a sales professional how much revenue he or she felt they could produce, while neglecting to mention that the company’s product has major flaws? Or that there would be no admin support available? Or that the person’s sales efforts would be restricted to a certain territory? Sadly, these types of omissions happen all the time in my experience, and I’d say that it’s the norm — not the exception — that people land jobs and then discover that the hiring manager chose to omit a few pertinent facts from the discussion. So if a company opts not give you the real scoop on the situation at hand, so that you can give them a thoughtful, accurate, and well-considered answer about what you can really accomplish for them, then you’ve got the green light (at least from my perspective) to portray your capabilities in their most flattering and optimistic possible light.
Love it or hate it, that’s just how the game works. A healthy amount of posturing inevitably takes place on both sides, so don’t be a martyr and feel you have to always operate in the spirit of full disclosure — or sell yourself short by being afraid to make persuasive, powerful claims about your capabilities. If a more conscientious company chooses to open up, share some warts, and give you a truly honest assessment of the situation you’d be facing, then you certainly can return the favor and provide them with a more candid and conservative assessment of your capabilities. Until then, let the games begin!