Lying ≠ Interview Technique

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I’ve always been horrible at interviews.

When I was 12, I was really good at interviews. I wasn’t scared of anything really, I was happy, I didn’t know what was going on around me. I went to an interview at a school. The nice man wanted to ask me questions and I talked for forty minutes in an uninhibited flow.

Then I went to senior school and became completely inhibited. Hormones, money, class, society, homework, books, sports, girls, hormones. All this stuff I had no idea about chased me around the streets like killer whales hunting a seal pup. I was confused, the ice was melting underneath me and I wanted to talk in an uninhibited flow.

Instead I had to conform. To succeed in exams. To do well in sports. To aim for positions of authority. To commit myself 100% to the things that were asked of me, regardless of whether I was asking them of myself.

In short, I thought I had to be what other people expected of me.

I went from being happy go lucky, interview winning extrovert, to hormone addled, socially conscious, terrified introvert who only wanted to get on in life and thought he had to jump through all the hoops to get there.

I failed my interview for Oxford. Basically I lied. “What newspapers do you read?” I didn’t read any. “The Times.” Seemed acceptable. “Which journalists do you like?” “Jeremy Bowen — he does the Middle East stuff on BBC Breakfast.” I didn’t know any others. “What do you think are the biggest threats to peace in the Middle East.” People shooting each other and blowing each other up. I didn’t say.

Around five minutes later I was allowed to go outside to put the flames out.

I didn’t get in. I lied. I got found out. If I had been honest, maybe I would have got in. I didn’t.

I went to Durham University instead. They didn’t care how much I lied. In fact they didn’t ask me for an interview, maybe they had heard how bad I was at them.

I read English Literature and Arabic at Durham. Eventually, it became clear I would have to get a job. I applied to a big UK government agency. I still thought interview technique was essentially lying. I had no idea what the big UK government agency wanted to hear from me. So I guessed. I sounded stupid, stupid, stupid. Two hours later, they sent me home cut into tiny ribbons of honesty for me to sew back together. My big old hot air balloon was thoroughly deflated. Slashed through the middle you might say.

I lied throughout that interview. I told them what I thought they wanted to hear in relation to every answer I gave. They saw straight through me, and they cut me to shreds.

Eventually, I put myself back together. I went to an interview in a law firm. The partner who interviewed me liked to stay silent and roll his pen around the desk to see how candidates reacted. The ones who wanted to second guess him always started talking uncomfortable rubbish. The truthsayers stay silent or change the conversation. I chatted away for forty minutes and didn’t really notice.

The truth is a kind of confidence that comes from within. If you aren’t confident, you can hang on to the truth and no one can take it away from you.

Since that awful interview, I’ve never lied in another interview, and I have never failed one either.

That’s right. I told the truth in every job interview I’ve ever had since I was torn to shreds by the UK government agency and since then, I’ve never failed a job interview. (I should point out that I’ve applied to plenty of jobs and not made it to interview, but I’ve had a 100% hit rate post interview with the companies who didn’t discard me before then).


Not because I am a good candidate (I’m not).

  • because employers value honesty more than 100% accuracy — i.e. if you make a mistake you’ll own up to it and sort it out, rather than trying to cover it up
  • because honesty = integrity
  • because interview technique ≠ lying
  • because if you make it to an interview, the person probably wants to hire you (yes you) unless you turn out to be a liar
  • because the interviewer already knows a lot about you before they have invited you to interview and they still want to meet you so you don’t have to lie to impress them
  • if you have to lie to get a job, you probably don’t want the job
  • no one wants to work with a liar

Next time you are going to an interview, think twice about telling anything but the truth. (That means if you don’t know the answer say something like, “I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that, but I can look it up and let you know.” etc.)

The truth is like a big scary bubble that spins up around you and never pops. You can fly pretty high if you hang on to it. And when you get there, the danger of falling is infinitely lessened.

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