Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
How honest and open should you be in an interview?
For example, yesterday I had an in-person interview where both my interviewers were concerned that the job would not be a good match for my interests and skills. I deflected their concern at first, then later admitted that I shared it. Do you think it's problematic to do something like this in an interview?
I have taken your advice to heart re: "interviewing the interviewer" and am always keen to avoid the feeling of "I'll take anything, even if I hate it" desperation. I have enough friends who loathe their jobs that I want to be cautious.
However, in this economy I've been told by a lot of people not to be picky about these things and to be grateful for any job that's offered to me at all. Financially, I do need to take a job soon, but will probably do per diem work/retail/something similar until I find a job that's a good fit. What are your thoughts?
It depends on what your goal is. If your goal is to find a job that you'll do well at and be happy in, then yes, you should be fairly open in interviews. After all, that's part of how you screen for fit -- on both sides.
If you conceal information about your strengths, weaknesses, work habits, and goals from your interviewer, then there's a pretty high risk of ending up in a job that's wrong for you. You'll increase your chances of all kinds of bad outcomes: being miserable, dreading coming into work each day, not being able to perform well or outright struggling, being perceived as a low or mediocre performer (which in turn can affect your reputation long after you've left the job), and even getting fired.
But certainly there are times when someone doesn't have the luxury of worrying so much about fit; they just need a job. So what do you do in that case?
You still don't throw caution to the wind and claim to be an expert statistician when you just took one stats course in college, or talk up your amazing Excel skills when you've only entered data into spreadsheets. In other words, you don't lie. But you might choose to be more circumspect about how much you share of the truth. In your example of admitting that the job probably wasn't a good match for your interests and skills -- well, in most situations, that's going to be a deal-breaker. Employers want to hire people with the right skills, obviously, and they also want to hire people who seem interested in the work -- and in this market, there's no shortage of people who qualify. So if you don't want to take yourself out of the running for the job, I wouldn't say something like that.
Ultimately, it comes down to whether you're looking for the right fit (and have options that allow you to be selective), or whether you're looking for a paycheck. When it's the latter, you generally need a more polished front. But when you have options, candor and openness -- within reason -- are generally key in landing in the right spot, and in avoiding the wrong ones.
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