Slitting your throat with your own teeth in an interview

Discretion is knowing how to hide that which we cannot remedy.  (Spanish proverb)


He came in for an interview after a depressing few months of job hunting. Within 5 minutes it was obvious why no one wanted to hire him.  The thinly veiled depression didn’t help.  What killed him was that it wasn’t his fault, sorta, why he left his last 3 jobs.  If your boss won’t explain what you have to do so that you can understand it, it isn’t your fault, sorta.  When you finally decide not to work 50 hour weeks any more, it is not your fault you quit.  And an affair with your boss that ends unhappily is certainly not your fault, is it? And every detail was explained in the interview. Worse, when questioned, “Do you explain this to everyone you interview with,” the answer was, “Of course, I can’t lie about it.”

That candidate was slitting his throat with his own teeth.  He would shoot himself to prove why gun safety is important.  In a game of checkers he would explain why he made each move so he didn’t surprise his opponent.

We worked for an hour to give him answers that were true and made him look discrete and loyal.  Near the end he said, “I guess I am going to have to learn how to lie.”  He didn’t understand. We explained, “In 20 years you won’t tell all the heart wrenching reasons you left your recent job, so don’t tell them now.” He just couldn’t accept that.

What to say

For any negatives, acknowledge them very briefly, and also find the good side of that experience.  I said, “Acknowledge them.”  I did not say, “Explain them.”  In almost every negative situation there were some positives.  Think of what those positives were and emphasize them. Explain the positives and not the negatives. Here are examples:

Your boss didn’t train you:

“I was very grateful for that job, but I needed an opportunity to grow more. I had a strong boss who taught me about leadership.”

You left because of long hours:

“My boss taught me a lot, but we disagreed on working conditions.  It was great to work directly with an entrepreneur like him.”

The office affair went sour:

“That was a great company, but I left because of the office atmosphere. My trainer at that company was brilliant.  I learned a lot about business as well as the technical side of my job.”

When someone asks you more about the negative, refuse to talk about it.  Instead, talk about the positives you brought up.  It is called loyalty when you refuse to discuss unimportant tidbits of gossip and concentrate on the positive. Another word to describe it is discretion.

Something to do today

Make a list of all the things you mention in interviews that just don’t sound good.  Figure out how to mention them in 5 words or less.  Then figure out 2 good things you can mention that are related to those negatives.


Later:                         Killer Email

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