I recently came across a posting on Linkedin/pulse by Mark Stevens, CEO of marketing firm MSCO, Inc., titled “Why You Must Lie On Job Interviews and What You Must Lie About.” I know, it sounds like terrible advice, yet Mr. Stevens makes a good case that HR consultants often look for the wrong things in job candidates. So to get into jobs they’ll be very good at, candidates often have tell lower-level screeners what they want to hear. 

In our work, we find that owner-advisors often look for the wrong things in applicants to fill jobs in their firms. While we don’t condone actual lying, we do suggest that advisory job candidates answer advisors’ questions “strategically.”

That will increase the chances that the advisor gets the employee that they need while the employee gets the job at which they will excel.

Mark Stevens sums up his point this way: “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?” 

I agree with Mark’s point in principle. But, thankfully, for jobs in most independent advisory firms, candidates don’t’ have to lie. They just have to give owner-advisors what they want, rather than what they ask for.

In our experience, most owner-advisors don’t know what they want, and even if they do, they often look for the wrong things to get it. Usually, owners look around their firms, and see a number of things that aren’t getting done: such as sales and marketing, client communications, updating technology, follow up with clients, new client screening, etcetera, etcetera and so forth. 

So,what do they do? That’s right: they combine all these jobs into one new job, and look for a candidate who has “broad experience,” and “attention to detail.” Of course, the reality is that no one is going to be able to fix all these problems—and certainly not at once. 

So what should job candidates do when a firm owner asks the wrong questions?

We find that the best employees usually decline to offer solutions for multiple problems. Instead, they say something like: “I can do all of those things, but it sounds to me that your key issue is X. Let me work on that first. And here’s why I’m really qualified to do that…”

Most of the time, they get the job. Why? Because what most owner-advisors really want is someone who’s resourceful: who can be trusted to get things done. If you can show them that you are resourceful, they’ll be comfortable letting you focus on one thing at a time, until the business is back on track. And if you come with other skills, great.

We feel so strongly that small businesses like advisory firms need resourceful employees that we test for resourcefulness in our job interviews. We have interviewees answer “30 questions in 30 minutes,” using whatever resources that they can find. They often use their phones, ask to use a computer, or they ask me, or they even ask where they can find the answer. It doesn’t matter how they get the answer, as long as they find it. 

Small business owners want people who will take the initiative to solve problems—so that they don’t have to do everything themselves.

If you can show them that you are that kind of person, nine times out of 10 you will get the job. And you can avoid the decision about whether or not to lie. Of course, if you are dealing with an HR person…

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