All of the characteristics HR looks for in a job candidate are the polar opposite of what enlightened leaders seek in new talent. While HR is tediously focused on making certain that candidates "play well in the sandbox," strong managers want those who don't venture near the proverbial box. Which creates a conundrum and a paradox:to get to the latter you need to lie to the former. As well you should. Why be held hostage to a broken system?
Case in point: the HR person will likely ask you if you work well with others? Well, many of the smartest and most innovative people on the planet simply don't. Not that they are trouble makers or in any way venal but they simply prefer to work alone, creating marvels of software, mathematical formulas or extraordinary feats of creativity. But can they tell HR:
"No. I don't really like working with others. I guess you can say I do my best work by myself. My professors at MIT used to call me a 'loner.'"
HR's universal reaction to this honest response would be "Next." Einstein and Newton would have failed their test.
For years, my firm worked with a hedge fund that invests capital based on quantitative strategies, developed by their team of math and physics brainiacs. None even pretend to enjoy the social aspects of the work environment. For them, it is all about hibernation, concentration and introspection. They never stepped into a a sandbox as kids and they aren't about to start now.
Over the course of an intense year when we examined and adjusted many of the practices of the fund, management came to recognize that the caliber of the candidates coming to them for second-stage interviews was way down below the quality hierarchy. On closer examination, we discovered the HR filter was turning the best and the brightest away before they could be seen by senior fund managers -- all geeks and loners in their own right. The solution was simple: HR was limited to managing the fund's employee benefits and policies and completely removed from the hiring process.
Another HR question that demands a lie goes like this:
"So tell me why you want to work for our company."
In many cases, the honest answer would be:
"I think this is the best place to make a fortune before I'm 35. I really want a chunk of those stock options."
But to the HR paint-by-numbers gang, that would lead to a fast dismissal out the fire exit. To get to the next-stage interview you have to lie, waxing poetic about the company's innovative culture or lionizing it's irreverent founder (who, by the way, is eager to have brilliant wealth-seeking hot shots on the team).
The old adage "Just be yourself," is a fool's game when it comes to the hiring process. Instead, at the outset, you need to be what HR wants you to be. And in most cases, you need to (and very well should) lie to win a pass to see the real players in the company. The ones with a 180 degree different (from HR) perspective on life/business/success and how to get what you want in your career.
Look, I don't believe in making lying a way of life--in fact, I appreciate blunt and honest people and think of myself in this way. But when a system is stacked against the truth, dance around it.