Kayla Heisler

Honesty is an essential quality for any employee to have. As an applicant, though, it can be tempting to stretch the truth to spruce up your resume or embellish your experience.  If you’ve made these exaggerations, you aren’t alone: 81 percent of people lie during job interviews.

Because interview overstatements are so common, business leaders are becoming more savvy about spotting lies. Sure, there are the semi-notorious tell tale signs that signal lying, like glancing to the right or repeating questions. But looking for lies with these methods is far from being an exact science.

So, short of hooking potential employees up to a polygraph machine, how can a business owner verify an applicant's honesty? Tesla CEO Elon Musk has a solution.

Musk claims that he’s able to effectively weed out liars with one follow-up question: What were the most difficult problems you faced and how did you solve them?

While many interviewers ask job seekers the first question, the second half is where the magic happens. If the candidate is able to explain the process by which the solutions were found, you have a winner—or at the very least an honest applicant.

"Anyone who struggles hard with a problem never forgets it," Musk said. “They know the little details.”

Pretending to solve a problem becomes apparent when someone starts to speak and only glosses over the details. If an applicant is unable to provide specifics for how a problem was solved, they may have had a smaller role in finding a resolution than they are claiming.

While it’s totally acceptable to play up your strengths and downplay your weaknesses during an interview, getting caught over embellishing could cost you a job you may have gained by being honest.

You can give your deficiencies a positive spin by describing the skills you do have that are similar to those you are asked about, as opposed to lying about the skill. For example, if you’re asked if you have experience working with a software program you’re unfamiliar with, tell your interviewer about a program you are advanced in using. Alternatively, explain your willingness to learn the system. If you’re asked about your skill level when you have only little experience, acknowledge that you recognize your deficiency and are still in the process of improving. Employers want to hire willing applicants who put in the effort to improve themselves and by extension, improve the company.


Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets anthology.