We interviewed Elly Johnson, an expert in truth dilemmas, as a part of our Job Interviews Series. In this Four-Part Interview, Elly sets the stage by explaining how truth and lies live in the workplace. She guides job searchers in ways to handle the question, "why did you leave your last job?" when the real answer may scare you to disclose. She offers some helpful ways to explain gaps or quick changes in employment, and some questions to ask your interviewer to encourage honesty on all sides. Learn from this truth and deception expert how you can encourage more truth from others, accurately read behavior, and spot signs of deception early.
MAC- What do you see out there in the market and the employers that you work with? You have some statistics about how many people lie in interview situations, can you share that?
Elly - There are so many studies that have been done on how often we lie, how often we lie in a day, some of the studies say that we lie up to three times in 10 minutes in general conversations. Some of the studies around lying in resumes and job applications show between 30 and 40% of people are lying. According to some of the reliable studies, 18% of people in these studies think it's necessary to lie on a resume, they think, “I have to lie on it because other people are, "and if I don't, I'll miss out."
They actually start with putting falsehoods in their letter or their resume, then they get to the interview situation, and they've got to back that up, and now they've got to think, what did I say previously, or what did I put in my application, and then they're stuck in a truth dilemma again. If it is an interviewer that can read behavior, they're going to pick up that you're not completely truthful. Coming from a position of truth as much as you can is a better place to start.
I coached one guy a few years ago, and he asked for some help with his resume, and he had his resume pulled apart. There were six months that he wasn't working, and he said, "Look, I've got this six-month gap here, "but I can't leave that on my resume "because employers don't like that, "I won't get a job if they see "I wasn't working for six months." So I said, "What were you doing?" He said, "I just needed a timeout, I was a couch potato, "I was watching Netflix for six months." He said, "But it's okay, I've got it sorted. What I'm going to do is say that I finished that last job a whole lot later and then my brother's got an accounting business, and I'm going to say that I was working for him for a few months, and he said he'd back me up and give a reference on that as well." He was going to put a whole lot of nonsense in his resume. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Ah, no, you have to, you have to." I said, "Sorry, I don't think I can help you, "I can't coach you with that if that's your approach." So, I let him do it by himself.
MAC- What are the tips that you would give someone who faces that exact situation, and they had a gap in employment?
Elly - We're human, everybody has stuff happening in their life, and if you can approach an interview and a job application be authentic and transparent and say in an interview, "You will notice that there is a six-month gap on my resume. Now, I don't want to go into detail of what I was doing there, but actually, in that time, I did some learning, or I did some growing, or I did some healing, and I've come out the other side a lot better." Whatever it is, you don't have to be ashamed of it, it's just reality. Being authentic and being transparent and being honest and being truthful can be refreshing for the person on the receiving end of it. You say "Hey, you know, this is a two-way interview. I want to interview you as much as you want to interview me, I want to make sure that I'm right for this job and this job is right for me, and to do that, I want to be really authentic and transparent, and I hope that you'll be the same." That can be a different sort of mindset to go into an interview.
MAC- For the person who finds themselves in a job, and they don't have a gap, but the position they took, the one that they thought was just great turns out not to be, and they end up leaving quickly. What about that situation?
Elly - I've got a friend she said, "I took this job about a month ago, and it's doing my head in, I hate it. It's nothing like I thought it was going to be." Now, a couple of things out of that. One, they lied to her about the job and she, on reflection, realizes that she hardly asked any questions. She was so desperate for that job, and she thought it was fantastic, she just sat there and told them all the great things about her but didn't ask any questions about the job. Now she's in this job, she hates it, regrets leaving her last job, but doesn't know what to do. She says, "That's gonna look awful on my resume, I can't tell my references that the job didn't work out, because they gave nice feedback about me to this company.” So she's getting her head all screwed up because of this, and I slowed her down and said, "Whoa, okay, put the brakes on."
Death happens sometimes, and that's a stepping stone to something better. It's okay, take what you can from it, learn from what you can from it, and that is how to perform better in the interview, to ask better questions. Because she didn't ask them anything, and she could have found out quite a lot about the culture of the organization, about the actual job, about the specifics of it, if she had have asked better questions, rather than allow questions to come her way. In that next job, be honest with it, be transparent and say, "I went for this job, it didn't turn out to be the job I wanted, and I didn't want to stay anywhere that didn't work for me, and I didn't work for them." That's refreshing, and that's precisely the truth, but she got herself in a big twist and made it into something it wasn't.
Looking for truth in your life at work?
Make sure to check out all four parts of our powerful interview with Elly Johnson: