Think Before You Speak or Write

April 21, 2007 11:57pm CST
BusinessWeek Online By Liz Ryan Hiring managers are looking for signs that suggest a bad fit. So be honest. The worst that will happen is you won't get a job you really don't want I got an e-mail message not long ago from a job candidate who wrote, "I'm disappointed that the job you're advertising pays much less than I'm used to making. It would be almost impossible for me to survive on the salary listed in the ad. Can you please tell me how much travel is required?" My e-mail back was a nice version of, "Why would I bother? If the job pays much less than you've been earning, it's better for you not to take it, and better for me not to hire you. I'll find a person with less experience whose first interaction with me is not to grouse about the salary." The job seeker was surprised that when I responded, I didn't address her question about travel. "But I didn't say I wasn't interested," she wrote back. However, my take on it was, "Yes, you did." At the very least, she made it clear that I would be foolish to be interested in hiring her. Little White Lies And I still remember the young man who was interviewing for a sales engineer job (back in my corporate human resources days). "Where do you see this position leading, career-wise?" I asked him. "Do you want to go into sales or marketing, or something else, or do you see yourself loving sales engineering so much you stay put there?" "I want to go into brand management," he said. I must have frowned, because he asked, "Did I say the wrong thing? You're frowning." "Oh, no," I said. "I was just trying to think of a person who's moved from sales engineering to product management in this company, so that I could tell you his or her story. But I couldn't think of anyone?t's not a very standard progression. Well, no reason you couldn't be the first." The young man was miffed. "Gee, I guess I should have lied to you and said I'd love nothing better than to be a sales engineer in order to get this job," he huffed. "Sounds like that's what you want to hear." "Not at all!" I protested. "I'm very glad you are being forthright with me." (I didn't ask the obvious follow-up question, "So, you make decisions about whether to lie or tell the truth based on which approach will get you what you want?" because I thought that would be mean.) "I want to let you know enough about the job to see whether it will engage you, and to learn enough about you so that we can likewise determine whether you and the job will be a good fit." All Ears Both of these applicants had fallen victim to a very common job-hunting fallacy: namely, that when you're looking for a job, people really aren't paying attention to or don't care about what you say or write. I'm always amazed when I pick up on something in an interview and the candidate says, "You're kidding me, you're going to hold that against me?" What I want all you job seekers to know is this: Hiring managers like me don't "hold anything against" you. But we weigh your words carefully. What other information, after all, do we have to go on? Job seekers have many obligations and burdens, and I'll be the first person to say that a job search is a major task, and very often a headache. But if you're expending all that effort, you may as well know the ground rules, and ground rule No. 1 is "The hiring manager is listening very closely." My husband thinks the tendency to underweigh or overweigh other people's speech is gender-based. "Women take every little thing you say and dissect it," he says. But men who do a lot of hiring often do the same thing?nd they should?ecause if a hiring manager misses a red flag in the hiring process, the company will pay for it down the road. Good Faith Works So if you tell an interviewer, "I'm on the verge of receiving a settlement from my car accident last year, which would let me move out of state," and the hiring manager takes that statement seriously enough to turn his or her attention to other candidates, is your honesty being held against you? Not in the slightest. Most of us, while sorry about your accident, would be happy for you and your impending windfall. But we're just not going to hire you. After all, you talked yourself out of the job. All the hiring manager did was listen. That's not to say that you should tell interviewers what you think they want to hear. Why pretend to be excited about a career path that doesn't interest you? If salary is a problem, say so. What's the point of working for a company that doesn't give you what you want? No, your honesty isn't hurting you. In the long run, it will help you get the job you really want. Liz Ryan is an expert on the new-millennium workplace, a former Fortune 500 HR executive and the author of Happy About Online Networking: the Virtual-ly Simple Way to Build Professional Relationships. Liz speaks to audiences around the world about work, life and networking, and works with employers on attracting and retaining world-class talent. Liz can be reached at
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