Thursday, February 16, 2006

To Lie or Not to Lie, That is the Question

A friend of mine back in the US once told me, in the job market, everybody lies. What she means is that when potential employees go for an interview, they lie about their experiences and abilities.

If employers are rational, they should be able to realize that employees lie at job interviews and so would adjust their assessments accordingly. That is, they will discount the claims of the potential hires. The problem is: in a job market where everybody lies and employers response accordingly, what happens to somebody who does not lie?

That friend of mine does not lie in job interviews, and she has a tough time finding a good job despite execellent credentials. The reason, I guess, is that if 98% of potential employees lie at job interviews, it is only reasonable for the employers to pursue the strategy of discounting what job interviewees have to say no matter what. Even if my "poor" but honest friend does not lie, still her credentials will be appropriately discounted by her interviewer as well. Her credentials, though impeccable, then do not stand out from the rest after discounting.

So should pooling (ie. telling lies at job interviews if most people do) be a dominant strategy then? Are there efficient mechanisms for employers to figure out who is lying and who is not? (Schooling isn't helpful in this case, because job seekers in my friend's case have all got the same number of years of schooling.)

But then I have known someone who also does not exaggerate his abilities but is doing quite well today. One of my teachers Yeung Wai-hong up at Next magazine told me this funny story the other day indicating how prevalent it is for employees to lie about their abilities (even for those who have been hired).

When he first started out, he was invited to a dinner party where a big name in his field was sitting right next to him. At one point during the dinner, the big name suddenly asked him what he thought Hong Kong's economic growth would be next year. After pausing for a few seconds, slowly but firmly and with confidence, Yeung told the big name he had no idea whatsoever. Later on after the dinner party, a colleague of the big name went up to Yeung and said to him," You are the first person I know who has the guts to admit that he does not know something."

Can we say that Yeung's success can be attributed to his honest strategy then?

I doubt it. I think his case is more of an exception rather than the rule. What do you say?

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