The Art of Honesty on a Job Interview

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I did not want to go to another job interview. After two months of answering questions like, “Tell me about a time you almost didn’t meet a deadline, but did,” homelessness seemed a reasonable alternative to another forty-five minutes of fake smiles and feigned enthusiasm.

I was at another temporary position when I answered the call and agreed to the interview. Later, looking over the scheduling details, pay scale, and description of duties, I thought there was no chance I wanted to do the job. I’d done volunteer work in a similar capacity years before and couldn’t imagine making it something I did full-time.

I went to sleep the night before the interview without setting my alarm. I planned to either over sleep or call and cancel if I happened to wake up early.

I woke up early, pulled on a 12 year old dress and worn down sweater, and found myself driving to the interview. I had no idea why I hadn’t cancelled.

The woman who conducted the job interview was 15 minutes late. As I waited, I sat in a plain, off-white cinder block lined office beneath florescent lights flicking dandruff off my black sweater turned grey from too many washes and silently listing all the reasons why I didn’t want the job. I had just about made up my mind to leave when the interviewer walked over and introduced herself. I followed her down the hall and into her office with a barely disguised hostility.

I’ve been working on honesty in life lately. I’ve begun to notice how lying makes me feel constricted, upset, and without integrity. It’s my tendency to people please. To do what I think others want even if it’s not what I want. I try to keep peace and sometimes subsequently wage war within myself. I’m slowly letting that go and choosing honesty instead.

I decided that since I’d showed up for an interview for a job I didn’t want, I was going to be radically honest in all of my answers.

What followed was the single best job interview I’ve been on in my life.

I didn’t flash my usual forced smile after every answer. I didn’t try to boast about my accomplishments or convince the hiring manager why I should be offered the job. I paused after every question and shared the first answer that came to mind regardless of whether I thought it was the answer she wanted to hear and regardless of how it would make me look. I was personal. I was real. I was honest and I wasn’t ashamed to just be me.

One of the last questions she asked was about unconditional love. It moved me to tears that I didn’t try to wipe away.

When she was finished, the interviewer gave me the opportunity to ask questions. On past interviews I would get out one or two questions before feeling dismissed or rushed along by the potential employers who offered bored and banal responses. This experience was completely different.

I asked directed questions aimed at exposing the areas where the company fell short and I was met with honest and sincere responses. Each honest answer opened up the opportunity to ask another even more bold than the last. She didn’t falter, didn’t grow weary, didn’t cut us short, and continued to encourage me to ask as much as I wanted. By the end we were both smiling and laughing– a genuine joy shared by two people being true to themselves.

When I was finished she offered me the job and, to my surprise, I accepted. As she filled out the final paperwork I said to her, “I’m going to be completely honest with you, I almost called and canceled this interview today and am so glad I didn’t.” She told me that years before it had been the same for her. The job for her would mean a massive pay cut and she was sure she wouldn’t take it. She too had accepted and a few years later had moved up in the company to a director in charge of hiring.

We talked for over an hour and would have continued had it not been for her schedule and responsibilities. Before I left she confessed she normally hated interviews because the candidates would sit in front of her “like plastic” and by the end she’d have no idea who they were and whether or not they were right for the job. “It’s been such a pleasure talking to you,” she said and when I returned the compliment I knew it wasn’t merely pleasantry.

I don’t know if this new job will prove the right move for me, but I do know that for the first time in months I’m excited by the prospect of working. And I know that above all else, whether it works out or not, honesty is the one virtue I’m not willing to compromise.

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