Bluffing your way through an interview: Risks, rewards, and struggles

Nov 20, 2023

5 mins

Bluffing your way through an interview: Risks, rewards, and struggles
Natalia Barszcz

Freelance journalist and writer

In the competitive realm of job hunting, candidates often find themselves walking a fine line between presenting their best selves and resorting to slight exaggeration. Depending on the study you consult, statistics can vary—some claim it’s 81%, others 78%, and some even 85%. Regardless of the exact percentage, there’s a widespread consensus: people are more inclined to exaggerate their experience and qualifications than one might imagine.

Why do candidates resort to bluffing in job interviews? Can such behavior be acceptable? Where is the line between a worthy exaggeration and an evident bluff? And most importantly, what do you do if an interviewer catches you? To shed light on this nuanced topic, we spoke with Linda Ohairwe, people operations leader and strategist, and founder of HR by Linda.

Bluffing as a byproduct of the competitive job market

Job bluffing, a term that may catch some off guard, is, in fact, a fairly common practice. Think about the times you or someone you know may have embellished a resume or slightly exaggerated skills in an interview. It’s a subtle nuance in the hiring process, and its prevalence might be more widespread than we realize. “The vast prevalence of job bluffing is really surprising, and it can actually be attributed to the increasingly demanding job requirements in today’s job market,” explains Linda Ohairwe.

“In recent times, job requirements have evolved for the better, with numerous organizations discarding stringent education prerequisites and instead emphasizing the significance of work experience and soft and hard skills,” she continues. “But many candidates still find themselves compelled to embellish their qualifications just to stand a chance.”

Bluffing can touch on various aspects, whether it’s adding on years of experience, embellishing job roles, or amplifying skill levels. But truth be told, it doesn’t do any favors for either the candidate or the employer in the long run. “That’s why it is essential for more companies to reevaluate their job descriptions thoroughly, thereby facilitating a more inclusive approach that can remove these barriers for job seekers.”

Think twice before you bluff

Knowing the downsides of bluffing is crucial, and it’s best to be aware of them before the thought of exaggerating on your resume or in your next job interview even crosses your mind. “The biggest risk with bluffing during the hiring process is hiring someone, only to discover later that they lack the qualifications and competence to perform the job effectively,” says Ohairwe.

“I strongly believe that with proper training and access to the necessary resources, many individuals can excel in their roles when given the opportunity,” she explains. “However, in roles demanding technical expertise and hard skills, the learning curve for candidates who have been less than truthful during the hiring process might be more protracted.”

And it works both ways—it doesn’t serve the company’s interests, and it certainly doesn’t do the new recruit any favors either. “One significant drawback in such situations is the damage done to professional relationships; the trust might be irreparably strained, making it unlikely for the organization to consider rehiring the individual,” Ohairwe explains.

Unfortunately, this can go beyond the relationship one has with the people at the company—and the consequences of bluffing can often reach their already established network and any future useful contacts. “When the person seeks references for future job opportunities, the organization may not provide favorable recommendations, potentially affecting their prospects down the line.” So you might want to think twice about potential long-term consequences before you bluff.

When bluffing is justified

Ohairwe explains that bluffing, or exaggerating the truth only slightly, might come in handy in situations where candidates show potential or talent for a skill, even if they don’t necessarily have the precise level of experience that’s being sought.

”In such cases, I believe that a degree of bluffing is justifiable—and hiring such individuals can prove to be a valuable investment for the company,” she explains. “Although they may have stretched the truth on their resumes to secure an interview, their actual performance during the interview process clearly demonstrates their capability to excel in the role and significantly contribute to the organization.”

If you find yourself in such a situation, you’ll need to weigh carefully, possibly seeking input from those who know you both personally and professionally, before deciding if a little exaggeration is the right move. And if you do go for it, you’ll have to make sure to execute it with finesse and success if you do end up getting hired.

What if you get caught?

Catching a candidate bluff in a job interview is easier than you think. “It’s a common occurrence, and as someone who conducts interviews regularly, I can usually discern this by the second or third question,” explains Ohairwe. What makes it evident? “The telltale signs are often their vague and unconcise responses, indicating that they may not have actually delved as deeply into the experiences they claim on their resume.”

“Another method I use to gauge the accuracy of their claims is by cross-referencing their LinkedIn profiles with their resumes,” adds Ohairwe. “While this isn’t always definitive proof of bluffing, as some individuals may not update their LinkedIn profiles as regularly as they should, it can also raise suspicions that they might be stretching the truth.”

If catching a bluffer is so easy, how can a bluffer get out of the situation if they do get caught? “If caught off guard, do not flatly state that you lack experience in a particular area,” Ohairwe urges. She suggests that a more suitable response would be:

“It’s an area I’ve begun exploring, although I haven’t delved into it extensively. However, I am highly interested in it and believe I could effectively address this aspect in the position.”

Rather than exaggerating your background and what you’ve done, try highlighting your potential and articulating how you can bring value to an area where your experience may be limited. “Over-exaggeration risks jeopardizing the opportunity altogether,” says our expert.

Instead of bluffing …

Practice, practice, practice!,” urges Ohairwe.

Rather than resorting to bluffing, she suggests focusing on boosting your confidence and interview skills. This could involve recording practice interviews, reviewing them solo or with a trusted individual, or seeking feedback on both your performance and resume from others. “Interviewing is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to many, but the more you practice, the more you can improve, increasing your chances of excelling without resorting to bluffing.”

If interviews stress you out and you’re still considering bluffing due to feeling underqualified, here are a couple of handy tips from our expert:

  • Prove you want to learn: “It’s okay if you do not have experience in everything the job posting requires. But it is essential to consistently demonstrate your willingness and capacity to learn.”

  • Highlight your proactiveness: “Emphasize your strong ability to quickly acquire new skills and highlight how this will contribute positively to the organization.”

  • Always turn things around: “Rather than outright declining to know how to perform a task with a, ‘No, I don’t know how to do that,’ it’s more effective to convey your interest in the subject and mention that you’ve initiated exploration in that area.”

  • Showcase your positivity: “Maintaining a positive attitude is crucial, even when confronted with tasks or knowledge gaps”

  • Come as your true self: “Don’t forget to bring your true personality and show who you are and what you can bring to the table. Companies continually seek candidates who can bring value in a constructive manner.”

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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