One Recruiter's Wisdom

What if, in an interview, you don't know the answer to an employer's question? Do you waffle? Make something up? Create a diversion?

Last week, when I was presenting at an Etiquette Dinner at Idaho State University, a tech recruiter posed this dilemma to the students.

Whenever I have employers in an etiquette dinner, I like to take advantage of their wisdom in the room. I invite them to jump in with any stories throughout the dinner.

I've never been disappointed. At another etiquette dinner, an employer said an interview candidate took butter off her bread plate and put it in her coffee – that was just gross enough to get her bounced out of contention.

Back to the tech recruiter. At the end of this dinner, I invited the employers to give one piece of advice to the students.

The tech recruiter said, "I look for honesty. If you don't know the answer to a question, don't try to talk your way around it. If I came up with the question, I know the subject and you can't fool me." (His pique suggested this was not a singular occurrence.)

He added, "It's better to admit what you don't know and show an interest in filling the gaps in your knowledge."

Honesty means not exaggerating on your resume to begin with. This is a big problem in tech, when people claim skills they don't have. So much so, that organizations often put applicants through testing to prove their skills.

It's not just technical knowledge. Two years of high school Spanish doesn't necessarily translate to "fluent in Spanish."

"Admitting you don't know, shows humility and candor," said the tech recruiter. "I can't train you to be honest. But I can train you in everything else."

Culture and Manners Institute