Monday, April 14, 2014

Six Lies Told To Candidates While They Are Interviewing

Companies and hiring managers often don’t tell the whole truth to candidates while they are interviewing.  Often the lies are unintentional, merely a convenience.  For instance, when a person resigns and gives two weeks’ notice; the easiest thing to do is to dust off the old job description and use it without thinking of how the job (or the company) may have changed and evolved since the job was last filled. 

Sometimes the lies are told to try to quickly attract people to an open job.  Sometimes companies believe their own B.S. They really do. Like the president of a well-known sweat shop who told me, with a very straight face, that people at his agency were so turned on and happy that they actually wanted to work late and on weekends.

Here are some of the common lies I have heard. I am sure you can add to the list.

 Our clients loves us
We have heard this story too many times.   We can only guess that it is said because the hiring company or hiring manager likes the candidate and does not want to scare him or her off.

The truth is often quite the opposite.  Corporately, the client management  may love the agency, but it turns out that the brand or day-to-day people really do not like the agency or the work.  This clash between corporate and operations is very common and makes the account difficult.

We rarely work too late and we have summer Fridays off
I had one candidate tell me that a noted sweat shop actually said this.  The truth was people rarely left before 9pm, often worked in the office on the weekends and, while the office closed on summer Friday’s at 1pm, they were still there most Fridays at dinner time. And on the rare occasions when someone wanted totake the afternoon off, it was discouraged.

We are like a family here
Oh, yes, we all know that family. It is the one where no one talks to each other.

We have several candidates interviewing for this job
This is a favorite ploy of many hiring managers and human resources people when the candidate it is said to is the only one interviewing.  I suspect the reasons are two-fold.  First, they don’t want the candidate to know that they may have salary negotiating leverage and second, they think it gives the agency the upper hand when making an offer.

Business is really good
This has been said to many a candidate immediately following massive layoffs due to loss of business.  Worse still, many candidates have been hired to work on an account which is practically out of the door.  Often, people are hired to try to shore up a weak piece of business, but the new person is not told that the account is on shaky ground.

There is about 20-40% Travel
I once placed a candidate who was a newlywed on one of the largest accounts in the world. As an account supervisor she was told there would be a lot of production, which she loved, accompanied by twenty percent travel.  Once she was hired, she discovered that the account was in production virtually all year and she was expected to travel at least three to five days a week.  She left at the end of six weeks when she had not been home for a single weekend.

The truth is that there are lots of people who love difficult situations. They actually thrive on the adversity.  If a recruiter knows, they can screen for it.  If there is no recruiter, candidates should be told the situation on the first interview.  It saves a lot of aggravation later on. 

Being honest with candidates up front, saves a lot of problems down the road.


  1. Great stuff as always. All are shameful lies, though the # of candidates one is less so that the others. Not really an issue until the interest of both parties is high anyhow. When a company lies to incoming employees, what kind of loyalty and performance can they possibly expect? Similarly if an inocming employee lies about their background etc. they can expect to get the boot if/wehn they are exposed.

    1. Lonny, you are right. The number of candidates thing is a lesser lie, but my attitude is to tell the truth. Companies never get in trouble if they tell the truth. That is certainly true about candidates as well.

  2. When I was 13, being raised by my maternal Grandfather (who was the only “Father” I ever knew), he often told me that the lowest forms of life were “liars and thieves”. After that, “cowards”. And given my enduring love, admiration, and respect for him (RIP) still today, I have tried to conduct my entire life according to his expectations of me and I hope to go to my grave with those same standards he set for me so long ago.

    At the same time and in more practical life’s terms, I think the use of the word “lie” might be a bit over-the-top here. In over 30 years in the agency biz, I’ve only known 2-3 people that I would actually accuse of being bona fide “liars”. Lots of people (including me) telling half-truths by omission or rounding some corners on inconsequential facts as a matter of convenience. But that’s not the same thing to me as deliberately and outright misrepresenting the TRUTH when asked a direct question requiring a specific and honest answer - especially in business.

    Then again, if your spouse or partner asks you if you’re cheating on them and you are, deny everything until you run out of options! My Grandfather wouldn’t approve, but he’d understand. LOL, Bill Crandall

    1. Bill, a half truth designed to get someone to think positively about your job or company is a lie.

  3. Spot on, as always, Paul. I'm starting a new agency job Thursday and I hope the partners don't share Bill Crandall's philosophy; that half truths by omission and 'rounding corners' on the facts (whatever that means; doesn't sound good) for convenience are perfectly acceptable business practices to get someone to accept a job..

    1. As I responded to unacceptableBs always unacceptable. It accomplishes nothinga And breeds distrust. I am sure your new job will be all it is supposed to be.

  4. To Paul and Anonymous ... I wasn't promoting "half-truths" or anything of the kind. And as I said in my commentary, "... especially in business". Guess you guys missed that little tidbit.

    But if the two of you are going to tell me that you've never "lied" by omission, about anything to anyone, regarding undisclosed facts that you knew to be true, then you are truly as exceptional as you think you are.

    Meanwhile, is "The View from Madison Avenue" owned by Rupert Murdoch? That would explain everything about your misconstruing and twisting my words.

    Signing off permanently, Bill Crandall

  5. An interview is a contest in persuasion. Each side is trying to persuade the other to the merits of their argument. In these situations truth is a function of probably. Each side believes what is said if it sounds true.

    For instance, if I show up late for an interview in Manhattan and tell the hiring manager the train was delayed, they will likely believe me because trains are often delayed. I have drawn on a commonplace belief in order to make my excuse seem more probable, even though the train was not delayed. Did I tell the truth? No. Did it sound like I told the truth based on probabilities? Yes.

    The idea extends to anything discussed in an interview and, incidentally, is dependent on the audience. I can’t, for example, show up late for an interview in LA and use the same excuse. There are no trains in LA. I have to draw on commonplace beliefs about freeway traffic.

    Subsequently, talking about lies and half-truths misses the point. Persuasion contests are about creating and sussing out the probability of what is true regardless of which side is speaking.

    In this context, Paul’s piece is valuable because it provides less experienced candidates with ways of gauging the probability of what is true in what they hear from hiring managers. It also says that candidates are responsible for figuring out what is true in what they hear.

    Bill is roughly in the same camp. I can interpret his comments to read: the less probable your remarks, the less they are believed.

    My advice is stay away from absolutes about truth when it comes to discussions about persuasion contests. Sure absolute truths based in tangible evidence are the most probable because they are the most certain and add enormous credibility to what is said. But the persuasion game is still mostly about building a story based on the probability of the truth of what’s said.

    Advertising works this way all the time. Have I told “the truth” if I run a commercial that tells a woman she will feel more beautiful if she uses a particular shampoo? The answer is in how well I depict the probability that what I said is true.

    1. Your point is valid and I accept it up to a point. Your "trains delayed" excuse is a perfect point. It may not be true, but it hurts no one,

      Unfortunately, every week I hear horror stories from both seniors and juniors. These stories involve lies told by companies to candidates in order to lure them into the company. Telling a candidate that the client loves the agency and has been here for seven years when the person saying that knows the account is about to go into review is hurtful. It is not a contest of probabilities, it is an outright lie,. I have heard it told with more frequency than I can count.

      That kind of lie can breed discontent and distrust for long periods of time. I have known a few instances (including one involving me in my advertising career), where the person hired can actually save an account. It is rare, but does happen. I have seen juniors accept a job, find out the truth and start to look just a week or so after starting, And believe me, they spread the word about the lie.

      There is a difference between puffery (your example of the shampoo) and a lie. Lying would be to tell a woman that if she uses the shampoo he hair will never get dirty again,

      Telling someone it is a great job when the teller knows it is not, is a really bad way to start a relationship.

  6. Paul,

    I enjoy reading your blog for many reasons.

    One is because you’re doing a service providing workers with insights into the managing of their careers. Another is because you are in a unique position to see and call-out agency activities that can reek of abuse and lead to lower productivity and bad reputations, two things agencies claim they want to avoid.

    You are right in calling-out hiring mangers that lie, especially if it’s hurtful. And you are right in trying to tell agencies that lying hiring managers hurt their business. You are also right in trying to help candidates understand what kinds of lies they might encounter or how to suss them out.

    Overall, however, my point is to insert a new way of thinking about truth (and lies) into the conversation in the hope that it makes it easier to understand what truth is in the context of how persuasion works.

    The ideas aren’t mine. They belong to Aristotle, who recognized that persuasion is a fundamental aspect of human behavior and the ways in which it operates can be organized, studied and learned so that one can either become more persuasive, or limit the damage persuasive people can cause.

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