Job Interview Presentation: Sprucing Up or Deception?

Overheard in a supermarket checkout line this past weekend, one woman to another:

“Oh my God, [Leanne] bought a pair of fake glasses and wore them to an interview because she felt more intelligent. I mean, it’s not like they’re going to say, ‘Hire the one with glasses because she’s more intelligent.'”

It just got me to thinking, and wondering if Leanne is (a) being dishonest with her prospective employer, albeit in a seemingly benign way, or (b) creative, original, and smart. I’m sure the interviewer would be able to size up pretty quickly whether she’s an airhead or the real deal, but my jury is still out on whether or not the action is duplicitous. I’m choosing to ignore the perception of the two women engaged in the conversation (at least the one making the comment) because it’s possible she just doesn’t get what’s going on. Besides, the general question is more intriguing. The “lie” is obvious — she’s potentially making the attempt at making herself appear more intelligent than she is — not to mention the fact that she doesn’t really wear glasses. What’s original and smart about it may not be readily apparent.

Firstly, anyone who goes into an interview is putting on their best face, and interviewers know it. Anyone showing up markedly shy of this mark is automatically out of the running: if they don’t care about the interview, they aren’t likely to but much care into the job. Interviewers know that you don’t always dress this way, and your hair may not always look that good. And sometimes you might wear (or not wear) your contacts. In this sense, Leanne’s deception is benign. Her reason for doing this caught my attention though “…because she felt more intelligent.” Of course she isn’t actually more intelligent, even she knows that. Her reason isn’t necessarily to make her appear more intelligent (to which her friend wrongly reacts), but just about the way she feels during the interview. And I daresay if she felt more intelligent, she will exhibit more confidence, and in fact, she may thereby appear more intelligent, even if that isn’t her stated goal. The end result may very well be that the glasses help the interview and give her a greater chance of landing the job.

And no, of course the hiring decision won’t be made on the basis of the glasses. But even a trained interviewer is subject to subtleties of perception that will influence the hiring decision. I’ve conducted my share of interviews, and can tell you that not every factor that goes into a hiring decision is completely void of the subjective. In fact, among a group of highly qualified candidates, it’s often the subjective that tips the balance. So if Leanne’s glasses translate into her projecting confidence, good on her for figuring that out. She may actually be smarter — smarter at least than her friend in the supermarket checkout line.

I’m inclined to say that I’m alright with her glasses stunt, but on the other hand if I as an interviewer discovered this later, I might wonder about her honesty in other areas. I’m clear about lying on a resume: don’t. Put down the fact and word them the best way you can of course, but stick to the facts and don’t embellish. When the interviewer says “Tell me about XYZ Industries where you were the president for three years,” s/he isn’t going to be too keen to discover that XYZ was a summer lemonade stand with your buddy next door. But about the glasses… I still can’t decide if it was an entirely good move or not. If she gets the job it could well become apparent or else she’ll have to lie to cover it up. Clearly there’s some untruth in the act of wearing the glasses.

Maybe the question is really about where the line is between putting on your best face and outright lying. Is there a blur between them, or is it hard-and-fast?