5 Things Never to Lie About in a Job Interview

Job interviews are intensely stressful occasions. If you really want the job, the stakes are also incredibly high—you might feel that a single mistake could cost you the chance at landing the position of a lifetime.

Given all that pressure, you might be tempted to, well, fudge your accomplishments and background a little bit. By inflating your projects’ outcomes and maybe adding a few years of experience, you figure, you’ll triumph over other candidates. And what the interviewer doesn’t know won’t hurt them, right?

Wrong.

Although the Internet is jammed with stories of people who successfully lied during their job interviews and got away with it, lying is a risky strategy with huge repercussions. And as social networks surface more and more information, and recruiting tools that dig into candidates’ histories become more and more sophisticated, it’ll become easier to bring those lies to light.

In other words, you shouldn’t lie during job interviews. There are better ways to put your best capabilities and experiences on display. Here are some specific things you definitely shouldn’t fib about:

Your Education

Tempted to say that you finished a degree when you really haven’t? This is one of the easiest lies to uncover, as there are lots of background-check services such as the National Student Clearinghouse that can help verify degrees and enrollment.

And even if you lie and get away with it during the job interview, there’s every chance you might get caught later. You never know when you might run into a co-worker or client who attended your school or program. This is a huge, ticking time bomb. 

When in doubt, just be honest about your education. At the moment, big tech firms such as Apple and IBM seem to care less about formal degrees and certifications if you can demonstrate that you have the necessary skills.

Your Accomplishments

During the job-interview process, the interviewer will no doubt ask you about previous projects. Again, it’s tempting to inflate your accomplishments—or even make up new ones. Sure, you worked on that project to port your former company’s app to Android—and your work almost singlehandedly guaranteed that user engagement shot up eleventy-billion percent quarter-over-quarter.

You might figure it’s hard for a prospective employer to check out your claims in detail. In the relatively insular world of tech, you’d be wrong. Hiring managers, recruiters, and team leaders generally have large networks; it’s easy for them to shoot an email or phone a friend and ask: “Hey, did this person really do what they said they did?”

The other issue: If you’re hired on the strength of false accomplishments, your new company will expect you to exhibit similar performance. Get ready to boost those engagement numbers by eleventy-billion percent, sucker!

What You’re Being Paid

Talking about salary is one of the trickiest parts of your job interview. An interviewer or recruiter will often ask you, flat out, what you’re making right now. It’s best to offer a range, or tell them that your salary is “competitive with the industry.” But inflating the number is a really bad idea.

“I make a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year,” you might tell the interviewer, even though you make ninety thousand dollars annually, because you want them to offer you an even higher amount of money. (This example is extreme, but stick with us.) The problem is simple: Hiring managers and recruiters spend all of their time examining the tech industry, and they know what other companies pay. If you offer a number well outside the standard range (which hopefully you are being paid), they’ll know you’re lying.

As to why you’d purposefully deflate your salary… well, there’s no reason to do that. With the tech industry at historically low unemployment, companies are ready and willing to pay a premium for all kinds of tech talent, which means you don’t need to lowball yourself (or lie about it).

What You Love to Do

It’s important to use interview time to break down your passions and goals. However, telling the interviewer that you love something you don’t really like, just because you think it’ll boost your chances of actually landing the gig, can quickly result in disaster.

Let’s say the job demands someone proficient in QA and squishing bugs. Although you’ve always hated that part of the development process, you spend a big chunk of the job interview saying how much you love finding and destroying all kinds of software vulnerabilities—it’s the best! And let’s say the interviewer, pleased by your bug-whacking prowess, decides to hire you. That’s great—until the company decides to put you on a heavy bug-hunting/QA detail. Suddenly you’re trapped doing something you hate.

Whether You Were Fired

This is a spectacularly tricky one. If your job interviewer asks you, flat out, if you were fired from your last job, don’t lie. Yes, previous employers will often tell a recruiter or hiring manager only your dates of employment, and not the reason why you left (they’re afraid of lawsuits—no company wants to face accusations of blackballing former employees). But your prospective employer could still find out the reasons for your termination from any number of sources, including employee networks.

If you’re asked whether you were fired, you might panic. It’s important to keep control, though, and don’t come off as defensive. Say that you weren’t a good fit for your last organization, that you learned some good lessons, and that you’re ready to move on. Take special care to not say anything negative during your job interview about former bosses or co-workers, no matter how badly you might want to; it’ll only reflect badly on you.

12 Responses to “5 Things Never to Lie About in a Job Interview”

  1. James Igoe

    Some items aren’t quite so easy to answer, and I am not advocating lying, but sometimes the truth might require one being cautious with one’s words, particularly when no one is asking for a yes or no answer, but more of an explanation as to why the role ended.

    A case in point:

    I had been working at a financial house for 5 years, and to one point was told multiple times I was being promoted, in that case, a lead or architect role. When the time came to receive a new pay packet, i.e., pay, bonus, and promotion, I received a 25% bonus for the second year in a row, but no promotion. At that point I decided to leave, preparing for interviews. Six months later, being the 3rd quarter, I put off interviews until the next year, but as the end of the year approached, I was informed of a performance improvement plan (PIP), usually the first step before one is fired. I kicked my interview process into high gear – at least 15 companies interviewed me on site – but was still without a new job by the time I signed my termination agreement, one amounting to 6 months severance.

    In such a situation, I don’t know why I was let go, so I did the best I could to explain what I thought happened. Was it my competence, my age, my politics – a liberal surrounded by Trump supporters – my connections, or lack of them? Who knows. My agile management skills in Jira were better than anyone else on the team, and the Jira team itself would come to me on how to do dashboards. The number of tickets I completed or pushed through the system was the highest for the team. My code quality as judged by the companies automated systems SonarQube, as well as my coding knowledge by various tests, was better than most. My original manager had gone off to China to manage startups but wound up managing a startup fund. His manager was being pushed out slowly, an ever-decreasing circle of responsibility.

    My explanation, when prompted, was that management changed. The people that had hired me and appreciated me had left or were being subsumed by new managers. It’s simply true, and that was the best explanation of the situation that I could provide. I soon afterward found a role with a company that is highly rated on Glassdoor that pays about the same but with generous benefits. I sleep better, walk to work, and I enjoy my day.

    • Sondra Menthers

      If a person does not get a format “exit interview” and they are a contractor, and they see several people around them being told their contracts will not be renewed, and they see several permanent employees moving to other departments, I think it is prudent to just say that the organization had a restructuring. It is certainly not lying, and in no way reflects on a person’s performance. This is exactly what just happened to me less than two weeks ago.

  2. Hi what would you call people who fake experience but can get the job done in order to get an H1b sponsor. They say everyone knows that the candidate is lying but still want him for his contract position and the pay rate he accepts. Your thoughts on the same?is it wise to say a white lie for the greater selfish and selfless good of the future ?

  3. Madison Whittenour

    Regarding being terminated… I was term due to what I later learned was a stroke. And apparently I was “unprofessional” during that time. Nobody called an ambulance. I don’t want to answer a bunch of questions, but the “I wasn’t a good fit” answer doesn’t fly when you have been at the same company for 25 years. What does one say? I believe I am being blackballed and I believe the HR people do talk to each other. If I were a hiring manager, I would be afraid of me having another medical “incident”. Yes, I have spoken to an attorney and applied for disability. I have no memory of what happened. How would one answer if asked directly if they were fired?

  4. Getting fired in past jobs can seem tough to maneuver in interviews, but it is not as bad as it may seem. Unless you purposefully harmed your previous company or did something illegal, then you only got fired for something non-harmful, such as performance, etc. That is such a vague measurement because if new management doesn’t “click” with you, they can find a way to cut you based on whatever they want. They can even fire you for no reason at all. Explaining that with a clean conscious is as simple as “there was new management and I knew it was time to leave even before they let me go”. If other people were let go too, you can even go so far as to call it a “lay off” or “reorganization”. Most companies have a policy that they do not confirm the reason why you left, they too understand that they can’t make a bigger deal out of it than it was. I’ve been fired because the new manager didn’t like that I didn’t sign up for the office potluck. No joke. “We’re looking for team players here” she said as she escorted me out of the building. Employers on both ends know that getting fired does not necessarily make you bad. That was over a decade ago, I have a great job now, but I still don’t sign up for the potluck that often. 🙂

  5. Dennis Taylor

    Rather than try to remember 5 things to not lie about – how about remembering ONE thing: Do not lie at all. But, frame your responses in a way that gives you and the interviewer room to explore the topic more fully if necessary.

    • Glenn Glazer

      Exactly, Dennis. The headline implies that there are things that one should or can lie about. Moral and ethical considerations aside, those things always catch up to a person, so the smart move is to stick with the truth.

  6. Thomas Quinn

    Your age?

    Oh, they want “experience” and then the recruiter’s brain splits in two, because she/he is delusional about age discrimination. The hiring manager wants 10-15+ years of experience, but not an “old guy.” So it goes…

    Q1.) Have you actually done a bare knuckles, start up, on the shop floor as the info/data/realtime integration lead?”

    A 1.): Well yeah, that’s what I have on my resume’, as I submitted. We were bolting / qualifying a Java/C, +, ++ or whatever chunk of middleware.

    (Yes, Virginia, it really did first order and second order diffs, and Fourier Calcs in real-time on the current time minus 45 mins.)

    And yes, before you ask, it actually and really works. I got a good reference.

    I will not give you her cell # until I see some skin in the game.

    Q2.) What year did you graduate from BigLittle State, Catholic, Islamic, On-line, whatever, College / University?

    A2.) Well, technically, I’m still at two of them, as a graduate fellow / visiting lecturer. Weird, but they both seem to think that giving me another “Dr, of something” keeps me coming back. ??

    Actually, they get great DOE grants, and they have all of the latest-and-greatest instrument setups of anywhere. Kid in a candy store stuff. Yes, I’m going for the gear.

    But, back to the post.

    Yes, age discrimination happens. To quote Phil Collins – “All of the time.”

    (Generation-specific reference there.)

    Recommended LIES:

    Take all of your dates / jobs / awards / publications / degrees and run a 20 years’ plus macro on the Excel of your C.V. Then, make a new sheet and do the +20 mod DateTime values on the new “cheat sheet” on them. Make note of the responses / callbacks to the new, younger, you. Watch the please-call-backs, we’re-interested touches you’ll get them.

    Hey, good luck. Sorry, but the computer-assisted, key/started/DOB algo in the resume harvester will spit you quicker than a peach pit.

    • Of course, they cannot ask your age. They can look at your graduation dates and calculate and estimate.
      And then when we make ourselves younger and get called for all of those interviews, a lot of us will need hair/beard/mustache coloring, “shaping” undergarmets, and botox. 🙂

      And BTW, who’s writing the article about what you CAN lie about? 🙂