Ask anybody if it’s acceptable to lie at a job interview and you’ll probably get an emphatic “no.” But while most job seekers don’t pad their resumes with imaginary jobs, the white lie is another matter.
“Job seekers often lie and interviewers expect this,” says freelance resume writer Alex Soto. “However, the level of ‘lie’ can make or break the interview.”
CNBC.com spoke with employers, human resource directors, and headhunters and asked them if there are lies told in the course of job interviews that are acceptable. Some of their responses might surprise you.
“Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”
Job interviewers often ask two types of questions. The first is a screening question that determines a candidate’s skills. The second is asked not for the content of the answer, but to observe how the candidate responds. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is such a question.
“These questions serve to demonstrate how you think and if you have any hot buttons. The good interviewer is looking at your body language,” says Kathy Simmons, CEO of the executive job search site NETSHARE.
This question can’t be answered honestly anyway, according to career coach Darrell Gurney. “Nobody knows where they will be in five years. Taking a job is like marriage vows on the part of both employee and employer — you state your intentions, and then you just give it your best shot.”
“What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”
When asked about their greatest weakness, candidates often reply with a canned response such as, “I work too hard” or “I’m a perfectionist.” Employers don’t ask this question to hear how well you can turn a negative into a positive, however. “The question is asked to see how you think on your feet and if you have good judgment,” according to career coach Roy Cohen.
Career coach Darrell Gurney agrees. “Just about every hiring manager and HR person has heard those types of answers. They are looking for people to be aware of their real weaknesses, yet like it when the weakness is followed by a self-generated solution,” he says. So if you’re going to say that you work too hard, be prepared to say what precautions you’ve taken to address it.
“What Are Your Salary Requirements?”
Some job applicants hedge when asked about salary requirements. After all, who wants to scare away a potential employer with an unreasonably high demand?
“I think it's acceptable to lie about how much salary you’re expecting,” says Frank D. Wolson, regional sales director of Vision Healthcare Services. “After the candidate comes up with a number, this starts the negotiating phase. I think both the candidate and the employer should know not to expect the original quote.”
Lying during a job interview is still a risky proposition, whether the interviewer is expecting it or not. Employment attorney William E. Hannum III of Schwartz Hannum is quick to note that such dishonesty can carry consequences.
“I think that any lie on an issue of fact is a huge mistake,” he says. “It could be a basis for termination of employment, and a red flag in the hiring process. If I know an applicant has lied I won't hire the applicant. Period.”