Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lying by Omission: Another Interview Killer

Hi Everybody!  I hope that all is well!  Things are going great here in Iowa! We continue to adapt nicely to the zone defense of two parents to three kids and I finally feel like I’m back in the swing of things at work.  Before I get started on today’s topic I thought I’d share another picture of Kai!  I’m totally that sappy dad and love the fact we get superhero onesies…

I’m also pleased to announce that we are welcoming one more addition to our family in early June.  Right before we had Kai, our family dog, Neo, passed away unexpectedly.  He was eight years old and had a great life.  Apparently I don’t think that a newborn is enough work because I somehow talked my wonderful wife into letting me put a deposit down on a new puppy.  The litter was born two weeks ago and this guy is coming home with us in just a month!

Now on to the important stuff.  There are many rules that you need to follow when looking for a job.  Follow directions, wear a suit, don’t lie on your resume or in the interview.  Most of these are pretty basic.  However, there are other areas that don’t seem so black and white.  One of them is lying by omission.  I’ve worked with several people that have had situations in there past that they didn’t want to broadcast.  They have ranged from being fired, to resigning over a silly issue, to education qualifications to a criminal background.  In each of these situations the candidates either were never directly asked about the situation and thus never shared it or only shared part of the truth when asked. 

For instance, I had a candidate that lost his job due to a drunk driving conviction.  He was very unhappy anyway and was in the process of looking for a new job in a different location for family reasons.  In an interview he was asked why he was moving to the area and he shared his family reasons and moved on.  Over the course of a reference check the company found out that he was fired for the offense and they decided to take a pass.  The company later confided in me that they probably could have overlooked it had it been disclosed and if it weren’t a surprise.  The candidate was really upset – “But I didn’t lie about he said – it just never came up.”  At that point  I didn’t feel like pouring salt on his wounds but he did lie – just by omission.

This brings up a really critical question.  If you have a black spot on your career that you aren’t proud of are you obligated to share it?  I know that this won’t sit well with most of you but in many cases you should.  Here’s the reason.  If you are up front about an issue and get ahead of it you have the potential to control it.  The two outcomes from doing this are either the company accepts it and moves on with the interview or they stop the process immediately.  The benefit is that if they accept it and move on you will mostly likely never have to worry about it again even if the issue is exposed in a reference, background check or even a casual conversation.

However, if you lie by omission you certainly might increase your opportunity of moving along in the interview process.  However, you run a bigger risk that when the indiscretion comes to light it moves from the molehill territory to a mountain.  The reason?  It will be a surprise, the company will feel lied to and it will hurt your reputation.  In cases of lying by omission I’ve seen the following outcomes:
  • Person was fired six months in after the indiscretion came to light
  • Offer was rescinded after references or background check
  • Company decided not to make an offer after running an internet search
  • Company shut down interview process after talking to trusted industry source that shared gossip

What kinds of things can be exposed that you might choose to omit?  Believe it or not, you can find almost anything about anyone on the internet or through industry contacts.  If you were fired or arrested there is a good chance it will come out.  The same thing goes for a short term job that you left off of your resume.  For some reason this stuff always seems to come to light when you least expect it or when it hurts the most.    

So the real questions are:

How do I know if I should share it?
This one is really hard and fairly subjective.  I would use a couple of rules of thumb.  The first one is:  “Is it really embarrassing and do you think it will hurt your chances for employment?”  If the answer is yes then you need to share it as the damage will be much worse if it comes out later.  The second one is: “Is it likely that they will find out about it?”  Let me get this out right now – if you Google your name and the issue pops up on the first three pages of the search – you need to share it.  Similarly if it will definitely show up on a background check.  It gets a little murkier if it is a case of being fired that wouldn’t be publicized.  The thing is that this information typically gets out second hand and usually sounds much worse than how you would spin it.  I’d get ahead of it

How do  I share it?
This is really hard.  Nobody likes to talk about their mistakes.  Especially when they are super painful and when you continue to live with the consequences.   I don’t have any magic words that will make this easier.  However, I can give some tips.  First, just be honest about it and don’t sugarcoat it.  Think about the drunk driving situation.  Here is how not to handle it:

“Unfortunately, I got let go because I had a really, small indiscretion.  I was out drinking with my buddies and I got busted.  It’s too bad because I wasn’t that drunk and the company had to let me go – even though they didn’t’ want to…”

This is wrong for so many reasons.  First, they don’t seem to feel bad about it.  Second, they minimize the situation.  Let me tell you this.  Getting fired or arrested is a big deal.  You have to treat it this way.  Here is a better way to handle it:

“I feel that I need to be upfront with you about my departure from my last job.  My family and I are looking to move to the area for personal reasons. Part of this stems from why I left my last job.  A couple of months ago I made a really big mistake.  I was arrested for drunk driving and one of the many consequences was that I was let go.  It might sound corny, but I feel horrible about this and it has caused me  to reevaluate my life and my priorities.  I understand the gravity of this and wanted to make sure you heard about this from me instead of from a background check or other source.  Can I answer any questions about it for you?

Don’t think for one second that I think that this is an easy conversation.  In fact, it sounds really, really unpleasant.  However, I think it would be less unpleasant than:

a)      constantly looking over your shoulder and waiting for a conversation that may never come
b)      Losing your dream job at the last minute because the issue comes to light
c)      Being confronted about the issue.

So that’s my thought for this week.  What do you guys think?  Please don’t hesitate to leave a message below or email me at!

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