Edward Capriolo

Saturday Mar 03, 2018

Interview tips: Two proverbs

Keep in mind these two famous sayings as you read this post: "Honesty is the best policy" and "discretion is the better part of valor"

The conundrum

Sometimes telling the truth can yield unfortunate results. For example, lets go through a scenario. Imagine a candidate is interviewing at three companies in the next weeks. During the second interview the candidate is asked:

  • Q: "Are you interviewing at any other companies?"

Honesty is the best policy

The candidate answers the question honestly:

  • A: "Yes. I am"

The interviewer is juggling a variety of thoughts. On one extreme the interviewer understands that the best thing for the candidate is to explore all options to find the best possible position for them. One the other extreme they are motivated by their personal concerns and the concerns of the company (which are intermingled). For example, the interviewer may believe they are wasting their time with the candidate because the candidate could take another offer. The candidate could also leverage the other offer further along in the process (for more money, etc) once the interviewer is more invested in the candidate (interview time, plans to leverage their skills).

One benefit of honestly is the candidate presents themselves as highly desirable. If a company really likes the candidate they may increase their offer to outbid potential competitors. The interviewer might attempt to close on the candidate faster if the market is highly competitive.

The candidate can answer the question dishonestly:

  • A: "No" (No, I love this place . It is my dream job etc)

We all know lying is bad. Outside of the unethical parts of lying there are several other downsides:

  • Lying is harder then telling the truth: The candidate has to keep track of which lies they told and to who. If someone wishes to dive in and discuss the topic further the candidate has stack the lies on top of each other.
  • Getting caught in a lie hurts your credibility and at worst put an end to the entire process.

The odds of getting caught on this particular lie are low. One way the interviewer could know is if somehow they know someone else that is interviewing the candidate. Of course if the interviewer reaches back out to the candidate in two days and the candidate has accepted another offer they will probably guess that they had been lied to. That could come back to haunt the candidate in a "It is a small world" scenario in the future.

One to many scenarios:

One other thing to keep in mind: There is not necessarily a one-to-one relationship between the interviewer and the candidate. The job could potentially have N candidates. Now, this gets more interesting. Suppose there exists two equally qualified candidates (candidate-a and candidate-b) applying for the same job, both candidates actually are applying for other jobs. Suppose candidate-a answers, "Yes, I am applying to other jobs" and candidate-b answers "No, I am not applying to other jobs". Most companies will only make the offer to a single person at a time, so it is reasonable to assume they might extend the offer to the candidate-b because that person has a higher chance to accept the job. They may not want to extend to candidate-a because while they wait for what might be a rejection they might miss the chance to offer the job to candidate-b.

Discretion is the better part of valor

"it is better to avoid a dangerous situation than to confront it."

If the candidate wishes to avoid the conversation. Using discretion is one way to approach the response.

When asked:
Q: "Are you interviewing at any other companies?"

A candidate can reply with:

A: "I would only like discuss this opportunity and if we are a good fit."

That is not answering the question. However the candidate is respectfully stating they wish to avoid the conversation. Sometimes the interviewer will not accept this. Generally, they will not press as hard as "you-go-first" type salary negotiation for an answer (probably assuming that most will lie anyway).

If the interviewer does press the issue it might come in a variety of forms. They might say something like:

  • "I am just curious"
  • "This helps us understand if we need to hurry along the process"

If the candidate came into the conversation not wanting to answer this question, they probably should stick to their guns and not answer. If the candidate is swayed by the interviewer's rational they could make an attempt at trading information. Calling to mind my one-to-many scenario above, the candidate can attempt to determine if there are other candidates in the mix.

The candidate might wish to ask a question like:

  • "Do you need to have this position filled quickly?"
  • "How long has the position been open?"
  • "Has the position been offered to anyone else yet?"

The candidate has entered the waters of some "close-to-the-vest" information trading :) (where both sides are trading hard to verify facts).