How far do you go in being open and honest with employers when searching and applying for jobs? Understanding the pros and cons, and establishing appropriate boundaries, can help you navigate the tricky ethical dilemmas we all face in presenting our best self for job and career success.

The word Parrhesia is Greek in origin and means freedom of speech. It also implies that one is obliged to speak the truth even if that involves a degree of risk. It can be risky to speak openly and honestly about yourself when applying for jobs unless done with care and skill. Here are three areas where you can trip up:

CV/application form

Employers value honesty very highly when recruiting people for their organisation. They want to know you are trustworthy, your values align with the company’s, and the facts you declare on your CV or application are true (as the recent Chairman of the Co-operative Bank found out to his cost). Never lie, but by all means maximise every kilogram of your experience to show you can do this job.

Online profiles

LinkedIn is working hard at the moment to find ways of providing assurance that what people put in their profiles can be verified. Until then it is potentially open to abuse. Don’t see online profiles as just an alternative CV. See them as an opportunity to be open and honest about the kind of person you are. Take Simon Sinek’s wise advice and focus on these 3 questions in this specific order: What is my why? How do I uniquely go about it? What do I do?

Simon Sinek quote

What do you put down in your LinkedIn headline when you are not in education or employment? Being too open and honest can be unhelpful. Avoid saying unemployed or between jobs as these might be seen as negative and they don’t present your best self.

Get on the front foot and put down what you want to be known for or the role or expertise to which you aspire. For example, Aspiring Music Production Professional or Prince 2 Project Management Specialist. That way employers and recruiters can identify you more easily when using LinkedIn as a search engine. What you offer may be exactly what they are looking for.

An unemployed client of mine contacted a friend in the field he wanted to pursue and asked if he could shadow him for one day a week. Going to an office regularly, contributing to a project relevant to the jobs for which he was applying, even though unpaid, not only helped build his self-esteem but also gave him a credible story for employers. He could then reflect that in his LinkedIn headline.

Job interview

The moment the interviewer asks you ‘what is your greatest weakness?’ can send shivers down the spine. Be honest with yourself first. We all have limitations and we can’t be good at everything – that includes the interviewer! Never say you do not have any weaknesses. Avoid clichéd answers like I’m a bit of a perfectionist which interviewers are more than wise to.

Get on the front foot again by talking about a current limitation rather than a weakness – it immediately reflects a mindset of continuous improvement. That means knowing yourself really well. You can present this positively by identifying something that is one of your strengths that you overplay and how you mitigate it.

For example, you may be someone who is very task focused who gets things done. Listening to the views of others and alternative approaches might be overlooked occasionally if you overplay your admirable strength. You might manage your limitation by deliberately getting someone else who is more people focused to complement you and ensure others are involved or consulted; or by increasing your self-awareness through regular feedback and working at different behaviours.

Don’t rule yourself out of the running by putting forward a limitation that would conflict with an essential requirement of the job. If the role specification asks for a highly numerate person, don’t say maths was never your favourite subject at school but you’re willing to learn! Filter your responses to avoid failure.

Gaps in your career history? Concerned about explaining your divergent career path? We all take jobs for personal reasons whether to pay the bills, or develop or build on our interests and expertise. We leave jobs for a variety of reasons too, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes not. Identify your unique story, weave a narrative together that explains your motivations and reflects the learning from your experiences. Make it compelling, positive and relevant to what each employer is looking for.

What’s your story?

Come back next week for the second part of this blog on how to approach being open and honest when you are in the workplace to help you stay employable.