Imagine interviewing at Apple, and not knowing what iTunes was. Or walking into Nike, and never hearing of the Shox. That was the equivalent of what happened when Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, was interviewing for a VP of Product Management job at the tech giant 15 years ago. 

In his interview, Pichai was asked what he thought of Gmail. There was just one problem. As detailed in a CNBC article, "Google had just announced the email service that very same day, on April 1. "I thought it was an April Fool's Day joke," Pichai said.
Obviously, he wouldn't have known about the new email platform -- the question was more than likely a test to see how he would respond.

At that point, Pichai had two options: He could have played it off, made something up, and acted like he had heard of Gmail, or do what he did instead. 

Rather than trying to hide it, Pichai chose the high road and admitted that he couldn't comment because he had never used the product.

I've been in recruiting for eight years and I have to admit, that response took guts. Most candidates would have tried to backpedal and redirect the conversation to cover up their lack of experience. The ironic thing about that approach is that it almost always backfires.

While trying to conceal their weaknesses, they expose one of the greatest faults of all -- egoism. No one wants to work with a "know-it-all."

There are two essential interviewing lessons to learn from Pichai's response: 

1. Companies can't help those who won't help themselves. 

The sad thing about arrogance is not the damaging and isolating effects of narcissism, it's the realization that the individual will never be able to grow. You can't learn from mistakes that you "never" make. 

Regardless of title, a growth mindset is key to being successful as a new employee. You're new, and you don't know everything. Going into an interview trying to convince people otherwise will only lead to unreal expectations and problems down the road. 

Instead of trying to oversell your strengths, demonstrate your intellectual curiosity and focus on your willingness to learn. Google found that simply believing you can evolve makes you more eager to learn, challenge yourself, and experiment--which eventually boosts potential and performance.

2. Honesty is the best policy. 

It's important to remain truthful and composed throughout the interview. Remember, an employer expects you to be on your best behavior. So, if there is even a shred of confusion, doubt, or concern about your character, then they anticipate it amplifying once you start.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, being honest and admitting your weaknesses is one of the greatest signs of strength. 

During an interview, there is a lot of pressure to impress others and stand out. However, doing so at the expense of your integrity isn't worth it. As a corporate recruiter, I can say with confidence that employers aren't looking for perfection. We're looking for someone with the skills to do the job, the intellectual humility to admit when development is needed, and the will to learn. 

Published on: Feb 22, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.