The 51st Shade of Grey

Image: telegraph.co.uk

Image: telegraph.co.uk

We have all shared the war stories around the barbecue about ‘truth in advertising’. Stories of marketers who have stretched the truth beyond all recognition. But we accept that ‘marketing’ is held to a different standard.

What about ‘truth in interviewing’?

If an interviewer asked me, I could say quite truthfully that I have broad international experience having worked in four different continents.

CLAIM: I have broad international experience

EVIDENCE: Because I have worked on four different continents

Fair enough?

Or is it a pack of lies because the truth is a little bit different?

It would be quite reasonable and truthful, since I have worked in Africa, Europe, USA and Australia.

However.

I have worked in Africa (18 years) and Australia (18 years), so that is pretty solid experience of different cultures and different environments and different markets.

I spent a month in the UK doing a feasibility on a JV partner.

I spent a month in the US studying at our company’s In-house Academy

In both those cases I was paid by my company to be there and do that, so I was technically working. But in both those cases it was on specific projects that afforded me limited scope to experience the broader characteristics of the differences in products, markets and cultures.

Those differences are presumably why international experience matters - so within the context of that perspective, my month in the US cannot really be classified as ‘real’ work and my month in the UK was limited to one company and one product and both cases were relatively short-term projects.

Now that you know that, can I still say in an interview that I have broad international experience?

If I am asked that question in an interview, how do I answer truthfully?

Is it still a lie if you paint the truth is a slightly different shade of grey - or is is possible to even be black and white when answering questions in an interview?

These are some of the things we will address in detail in HOW TO CRACK THE INTERVIEW CODE. In the meantime some initial thoughts.

Your answer must be justifiable.

But HOW do you do that?

## As an aside: There is so much ‘advice’ out there that will tell you to ‘be positive’ or ‘stay focussed’ or ‘live well’; but very few people will tell you HOW to do that, and if they try to, it is usually just generalisations and regurgitations. How do you stay focussed? Don’t get distracted - or some inanity like that. Sorry. Rant over.##

Anyway, how do you ensure that you can justify your answer?

Attempt to understand what the interviewer REALLY wants to know. Most interviewers aren’t very good, so it is not always clear. Every question has two layers (at least) - more about that another time - and it is up to you to either clarify what they are asking or you must assume what they are really asking and and frame your response accordingly.

In this example, assume the interviewer asks: “Do you have any international experience?” The context of the interview will allow you to make assumptions about what (s)he may want to know.

If I am interviewing for a job as the international sales director, I can’t reasonably claim to have broad international experience. The question is not really whether I have any ‘international experience’; but rather that they are trying to understand if my international experience is such that it will help me master this role They really want to know if I have the skills,connections or experience to succeed in this role, and real, practical international experience would be a good indicator of that.

If I am interviewing for a job as the local sales director, I can probably indulge in a bit of puffery by highlighting that my experience is a bit broader than the average candidate. The depth of my international experience is not a critical success factor, so my answer in this case can be justifiably different. In this second interview, the ‘hidden’ question may be more about how tolerant or how open-minded I am, or the interviewer may be trying to assess whether I have the travel bug and will be leaving soon.

The question you are asked may have nothing to do with what they want to know. (I will write about that some other time.)

Once you clarify the question, or once you  can safely assume what it is they want to know, you can phrase your response accordingly. By claiming vast international experience (in the first interview) I may be misrepresenting myself and be untruthful in the context of what the questioner wants to know.

As is often the case with dilemmas like these, the answer is therefore: It Depends.