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So, Who's Lying Now?

Hiring managers and recruiters often accuse job candidates of lying on their resumes and during interviews.  When they make these accusations, they're implying that they don't lie.  But after two decades in the recruiting industry from both the company and candidate sides of the desk, I know that the majority of untruths come from the employer side.

Recruiters like to use this riddle: "How do you know when a candidate is lying? Answer: "Their lips are moving."  Recruiters learn quickly that some candidates lie and others tell the truth.  It's difficult to tell the difference, so recruiters assume everyone lies unless a candidate's actions are aligned with their words.

During interviews, candidates are more credible when they provide specific examples of their experience to validate their claims.  For example, candidates who state they are "creative problem solvers" are unlikely to be believed unless they back up their claims with examples of when they used creativity to solve difficult problems.

So, a recruiter uses a candidate's actions to separate fact from fiction, and truth from deception.

But lying (and half-truths) can go the other way, and job candidates can use their own "lie detector" to determine when hiring managers or HR representatives are lying during the job search process. The most frequent lies include:

  • We found a stronger candidate.
  • We have a few more interviews and will call you in two weeks.
  • We'll call you in two days.
  • We are still very interested in you, but not ready to make an offer.

Here's what these statements really mean:

STATEMENT: "We found a stronger candidate."
MEANING: We did not like you as much as we liked someone else.

STATEMENT: "We have a few more interviews and will call you in two weeks."
MEANING: We think we can find someone better, or We're afraid to reject you so we'll just ignore your future messages until you go away.

STATEMENT:  "We'll call you in two days." 
MEANING: If they don't call in two days they're either dealing with something unexpected or looking for someone they like more.

STATEMENT: "We are still very interested in you, but not ready to make an offer."
MEANING: They are trying to keep you interested in case they don't find someone else they like more.

I spoke similar half-truths when I was a young corporate recruiter. What I said and what I actually meant were different.  After several months, I found ways to be more truthful without increasing the legal risk to the company. I began telling candidates the truth when I knew they were not getting hired.  Many times, I knew a candidate was not getting the offer even before he or she finished the first round of interviews.  In those situations, I told the candidates that we would not extend offers, and I was as specific as possible with my reasons why.  For example, I once told a manufacturing engineer he was not getting an offer because he didn't have the level of required expertise in a particular set of technologies. He wasn't surprised, and he gave me the name of a colleague who was an expert in that area.  We ended up hiring the person he recommended and we stayed in touch with the original candidate, hoping to find a position suitable for his talents. It's remarkable how people react when we treat each other as the peers we really are.

Searching for work can be frustrating, yet the most maddening part is being lied to and having your email and voice messages ignored by recruiters, hiring managers, HR, and others.

Job seekers (and we are all job seekers at many points in our careers) can create relief from the madness by analyzing a company's actions to separate the truth from the lies. If the company is saying it's very interested but not returning your calls, just assume they're not interested and forget them.

How do you insulate yourself from job search lies? How do you know when a company is lying?

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