• December 2012

Honesty at Work

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook

We live in a world where it is sometimes difficult to determine what the truth is, and what it is not.

Teaching our kids to be honest is a cardinal rule for many parents. Employers put a premium on honesty, too. Yet, we’ve just finished an election cycle where both sides were in the news for distorting the truth. And, of course, this carries over into society in general.

Consider how honesty plays out in the workplace.

Here are three situations where lying may seem like it can help advance your career and will be easy to get away with—but it won’t:

1. Resumes Shouldn’t Lie

Here’s why: Lying on resumes is so common, according to an article on Forbes.com, that almost 40 percent of human resources professionals surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management reported they’ve increased the amount of time they spend checking references.

What’s the solution? Don’t lie! Any good company checks out whether or not an applicant graduated from the school he or she claimed to attend, or whether or not an applicant actually worked for the prestigious firm listed on their resume.

Remember: While it makes no sense to lie on a resume, it continues to happen, and there are some pretty high-profile examples of this—including the football coach who was hired into his “dream job” several years ago at Notre Dame and lost it just days later when it was determined he had lied on his resume, and had been doing so for years.

The bottom line: It isn’t a good idea to lie on a resume, but it is a really good idea for organizations to do background checks on applicants—just in case.

For additional insight, check out this article on How Recruiters Look at Your Resume.

2. Interviews Are the Perfect Place to Tell the Truth

Here’s why: Some people don’t lie on their resume, but embellish their skills or abilities during the interview. For example, when asked about their experience with a certain topic, perhaps they studied it in college, but have never actually have performed the skill on the job.

What’s the solution? When asked about your experience with any topic that comes up in an interview, feel free to discuss and describe what you know—but be sure to share specific examples of what you have done.

Remember: If you mislead HR, and they hire you based on a misleading response, you’ll likely be expected to actually do the task. It won’t take long for your superiors to know you were lying. And that won’t bode well.

The bottom line: I have seen talented people trip themselves up this way—and it doesn’t have to happen. If you are a good fit for the job, you’ll likely get it—along with some training or a mentor to help you. Now this won’t work if you are interviewing for a job like an airline pilot or a physician where you’d better have the experience you say you have—people’s lives depend on it.

For additional insight, click here to read Sharon Armstrong’s 100 Questions: How to Master Behavioral Interviews. She’s my co-author on The Essential HR Handbook, and these questions are a must-read.

3. Gossip in the Workplace Can Be Deadly

Here’s why: Gossip is just a game to some, but in truth, gossip is the lies people tell about others. Just “idle” gossip? Never. Reputations can be destroyed by the lies told about others.

What’s the solution? Remind your employees not to listen to what others are saying, and certainly not to spread gossip. It can be a career killer.

Remember: Being honest with ourselves and others should be a core value of any organization that wants to grow and succeed.

The bottom line: Honesty in the workplace starts with the organization’s leadership standing up for this most important quality—then requiring others to behave ethically.

For additional insight, and to see why bad things happen to gossipers, check out a few episodes of Gossip Girl.

This month’s challenge: What are you doing to foster honesty and integrity in your organization? Send me an email, and we’ll publish it here: Email Barbara Mitchell.


About Barbara Mitchell

Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors and has consulted for a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook, and The Big Book of HR. Click here to buy the book.

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