Americans Are Unethical in Getting Jobs

Here’s an article by Brad Smart, one of the world’s foremost experts on hiring and a frequent guest blogger at Great Leadership. Brad has published six books on hiring including the best seller “Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching, and Keeping the Best People” and “Topgrading for Sales: World-Class Methods to Interview, Hire, and Coach Top Sales Representatives”.

Our society is in need of an ethical transplant. Why? Because it’s widely considered acceptable for job candidates to lie on their resumes and in hiring interviews. Employers, job seekers, and our economy suffer. Topgrading seeks to eliminate the BS.


Many publishers have asked me to write the book, How to BS (my initials, get it?) Your Way Through a Topgrading Interview. No way! Topgraders elicit TRUTH from candidates.

I guess I have the creds to discuss ethics in hiring, since I’ve performed 65,000 oral case studies. Really! I’ve conducted about 6,500 in-depth interviews of pre-screened, mostly A player candidates for mid-to-executive jobs. In the Topgrading Interview I ask why you left the job, how you got the next job, and how it worked out (in detail).

Since my interviewees averaged 10 jobs, that’s 65,000 times I’ve heard how really sharp people manage their career and get jobs – and how they prepared their resume and rehearsed for interviews.

Heads of companies that verify resumes say almost all resumes include hype, and more than 50% contain deliberate, serious falsehoods. A players are at a real disadvantage, because they can honestly claim lots of accomplishments, yet C players dishonestly do the same. Almost all resumes look like A player resumes!

Caught lying, candidates say they are justified because 1. Companies are not necessarily ethical in how they fill jobs (a topic for a different Topgrading Tips), 2. Outplacement counselors tell them they HAVE to lie to get a job, 3. All the books on job hunting say to lie, and besides, 4. Everyone else is doing it — “Playing the job hunting game is just part of our culture.”

Great! The sad fact is that all 4 points have some truth, and so omitting important truths in resumes and interviews is widely acceptable – unethical, dishonest, but acceptable in our culture.

We Americans sometimes act superior to other countries, where business people are said to mean “no” when they say “yes,” or where written contracts seem to be frequently broken. But those same countries make a point that their culture is not so different from ours in the acceptance of marginal ethics, at least in hiring. The example I always hear is, “It’s perfectly okay in the US for job seekers to lie on their resume and in job interviews.”

Is the culture of job hunting dishonesty really so pervasive? Yes. Outplacement companies don’t admit the teach their clients to lie, but more than a dozen outplacement counselors have told me they ALL do it.

Look at the job seeking section of any bookstore and the message is – “BS your way into a job.” The gentle form of our ethical lapse is the advice to hype positives and exclude negatives, and on my desk at the moment are 15 books with sample “scripts” on how to answer interview questions. The message is clear – it’s ok to BS!

Some books don’t beat around the bush. In 44 Insider Secrets That Will Get You Hired author Cynthia Shapiro’s Secret #7 is: You CAN Lie on Your Resume. Secret #31 is: Don’t Ever Admit You Were Fired. She suggests that in your resume and in interviews it’s okay to deceive – for example, to not mention a 3-to 6-month job in which you were fired. Instead, she advises you to say you were conducting an extended job search.

The job hunting books give liars comfort that they won’t be caught. Why? Most companies are so fearful of being sued, they prohibit managers from accepting reference calls. Job hunting books take glee in the fact that former bosses won’t be contacted and they advise job seekers to provide only the most positive references – golfing buddies, insurance agents, neighbors, and priests (okay, I’m exaggerating a bit).


With job seekers reading these books on how to out-interview interviewers, putting their best foot forward and concealing negatives, everyone loses except some C players who otherwise would have to take much lower-paying jobs.

You’ve read our studies – hiring managers like you experience only 25% high performers hired, so your job performance suffers. Or, more likely, you work 70 hours per week to sweep up after mis-hires, sacrificing your personal life.

Companies perform poorer with 75% mis-hires, and the mis-hired employees frequently bounce from job to job. The cost of mis-hires in our economy has been estimated in the trillions of dollars.

In short, like Chicago politicians who take payoffs (“beause dat’s da way we do tings here”), job seekers deliberately deceive prospective employers, like you.

Can we change this rotten, destructive aspect of our culture.? We can try …


In a steadily growing wave of culture change, Topgraders, almost all of whom are A players are making our society more ethical, and just about everyone wins. Topgrading is all about TRUTH in advertising when it comes to resume construction, and all about TRUTH in answering interview questions.

With honestly documented 90% hiring success, Topgrading managers perform better and have balance in life, their employers are more profitable and grow more jobs, and our economy benefits. And the society at large is ore productive, creating more jobs and wealth.

But what about the C players who aren’t hired? They must find jobs where they can perform at a more high level, even if the level of the job isn’t as high.

How do Topgraders create more honest job seekers? You probably know this, but Topgraders begin by letting candidates know that THEY will have to arrange personal reference calls with bosses, in order to get a job offer. This Threat of Reference Check (TORC) Technique inspires honesty. If works! C players drop out (they can’t get former bosses to talk) and A players are happy to arrange those calls. Most important – candidates willing to make those calls are super honest in interviews, knowing you’ll be talking with their bosses.