Is the Hiring Process Built on Lies?

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Interview RoomIn early May, we published a piece entitled “10 Ways We Could Improve the Hiring Process.”  Shortly after the post went live, I received an email from Shaharris Beh, founder of HackerNest, “an international nonprofit focused on building supportive ‘Silicon Valley’-type tech communities everywhere.” The subject line read, “What REALLY needs to change in hiring!”

Obviously, you can’t ignore a subject like that (not in this line of work). Upon opening the email, I met something thrillingly incendiary in the way that only blunt honesty can be: “Hiring is broken,” Beh wrote. “It’s built on lies.”

Consider, for example, that go-to interview question: “What is your greatest weakness?”

“People aren’t going to be like, ‘I have really terrible hygiene,’” Beh explains when I get on the phone with him roughly a week after receiving his email. “They say things like, ‘I’m really addicted to work; my work-life balance is terrible. I sometimes don’t sleep because I’d rather work on the project and get it finished.’”

And maybe some people who say that are telling the truth, but for most people, Beh says, “that’s bulls–t.”

The (Semi-)Insidious Agenda of the Hiring Process

Beh contends that the lying so common in the hiring process stems from a structural problem inherent to the way the hiring process is currently conducted.

“Most of how we do hiring is based around pretension,” Beh says. “People aren’t putting forward a true, honest opinion of themselves when you give them this context of, ‘We are judging everything you’re doing and deciding whether or not we want to pay you money.'”

In other words: the hiring process as we know it actively encourages lying — or, at the very least, the intentional “tweaking” of the truth. That’s why countless writers and industry luminaries have spent so much time tackling subjects like “how to answer interview question X” and “how to make sure your resume highlights positive quality Y and downplays negative quality Z.” If the hiring process were based on honesty, there would be little need for such maneuvering. People would need only answer questions truthfully and write resumes that accurately reflect their work experiences.

“The interview, which is supposed to decide whether or not you enjoy sitting in a cubicle next to somebody for eight hours a day, is a super high-pressure conversation where you are almost expected to lie,” Beh says. “The way you conduct yourself when you are in an interview with a recruiter is not the way that you really are. You are putting on an act; you are affecting a manner that you think they want to see, and you are saying things that you hope they view as positive so that you can get a job with them.”

DonutFurthermore, the way many employers present themselves to candidates pushes candidates to sell themselves as something they aren’t.

“When you put on this pretense of, ‘Yes, we’re in suits and ties and we need to only ever highlight the things that are polished and there’s nothing wrong with us,’ you are setting yourself up for lies and mendacity, and you are setting yourself up for failure,” Beh says. “You’re going to get someone who postures and positions themselves in a way that they think you think is beneficial, and it’s not going to be accurate. You’re not going to get truth.”

All of this is to say that a hiring process built on lies doesn’t make good hires: employers pretend to be something they aren’t, encouraging candidates to do the same, resulting in a match made on duplicity. Great hires — hires who truly fit in with and thrive at a company — cannot happen when we’re all massaging the truth to the point of utter distortion.

Bringing Honesty Back to the Hiring Process, One F-Bomb at a Time

“This is going to sound a little bit out there,” Beh says. “[Making the hiring process more honest] involves being imperfect, and it involves a little bit of profanity.”

Case in point: Beh says he routinely gets on the microphone in front of 500 people at HackerNest Tech Socials and drops the f-bomb.

“It’s not like I’m arbitrarily saying it,” Beh explains. “I’ll say something like, ‘Five percent of CEOs at tech companies are female. That is f–ked up.’ [Ed. note: Pedants need not fact-check this stat; Beh’s offering an example of how he uses profanity, not making an assertion about the percentage of female tech CEOs, though the tech world does have a well-documented gender problem. ]

Beh sees his choice to get explicit on the mic as a form of trust-building exercise: “When people see you letting your guard down and being blunt and direct and unapologetically honest about something, they’ll take cues to be honest from you.”

All of this is to say Beh believes that, if the people making hiring decisions want more honesty in the hiring process, they need to lead by example.

“Instead of being like, ‘Tell me how you work in a team,’ start by telling stories about yourself and the experiences you’ve had in that office,” Beh explains. 

For example: rather than simply asking interviewees how they handle stress at work, an interviewer could share an honest story about a time a really stressful project totally knocked them on their butt, or the tale of the micromanaging team leader who totally pissed them off.

“Say things like that, and you’ll lead the other person to feel more comfortable sharing honest stories,” Beh says.

Beh also believes that, beyond the level of the individual recruiter or hiring manager, companies as a whole need to be more honest when presenting themselves and their cultures to job seekers.

Rockstar“If you’re a big, stuffy corporate company, be the big, stuffy corporate company,” Beh says. “Own that. Don’t try to jam buzzwords like ‘rockstar’ and ‘guru’ into your job descriptions. If you want people to be more honest with you in your interviews, be more honest with them in your job posts.”

Similarly, Beh feels that job seekers themselves must embrace honesty along with employers, recruiters, and HR professionals.

“I think there needs to be a big cultural shift in how people are approaching the workplace,” Beh says. “Enough with perfection; enough with trying to be something you’re not. I’m so sick and tired of people going to events and [calling themselves CEOs when they operate a one-person company.] You’re the CEO of you? Who are you trying to impress? Be blunt, be imperfect. Who gives a s–t what anybody else thinks?”

Beh says the same thing goes for interviewing and recruiting: “If you get a job with a company where you lied your way in, it’s not going to work out. Three months in, you’re going to get canned. Why not just be upfront about it and not go through that horrible experience? Why not find a company that accommodates personalities like yours? Isn’t that a better way of doing things?”

By Matthew Kosinski