It is an undisputed fact that honesty in job interviews is a basic prerequisite for any applicant.
How much honesty is the right amount in a job interview?
Ultimately, in an interview scenario you should be honest in presenting your background and skills but do so in a way that accentuates your strong points and deals with any potential concerns effectively.
In this blog we’ll cover areas such as shaping the story of your career into a convincing narrative, using language intelligently to do this, and conveying negatives honestly but not to your detriment.
1. Create a narrative around your career
Interviews often start with an open question asking for a bit of background on you and your career. This is particularly true of startup job interviews, which tend to be less structured and more of a conversation.
This is a great opportunity to mould the facts of your career into a narrative that paints a clear picture of where you are coming from.
A well thought-through timeline of your progression through roles gives a real sense that you have taken charge of your professional life and have a clear understanding of your own ability and where you are heading – even if at times this wasn’t entirely the case.
Start at the beginning, succinctly explain each role and your key achievements, and give a brief reason why you moved on (if you don’t, the person asking the questions will). Ensure you demonstrate how each role has built on the last, and finally explain how the job for which you are applying fits with this advancement.
2. Be prepared to volunteer negatives
It’s important not just to gloss over any negatives in your career. Tackling them head on gives you a chance to prove your ability to learn and improve as well as cementing the sense that you are being candid with the interviewer.
Naturally, you should reveal negatives which are non-critical to the job; a soft skill is usually best. Picking something meaningful but not crucial allows you to demonstrate self-awareness and also gives you the chance to show how you are trying to improve yourself.
Things like organisation, dealing with stress, even socialising with colleagues – these are all things which are reasonable to admit to being less than perfect at and allow you to be honest without undermining your entire application.
3. Use intelligent phrasing
The language you use in a job interviews goes a long way to shaping someone’s impression of you and your experience. This is true of both positives and negatives.
Using hyperbolic language when discussing your achievements is a sure-fire way to arouse scepticism and undermine what could be your strongest selling points. Avoid attaching judgement to your own experience, even if you are proud of what you have done, and let the results speak for themselves. If you describe something as ‘amazing’, ‘unbelievable’, or ‘incredible’ you are likely to provoke doubt in the interviewer’s mind. Describe your actions and the results and let them join the dots.
Equally, dwelling on areas where you have come up short, even if you have been asked to describe such an occasion, will do you no favours. Pick something and succinctly explain the issue, then elaborate in detail on what you learnt and how you have subsequently improved. Leave a positive note in the employer’s mind at the end of a difficult question, rather than a detailed explanation of your failings.
4. Show some character
The aim of a job interview is not to hide what you are like as a person and interviewers want to see what you are like as a human. After all you will be spending five days a week with them and it’s important for both parties there is a cultural fit – particularly in startups.
If you fail to engage with someone interviewing you on a personal level, even if that’s just small talk, you will at best sound robotic and at worst come across as cold.
Nevertheless, who you are as a person outside of work doesn’t necessarily equate to what you are like in professional surroundings. Therefore be sensible about how much character you show and be wary of being too ‘matey’ with the interviewer, even if they seem relaxed.
Engage, be warm and friendly, but do not be tempted to treat them like a friend – with all that entails about topics of conversation and openness.
5. Nothing says honesty better than facts and figures
Every argument is strengthened by objective statistics.
Whenever you are talking about previous experience, particularly particular successes you have had, be clear on what the results were in quantifiable form.
If you start straying into filler language or try to fill silences with bluster, you betray a lack of candour or a lack of knowledge of what you have achieved.
Know the key metrics around your previous work and ideally show how they improved under your guidance. If you are unsure, find another example.
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