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Submitted by jrumple on


Some co-workers were discussing an interview question that one of their wives received recently while interviewing for a new job. I am curious how this group feels about it:

Please tell us about a time when you lied and do you think you got away with it.

Most of the discussion was that the group thought it was a bad question. Some people were recommending some smart-alecky answers like, "That is a nice tie you have on."

I thought there could be merit in a question like this. First it is a negative question looking to catch an unexpected candidate in a web of lying.

When I started looking at it from the hiring manager's perspective I can see a job where honesty, even when uncomfortable, is needed. It was a nursing job. Something like admiting you made a mistake in a treatment could save someone's life where lying to cover for your mistake could kill someone. In this case I think it would be important to ask this type of question.

I think you have to ask it with both parts. I would expect most people have lied about something. If you don't think you got away with it, you're discoraged from doing it again. Also being able to admit it in an interview is an open honesty which some jobs require.

How do you feel about this interview question?

smgraham2's picture

I have to admit that this question is a bit of a shocker, and that might make it a good one by seeing how quickly someone can think on their feet and you can judge something about their character by the way they answered it.   

Here is how I would anser.    "Yes, I have lied" and I would link it showing my support of a policy that I didn't agree with.    It answers the question honestly and still portrays a positive policy trait of respecting the chain of command. 

jhbchina's picture

This is a good topic and I am hoping to see some interesting answers. I like SM's answer too.

Initially, I thought about the podcast on how to answer the Weakness question. Everyone has a weakness, just pick one and make sure it does not have a serious impact on your ability to doing the job. Then tell the interviewer how you are working on how to solve this weakness.

"Please tell us about a time when you lied and do you think you got away with it."

Well, sometimes when a client asks me when I can deliver a report or service, I pad the delivery date to give me more time. I always make sure that my delivery date is before their NEED date, and I deliver before the date I promised. I do this to manage expectations."

Now how many others do that?? Be honest!

Now I know this is not the way to answer the question, though this is an interesting topic and I decided to play with it a bit.

Please tell us about a time when you lied and do you think you got away with it. "Well, when I interviewed for employees in my last position, I had to fill a position and that meant not telling the candidate about the company's shaky bottom line. Sometimes managers have to follow their orders as well. I would never commit a crime though". Then ask, have you ever had to dance around a topic in an interview? Of course at that point I would not expect to get an offer. I would only use this to spread the field to show the hiring manager that I could see that their question, and probably others they asked, or their answer to other questions, already convinced me I did not want to work for them.  :-)

I look forward to other MT comments.

mporter's picture

I had some interview training last week through a major university here in Texas.  The instructor said he often asks "Is it ever okay to lie?"  Emphatic answers like "never"  and "absolutely" tell you something. 

Everybody tells little white lies and there are often good reasons for them.  Admitting in the interview that you've told white lies and giving an example is not necessarily a bad thing (no dear, that dress doesn't make you look fat :).  Later in the interview, though, he'll ask a person what traits they have.  If they don't list honesty as one of their own traits, they probably aren't.  If they say they're honest, then admitting to telling white lies may be an indication of balancing ethics and other people's feelings. 

All that said, remember that it is rare for the answer to one interview question to be used to decide whether or not to hire someone.

allie's picture

Lying is wrong.  Period.

jhbchina's picture


This has nothing to do with one's religion. My high D is fighting my high I not to answer with my gut.

I think you would agree that MT'ers are working to be better ethical people, and that M&M have great ethics, and teach them well. They also teach to us to be realistic. Being realistic is a key point from the book "Good to Great". With that as the baseline, it is safe to say that not many people here could say they never lied, in some form or fashion. White lies, mislead customers, mislead peers, not providing all the information for individual gains, the reasons go on.

This decade's headlines shout about the lies, from Enron and Worldcom to Mr Madoff, and everyone in between. Lying is wrong, and people do lie.

This question reminds me of a joke.

How do you know when a lawyer/politician/computer salesmen/ car salesmen/ is lying?

Their lips are moving!

allie's picture


I do believe that we're all striving to be more ethical individuals.  I also believe that "more ethical" includes less (or no) lying.

I'm no saint, and admit to my share of dishonesty including the occasional "little white lie."  And, it feels wrong and immoral every single time.  I've learned in life that while those little white lies may seem harmless, they have a tendency to become something much bigger over time.  (Which ends up hurting all those involved.)  Lying requires a darn good memory, and most who lie repeatedly get tripped up over the details at some point.  Bottom line:  if you tell the truth, there's nothing to remember, and no embarrassing moments to later regret.  A lie may take care of the present, but it has no future. 

I expect honesty from my coworkers and family.  I know I don't always get it, but they all know I expect it.

Your joke reminded me of a cute quote:  "Honesty pays, but it doesn't seem to pay enough to suit some people." -F.M. Hubbard  

And...I appreciate the honesty regarding dishonesty in this thread.  :-)  Have a good one!



jhack's picture

What does this question imply about the hiring manager, and the company you'd be joining? 

Why are they asking this particular question, and what do they expect to learn about candidates by their answers?   

John Hack

ken_wills's picture

....your friend's wife was applying for a job as a manager, director or above?

While I still HATE this question (it struck me as manipulative gamesmanship and made me wonder about the professionalism of the interviewer..), I have to concede that context does matter...

That is, there are going to be some areas you probe and question for when you're hiring someone who handles a lot of cash, or works directly with the public, or staffs a phone in a crisis center, etc...

My mistake was I immediately pictured that questions being asked of ME in MY context - as a VP. And I reacted badly (!).

Jazzman's picture
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Allie said: ...if you tell the truth, there's nothing to remember, and no embarrassing moments to later regret.  A lie may take care of the present, but it has no future. 

Well said!  I would suggest that philosphy should apply to the answer to the interview question as well.  Answer truthfully, say what you learned and how you would do it differntly based on your more experienced perspective.  It's not really that much different than a weakness question.


namillercpa's picture
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At first I was shocked by the question but the more I thought about it, and read through the answers, I believe that I really like the question. Because to me, this is really a conversation about ethics and about how some issues are not black/white but shades of grey.  I train people on fraud detection and the conversation always focuses on defining fraud. If I take cash from my employer is clearly fraud. If I take a corporate pencil home - is that fraud?  I think the same conversation could be had about lying. I think the real follow up questions are  - would you make the same decision again and why?  Personally, I tend to fall on my sword when I make a mistake but the temptation to cover it up is always there.  Now I hire people and don't expect to be in the seat that would have to answer this question. But it occurs to me that you could answer it by explaining when you had a temptation to lie, did not, and the consequences of that decision.  A truly thoughtful response would impress the heck out of me - it would show me someone who can truly analyze a situation and the frequent difficulties in not just doing the right thing but sometimes even figuring out what is the right thing to do.

pktessler's picture

The situation may be a little different because nursing actually has an explicit code of ethics to which we're expected to adhere. When I was an engineer, we had no discussion in my undergrad years or in my professional association about engineering ethics. Nursing normally has weeks of study in this area. I had class content in ethics at the BSN and MSN level in my nursing studies.

jrumple's picture
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The job was in nursing. It was either a front line nurse or a nurse manager. I don't believe it was director or above.

As I thought about the question more, the context of nursing helped me get over my initial shock at the question as well.

- Jack

jrumple's picture
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I'd like to thank everyone for their input to this question. It was a lot more thoughtful than the inital conversation I had on the topic.

- Jack

allie's picture


It's always a pleasure to share a point of view with a fellow  M-Ter!   And, it's certainly a joy to read others' POVs on topics...especially topics as monumental as ethics/honesty.

Thank you for sharing the situation and for posing the thought-provoking question. 


allie's picture


MD144 says, "My point here is not that it's okay to lie, but rather that for some people, probably more than we recognize, saying "I never lie" isn't a credible answer, and may not be the correct answer." 

Great post and examples!  I thought of your post on my lunch hour while listening to a radio talk show host discuss "boasting."  The discussion reminded me of two things:  1) how often we hear folks boast and 2) how wrong it is to do it. 

Random question:  Is boasting related to lying? (While it may or may not be, it is certainly related to arrogancy.)

" Dishonest, arrogant, boastful, and pompous"...these must be the four ugliest words in the English language.  May it be among our goals in life to never let these words be uttered about ourselves.




terrih's picture

For the record, if I ask someone "Does this dress make me look fat," it's because I really want to know! If it DOES, I'm going to go back to my closet (or the rack, if it's a shopping situation) and pick out something else!

Some garments are better at camoflaging our, *ahem,* imperfections than others. I'm just looking for an objective opinion. Really.

Sorry, but that example is a pet peeve of mine. Like I'm such a delicate flower that I can't handle the truth about whether a garment is flattering to me or not.