Interviewing for a new job can be stressful. It is not only time-consuming, but it feels very much like the entire fiber of your being is up for assessment, and almost always by complete strangers who know little to nothing about you. One innocuous comment can be construed as being indicative as a major character flaw. Quite simply, the traditional interview process seems archaic in many ways, in that it really only provides snippets of someone’s character and ability to perform the job function rather than a holistic picture.
When we think about doing interviews, our intuition tells us that we want to impress the interviewer as much as possible. While that is of course very important for any role that you desire for yourself, I would posit that it is just as important that you do the exact opposite: air your dirty laundry. Yes, you read that right: I think it is important to tell prospective employers what you are bad at and why that job will help you fix it.
I speak about this not from some ivory tower where I do not have to practice what I preach. I recently left my last job in search of a new opportunity, and I found myself proactively telling prospective employers not only why they should hire me, but also what blind spots I have. I want to talk about why this is so important.
First and foremost, interviews are a two-way street. You often hear the phrase “you are interviewing them, too” when you go in for a job interview. That is because you are trying to determine whether or not the job is a good fit for you. This is why most employers leave ample time for interviewees to ask questions during the interview. A well-constructed interview should be 50% employer-led questions and 50% prospective employee-led questions. This provides balance and structure to the process and moves leverage away from the employer to create an honest process for both sides.
Through that lens, it is important for you to “interview” your employer by making sure that they will tolerate whatever shortcomings you have. If you lack experience for a certain role but believe in your abilities to fulfill it nonetheless, be honest about your lack of experience and explain why you still feel confident. If it is the right fit, the employer might be looking for someone who is coachable versus someone who is experienced and stubborn. The worst thing you can do is lie about your experience, end up getting the role, and then get fired later on when the employer realizes you mis-lead them or that they could not provide you the resources you needed to succeed because you were never honest about what you needed to begin with.
Not long ago, I was approached about a role that was way beyond my level of experience and accomplishments. I felt confident about my ability to deliver because I knew I would put my mind towards whatever education I needed to be successful. I projected that confidence to the employer, and it turned out they were actually looking for someone like me who had no experience as a Chief Revenue Officer, but who was young enough to not be stuck in my ways. In other words, they wanted someone who was malleable – someone who had the will to learn the skill of the job. Being honest in that situation actually positioned me favorably for what they were looking for. Although I ultimately did not take that job, I assume I might have been written off had I fibbed about my experience because doing so would have ironically made me less of a fit for their needs.
Another reason why negging yourself can be powerful in the interview process is because it shows your potential employer that you are realistic, honest, and accountable. Many people are taught in interviews to say something that is actually positive about themselves when they are asked what flaws they have. So they might say something like, “I need to learn how to take breaks because I work too hard.” Something like this is designed to show an employer that your greatest flaw is actually a strength.
If I ever interview someone and they try this nonsense, they have pretty much written their own obituary for their prospects in working for me. We are all human beings, which means we are all fallible. If you are not in tune with your flaws, it means you are not in tune with improvement. It means you are not accountable to your failings. It means you are not working on getting better every day.
During my most recent rounds of interviews, I was very open and honest about the things I want to get better at. And there is a way to be honest without letting it destroy your job prospects: talk about how you are being solutions-oriented with regards to your flaws. Every time I talk about a shortcoming of mine, I couch it in how I became aware of the shortcoming, why it is important for me to fix it, what I am actively doing to get better at it, and why the job I am applying for is a reasonable conduit to that outcome. This shows a prospective employer that I am honest, accountable, and mission-driven. If they don’t like whatever flaw I have, so be it. To my earlier point, it’s better to find out sooner than later that we are not a good fit for one another rather than mislead anyone and find out later on the much harder way.
But there is a much more subtle third reason why it is important to lead with honesty and authenticity, and that is because you should value an employer who values those traits. Quite frankly, if an employer is turned off because you did not lie to them about something, they are probably not a great employer to work for anyway. I tell this to all of my mentees who are trying to break into tech sales. I ask them to uncover their “why” – what they want in their lives. It is often deeply personal. And if their potential employer cannot handle it, I tell them that it is not the right venue for them. Acceptance is the number one human need. If your workplace will not accept you for who you are, look elsewhere.
I would close out by suggesting what is not obvious but what probably should be obvious once it is said. A great fourth reason to be honest about your flaws in an interview is because you want to know if your next employer can help you bridge your skill gaps! People with a fixed mindset have avoidant personalities – they are fearful of their flaws and prefer to keep them hidden in the closet. However, those with a growth mindset look at shortcomings as an opportunity for growth. Growth-oriented professionals should always be seeking opportunities that will help them upskill and get better. If you have certain areas of weakness where you want to improve, you might as well ask if your next employer feels they have the chops to get you there. In a weird way, you can transform a conversation about your flaws into a conversation about the company’s ability to properly provide adequate professional development opportunities. In a way, you have shifted the leverage from the employer to yourself simply by being honest about what you are looking for.
So, there you have it. Next time you get asked a difficult question in an interview, be honest. It might be uncomfortable sometimes, but in the long run, it will do much more good than harm.