I worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years before becoming a career and leadership coach. When I started with my first firm, I was mentored by a much more experienced recruiter, Tom, who was assigned to me and two other trainees to guide us during the early stages of our new careers.
“OK,” he began. “How can you tell when an applicant is lying to you?”
“He won’t look you in the eye,” Bob said.
“His nostrils will flair a little bit,” Paul offered.
“You forgot that most of your conversations will be by phone, so you won’t be able to see them,” Tom reminded us.
I had no idea and sat quietly while the others continued to think.
“Give up? Their lips are moving!” Tom said.
We all groaned.
“Here’s the second question: How can you tell one of our hiring manager clients is lying to you?”
Meekly, I offered my idea. “Their lips are moving?”
“That’s right!” said Tom. “Here’s the third question: How can someone tell a recruiter is lying to them?”
Before we could answer, Tom gleefully said, “Their lips are moving!”
With time, I grew to understand that everyone is posturing for advantage in the hiring process. You, as a job hunter, are trying to present your knowledge, experience and flexibility in the best possible light. It took me a while to figure out hiring managers are doing the same thing. I realized that when I noticed that none of my clients ever told a job hunter, “You know, I’m a fairly new manager. My predecessor was fired, and her predecessor was fired before that. I need to hire someone so I, too, don’t get the boot.”
Instead, I realized employers all put on happy faces. They tell job hunters about the day to day ahead of them, yet omit the fact that the last three people in the position quit because they hated to be micromanaged. They tell them that the people they’ll work with will be like family, even if that’s more like the Addams family. And they tell them that the future is bright if they join, yet not as bright as the blinding fluorescent lights above their cubicle.
Recruiters also lie, often because they are conveying information that one party is lying about to the other. Then come the lies from the desperation of seeing a commission check disappear. I will never attempt to defend that.
Given that you, the hiring manager, and the recruiter representing you are all posturing for an advantage, what can you do to protect your interests?
1. Remember that not everything you will be told is true. If you are told something by the recruiter, remember this old adage from foreign policy negotiations: Trust but verify. Confirm with the hiring manager, “I understand you will do X. Is that true?” Usually, they are more than willing to correct a mistake the recruiter made, even if that is the information they gave to the recruiter at first.
2. Reach out to a former employee for confirmation. Former employees left for a reason. Sometimes, they were recruited to a new organization for higher pay and even better work. Sometimes, they left because they were laid off. Sometimes, they left because a firm and a manager didn’t keep their promises. They can tell you what it’s like to work there. Search LinkedIn or Facebook for “People who work at” and the name of the company. I know doing this helped a friend of mine avoid a disaster.
3. Check your future boss’s references. Ask others what it’s like to work for him or her. What do they do well? What do they struggle with that’s disappointing? What’s the work like? These questions can prevent a lot of heartache.
4. Keep interviewing. Too often, job hunters put all their eggs in one basket. Once they think they are close to an offer, they take their foot off the gas and coast. Keep trying to get more interviews.
5. Ask for advice, particularly as you get closer to making a decision. There are many people who can help you make a sound decision, including mentors with quality professional experience or your husband, wife or partner. Whoever you speak with, they should know you and your strengths well and be someone you trust.
Most people believe they are telling the truth but may lie by omission rather than commission. Be alert to the fact that when people need a job, they sometimes exaggerate. When hiring managers need to fill a position, they are prone to paint their job in the best possible light. And recruiters will sometimes position opportunities (and the candidates they represent) in a favorable light.
Remain vigilant, and don’t lower your guard without verifying that what you are told is true.
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1300 episodes and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice.” He is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.
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