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Twenty Lies You'll Hear on a Job Interview

  1. So Much Cause for Apprehension
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    So Much Cause for Apprehension

    They’ll dissemble, evade, and misinform, although not necessarily with malice or cunning. Sometimes the interviewers themselves have been kept in the dark or misled about the reality of the jobs they need to fill. Just the same, you need to prepare yourself with some maneuvers of your own as well as some coping mechanisms. Click ahead to learn what you’ll come up against on the job hunt.
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  2. 1. "We Want to Make the Hiring Decision Quickly"
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    1. "We Want to Make the Hiring Decision Quickly"

    As my husband says, people in hell want ice water. Wanting something and doing it are two different things. Every hiring manager intends to hire someone quickly, but the typical process drags on for weeks. Give this tossed-off remark no credence whatsoever to save yourself weeks of sitting-by-the-phone angst. After the interview, go home and put a few more irons in the fire.
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  3. 2. "You're the First Candidate We're Talking To"
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    2. "You're the First Candidate We're Talking To"

    This might be true, or it might be a way of saying "Don’t expect things to move quickly." If you hear this on a job interview, jump in with "So, as you begin this interview process, what is the biggest problem you’re hoping to solve?" Your leverage on a job hunt is your ability to zero in on, and talk knowledgeably about, the dragon(s) the employer is hoping to slay.
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  4. 3. "We're Going to Hire Someone to Help You, Next Quarter"
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    3. "We're Going to Hire Someone to Help You, Next Quarter"

    Hiring managers often blurt this one out when, halfway through the interview, they realize the opportunity they’re describing equates to three or four full-time jobs rather than just one. They’re embarrassed at the way they’ve laden a poor, not-yet-hired person like you with the work of multiple highly trained professionals, so they say they’re planning to hire you some help down the road. Maybe they will. I wouldn’t bet on it. In the interview, get a bead on the most important problems that need solving—the rest can wait (they’ve most likely waited years to address them already).
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  5. 4. "You'll Be a Change Agent in This Role"
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    4. "You'll Be a Change Agent in This Role"

    Managers say "You’ll be a change agent" when they can’t bear to say "I would have fixed all these problems myself, but the entrenched hierarchy around here won’t let me." Pundits say you can spot a change agent by the arrows in his or her back, so beware of any job that sounds as though it’s primed to have you looking like St. Sebastian in six months. Ask your hiring manager "Which aspects of the job make you say that?" to learn more about the sort of epic battle between good and evil your manager is hoping you’ll fight on his or her behalf.
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  6. 5. "Industry Experience Isn't Important to Us"
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    5. "Industry Experience Isn't Important to Us"

    Managers say this to candidates whose industry experience isn’t quite what the hiring manager or committee was hoping for. Sure, it’s possible they’ll step out of their frame just long enough to bring an industry newbie on board, but you can’t bet on it, and a "who even asked?" statement like this lowers the odds of that happening. You may be able to salvage the deal by zooming in on the cost and trouble associated with the firm’s biggest problem—the one you’re being considered to solve for them. If you can make the case that you’ve already put out that fire at another company, you’re way ahead of the game.
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  7. 6. "I Need Someone Who Can Replace Me Down the Road"
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    6. "I Need Someone Who Can Replace Me Down the Road"

    You’re far too polite to suggest to your hiring manager that his meteoric rise to executive greatness may be more real in his dreams than anywhere else, and that is a tribute to the wonderful people who raised you. Most of the time, "I need someone to replace myself" is more wishful thinking than practical business management. That’s O.K.—you’ll inquire about your manager’s plans for himself (or herself) and the company’s expansion hopes, and position yourself as a person who’s happy to tackle the near-term assignment now and be poised to take on the leadership role when and if your manager’s hoped-for promotion ever materializes. At the same time, you won’t be holding your breath.
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  8. 7. "There Were No Viable Internal Candidates"
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    7. "There Were No Viable Internal Candidates"

    It’s a good idea always to ask a hiring manager whether the job was posted internally and what became of any internal candidates who threw their hats into the ring. If there were some contenders for the job who were rejected, ask the question "What was it you were looking for in this hire that you didn’t find in those people?" Often there were no internal candidates at all—leaving "viable" to mean simply "willing." The insiders can already see that the job involves pushing an enormous rock up a hill, a centimeter at a time—and stayed away in droves.
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  9. 8. "We Have a Great Training Program"
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    8. "We Have a Great Training Program"

    "Tell me about it!" is your best reply to this tossed-off comment, often uttered by a manager who remembers the wonderful new-employee training program in place when she started with the firm in 1988. Things change, and corporate training programs are being replaced by self-serve online help systems updated every few years at best. Ask for the details, and don’t consider taking a job based on the strength of the professional development system unless you’ve had eyewitness accounts of its effectiveness from recent hires.
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  10. 9. "We Don't Have Office Politics Here"
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    9. "We Don't Have Office Politics Here"

    If they have offices, they have politics. The managers who most fervently protest the existence of office politics are often the most skilled politicians in the joint. If you fear entering a highly political environment, be sure and talk to some nonmanagement employees (current ones or recent departures, easy to find using LinkedIn) and get the scoop from them.
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  11. 10. "We Haven't Nailed Down the Salary Range Yet"
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    10. "We Haven't Nailed Down the Salary Range Yet"

    Really? Then why are you interviewing? When they tell you they don’t know the salary range, it generally means "We’re asking our candidates how much they were earning before, and planning to hire someone at the low end of that range." You need to have a target salary number in mind, and say it before the second interview. Don’t stay in an interview pipeline if you don’t know what they’re willing to pay and they haven’t looked you in the face and said to you "Yes, that number is in the ballpark." If they haven’t nailed down the salary range, can they really be valuing your interviewing time? What else haven’t they nailed down—the job description or the budget for the position?
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  12. 11. "I'm Not the Principal Decision-Maker"
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    11. "I'm Not the Principal Decision-Maker"

    If this statement comes from your hiring manager, ask yourself "Why the heck not?" and if you’re feeling your oats that day, ask the question aloud as well. If your manager isn’t the principal decision-maker for his or her own new hires, you’ve been handed a huge red flag. A polite question to ask in response to this comment is "I’d love to hear more about the decision process." Team interviewing is fine, but the person with the opening (and the budget) should hold the most votes.
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  13. 12. We Focus on Results, Not on Face Time"
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    12. We Focus on Results, Not on Face Time"

    Talk is cheap, and some of the employers that yak the most about results over face time are also the worst offenders in the "you thought you’d have a private life, working here?" department. Ask your manager or the human resources person who says this, "How so?" If that person can’t tell you how the company actively promotes results-over-hours in its culture, someone is blowing smoke in your face.
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  14. 13. "We Want You to Present to Our Team, to See Your Presentation Style"
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    13. "We Want You to Present to Our Team, to See Your Presentation Style"

    In English, this translates to "We want you to present to our team, so we can take your best ideas in case we hire someone else (or no one at all)." Employers get zillions of dollars of free consulting every year in their job interview processes. Don’t fall victim to that. Do a presentation for the team if you must, but make it a consultative sales pitch rather than a rundown of your best, free ideas.
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  15. 14. "The Pay Isn't Great, but the Benefits Are Amazing"
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    14. "The Pay Isn't Great, but the Benefits Are Amazing"

    Really? you’ll ask. How odd. With health insurance costs rising at double-digit rates, it would make more financial sense to pay people more and let them manage their own benefits. Be wary when they lay out the "lousy pay, great benefits" spiel. An extra week of vacation time that they’ve never let anyone actually use in the company’s history does not constitute "great benefits."
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  16. 15. "We're All About Work-Life Balance"
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    15. "We're All About Work-Life Balance"

    If you hear this one, jump in with "That’s great! I wanted to make sure you know that I must work from home on Wednesdays, for personal reasons." One friend of mine interviewed for a social media strategist job and when she asked about working from home sometimes—to avoid the 25-mile one-way commute—the marketing director said "No, we work in the office all the time." So much for the power of technology, in a social media role no less! Ask for specifics on work-life balance and what steps (manager training, policies, CEO role modeling) make the commitment real.
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  17. 16. "You're the Leading Candidate"
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    16. "You're the Leading Candidate"

    More tears have been shed over lost opportunities after hearing "you’re the top candidate" than perhaps any other interview lie. Why do managers throw this out so casually? They do it shamelessly, or perhaps in the afterglow of a lovely interview conversation, and forget the hope-inducing words as soon as they’re spoken. Don’t rely on this kind of flattery. Instead, say "That’s great to hear—when shall we talk again?" A manager who won’t commit to, and follow through on, a post-interview conversation with the leading candidate isn’t someone you’d want to work for.
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  18. 17. "We're So Virtual"
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    17. "We're So Virtual"

    Every employer thinks it’s virtual, on account of someone’s nephew who works remotely from his home in Montana maintaining a database. Don’t believe it—ask for the details, and lay out your own virtual needs, if you have any. It’s shocking how many corporate IT departments have no idea how to deal with even casual telecommuters, and you don’t want to invoke the wrath of the IT demons by being the firm’s first not-always-on-site employee. Ask them how they’re set up to support distance workers. Then ask again, and one more time for good measure.
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  19. 18. "We Just Need to Check Your References"
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    18. "We Just Need to Check Your References"

    If they really just need to check your references, they should extend a job offer that is contingent on a background check. Do they have concerns about your references? Unless you interviewed just a few days ago, why haven’t they started that process already? Are they trying to save the 50 bucks a background check will cost them? Don’t bank on the "we just need to check references" line. Ask for an offer, if they’re serious, and if they’re not, get out of Dodge.
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  20. 19. "The Holdup in the Process Is (Someone's Illness, Vacation, Etc.)"
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    19. "The Holdup in the Process Is (Someone's Illness, Vacation, Etc.)"

    If your hiring manager is out of commission, that’s one thing. If it’s anyone else in the decision-making chain, this is a huge red flag. Is this missing person so integral to the hiring process that it can’t proceed without her presence? Is the CFO so ill that he can’t approve a new hire on a 45-second phone call? Usually something else is happening, and someone doesn’t want to spill the beans. Gather together your mojo and say "That’s a concern for me, frankly. If [Leo’s] piece in this puzzle can hold up the action for 10 days, I worry that it would be a hard place for me to have impact on." (Go ahead and end your statement with a preposition, too!)
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  21. 20. "You'll Hear from Us This Week"
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    20. "You'll Hear from Us This Week"

    That sounds fine, and I’ve got some lovely beachfront property down in lower Manhattan I’m dying to show you.
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