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Truth, Lies and Things Nobody Needs to Know in Job Interviews

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by Lisa Johnson

over 2 years ago

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I think it's pretty safe to say that almost everybody embellishes their resume in some way.  Mostly it's pretty harmless, where people exaggerate responsibilities or achievements a little.  

Recruiters expect it, which is why we ask very pointed questions in interview to find out what you really did. But there is a difference between hyperbole and downright lies.  

Andrew Flanagan, who, rather infamously and allegedly, lied his way to a $400,000 per year job with the retailer Myer, is in the process of finding out what happens to people who allegedly tell blatant lies in order to gain employment.* Clearly, you should always tell the truth.  

If someone asks you if you have experience undertaking a certain task, then you need to say yes or no, and, if yes, describe in some detail where and how you gained your experience. However, there are some things that you are not required to disclose, and you should be aware of these too. Examples are:

Criminal record

You are only obliged to declare any criminal convictions that relate specifically to your ability to complete the requirements of the job on offer. An employer is obliged to only consider any criminal convictions relating to your ability to do the job.  If you have convictions for stealing money and you are applying for a role where you will be required to handle money, this conviction IS relevant, and the employer can take that into consideration.  

However, if you had a conviction for speeding and you were applying for a role where you were not required to drive for work purposes, then the employer doesn't necessarily need to know about it. When you are at interview and someone looks you in the eye and asks, 'Do you have any criminal convictions?' you should reply: 'I have no convictions that affect my ability to do the job on offer.' On the other hand, if you have a conviction that may be relevant, you should declare it upfront.

Do you have any medical conditions that would affect your ability to undertake this work?

Truth, Lies and Things Nobody Needs to Know in Job Interviews

This question makes me cringe.  There are, in fact, pretty clear legal guidelines that specify that an employer cannot discriminate against you unlawfully for an existing disability. Well, it's the law, so it's probably as clear as mud.  But it's a minefield for employers asking this question, because the only way that they can discriminate against someone with a disability (and this includes mental illness) is if they have a lawful defence. A lawful defence includes:

  • You are unable to perform the inherent requirements of the job, even if the employer has made adjustments to cater for your disability
  • The adjustment you need is not reasonable and would impose an unjustifiable hardship on the employer; or
  • To NOT discriminate would cause unjustifiable hardship to the employer

This unlawful discrimination not only applies for existing employer/employee relationships but ALSO in the recruitment process. Think of it like this. Say an employer is looking for someone to work where duties include sanding wood, resulting in a lot of wood dust in the air.  The employer asks you if you have any existing medical conditions, and you reply that you have a history of asthma.  

The employer cannot exclude you from consideration for the role based on your asthma, because it would be a reasonable expectation that they provide breathing masks that ensure that workers do not inhale the dust.  BUT, if they immediately exclude you from consideration for the role because you have a medical condition that may be affected by the work, without making any adjustment for that condition, then that could be construed as unlawful discrimination. 

This question is also confronting for employees. How do employees know what will affect their ability to do the job?  

If they suffered from a cluster of migraines in their 20s that kept them off work for three weeks, is this relevant fifteen years later?  If someone has been using medication to manage mild epilepsy and they have not had a seizure in over five years, do they need to declare this because they might have a seizure in the future?  What if someone had a mental illness at university but has been fine since?  Potential employees will feel under pressure to declare everything when asked this question because they just don't know what will affect them. And the more information they provide, the greater the risk that someone may use that information to discriminate against them. So what do you say when asked this question? Remember, the medical condition or disability needs to relate specifically to the job that you will be doing.  If there is something that is relevant, then make a point of detailing what support or adjustments need to be made to ensure that you are safely able to undertake the work. Here is a great link to the transcript of a speech given by Cristina Ricci to the HAS Group Professional Conference in 2008, which expands on my comments above.

*Andrew Flanagan has the presumption of innocence until proved guilty in a court of law.

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