“I’m Passionate About Spreadsheets” and Other Lies We Tell to Get the Job

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You’ve made it past the CV scanning software and a recruitment junior and you’ve landed that all important interview. You research the company online in depth. You talk to former and current employees (if you know any) for the inside scoop on what to expect. You plan your most competent looking outfit.

And you practise what you’re going to say. Your three strengths, your three weaknesses (which with a quick sentence or two actually become your next three strengths), why you want to leave your current job (break out the euphemisms), what makes you the best candidate for the role (I am, just trust me, okay?) and what sort of corporate culture you prefer (if my boss can find a happy medium between hovering while yelling and making me wonder if we should start scouring local bushland for a body, I’m good).

But when you arrive for the face-to-face question and answer session, it all goes out the window. You can’t remember your strengths (but I’m good, I swear) or your weaknesses (but I’m not saying I’m perfect) and some of the questions you’re being asked have about as much relevance as a penguin at an ethics convention.

So what do you do to make sure you get the job? You do what everyone else does. You lie.

Lie #1: ‘I’m passionate about spreadsheets.’

What you really mean: Well, as passionate as you are about eating peas, visits to the doctor and paying the electricity bill: you do these things because you have to. Passion doesn’t come into it. You just need a job. Preferably one that doesn’t require enough travel time to read an entire book every day. One that you can do without becoming a stranger to your entire family. One that makes it possible to pay the home loan and eat, rather than having to choose. And one that doesn’t end each day with you in tears in the office toilets.

Genuine passion for work is extremely rare. If we all worked only at things we are passionate about, by now I’d have a glorious career in watching Joss Whedon television shows. Besides even if you have passion, it’s often beaten out of you by the time you finish your probation period. But there’s nothing wrong with simply being good at something rather than having a passion for it.

Lie #2: ‘I love to be micromanaged.’

What you really mean: You hate to be micromanaged but you’re too afraid to say anything because it won’t make a difference to how you’re managed, just to whether or not you’re given the job in the first place.

Employers who are genuinely concerned about staff management know that their managers shouldn’t be stuck in one management style, they should be adapting it to each of their employees based on individual assessment and need. And if managers can’t do that, then they shouldn’t be managers in the first place.

Lie #3: ‘Cubicles in an open plan office are my favourite work environment.’

What you really mean: You’d prefer an office of your very own so you can close the door on management, the office chatterbox who can take up to an hour to get rid of each time you’re caught in the radar, people selling raffle tickets and fundraising chocolate, and those women who insist on talking loudly about their relationships/children/shoes/last night’s episode of The Bachelor right next to your desk when you’re on a conference call. But you’re prepared to wait.

Open plan office layouts are cheaper for employers, encourage air quotes ‘team inclusiveness’ and prevent office allocation jealousy (one step higher than premium car space allocation jealousy). They’re also disruptive, demotivating, responsible for the lightning fast spread of contagious illnesses that can lay an entire floor low, and the bane of anyone who has to perform any task with a semi-confidential aspect, which these days, in an era of multiskilling, can be just about everyone.

Lie #4: ‘I like washing everyone else’s dishes.’

What you really mean: At least it will get done.

Walking into an office kitchen these days can be like being slapped in the face by a used garbage bag. There’s only one thing worse than being asked to wash everyone else’s dishes. And that’s watching people who are supposed to clean up after themselves sneaking out the front door at ten to five after depositing in the sink that day’s coffee mug, a plastic container that held questionable leftovers and a bowl of half-eaten porridge from last Tuesday that was inexplicably put in a desk draw and forgotten until now.

Questionable personal hygiene is simply a matter of laziness. Personally I’m a fan of all staff being allocated cutlery and a place setting that is clearly labelled with their name and anyone who leaves their dishes in the sink for someone else will simply find a disgusting collection of dirty flatware on their desk when they arrive the next morning. The next best alternative: buy a dishwasher, you stingy, hygiene deficient, disrespectful decision-makers.

Lie #5: ‘That’s a generous package you’re offering.’

What you really mean: So that’s inclusive of superannuation I won’t see for another thirty-five years, a novated lease plan I don’t need and an annual bonus I hear you rarely stump up? Yippee.

Is it so damn hard to be honest about a salary that is a key factor in determining whether you can actually afford to take this job? Apparently, yes. You have rent or home loan repayments, you have your children’s school fees, you have a university debt you’re still paying off, you have a dog – a big one that eats its body weight in food each week – and knowing how much you will actually be earning to see if you can still afford your life is a crucial part of deciding to apply for a job in the first place. Please, employers, stop wasting everybody’s time.

Lie #6: ‘I’m happy to work overtime without being compensated for it.’

What you really mean: You appreciate that your potential employer is upfront about how little they will value your contribution but you doubt you’ll find another employer who thinks differently so you’re prepared to say it and make sure there’s some sort of family emergency/plumbing crisis/school incident/doctor’s appointment at the end of each day so you can leave when you’re supposed to.

Being given a choice about whether to take on overtime for which you are paid is a separate matter. But if there’s a constant requirement for unpaid extra work, then you’re just being taken advantage of and there should probably be another worker hired and paid no matter how determined an employer is to squeeze it into one role.

Lie #7: ‘I see myself right here in five years.’

What you really mean: There are three options here. One, you haven’t actually thought about what’s going to happen in five years because you’re still trying to sort out the next five minutes, five hours, five days, five weeks, five months and it’s all a bit of a crapshoot anyway.

Or two, in five years you’d really like to be retired, to have published a bestselling novel or two that were involved in a publishing bidding war before anyone even knew who you were, to be married to someone who makes interviews like this unnecessary, to have won a huge lottery jackpot, to have found out you were the only living relative of someone extremely wealthy and are their sole beneficiary, to have developed a smart phone app that Apple buys for multimillions, to have been discovered while walking your dog and now headlining in your own television show/movie franchise/Las Vegas cabaret, to be producing a YouTube channel of yourself applying makeup that gets a billion hits annually, to be a late blooming golf prodigy everyone is calling the mature-aged Tiger Woods… you get the idea.

And three, anywhere but right here. Five years in one job is the line in the sand these days. Stick around too long and you’ll start being taken for granted, lumped with the assumption that you can’t or don’t want to do anything else, and shoved into a corner of the office where most of the time people forget you’re still there.

This list is hardly comprehensive but we have to keep back some of the lies we tell potential employers in order to actually secure a job. But if there’s one thing I’ve seen to be proven time after time, it’s this: employers get exactly the employees they deserve.

*First published on LinkedIn 4 August 2014

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