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Can I Be Honest With You?

I was at dinner the other night with my co-worker and we were discussing some recent candidate interviews. One of the candidates had repeatedly said “honestly” before her answers during the interview, and we were discussing how this was a huge pet peeve for both of us in recruiting and sales.

“Can I be honest with you?” “Honestly…” “To tell you the truth”— What else have you been telling me the whole time we have been talking if not the truth?

When I hear candidates or sales people use phrases like this it sounds like they are breaking character for a minute to be honest with the interviewer or prospect. Why would I assume everything you have told me is a lie until you explicitly let me know that now is the part of the conversation where you’re going to be honest with me?

I spent some time thinking about why someone might do this, because I don’t think it’s intentional. When someone says, “Let me be honest with you,” they don’t realize it comes off as if they haven’t been honest so far. I think the intention behind the phraseology is to build closer rapport with the other person, as if you’re now in on a secret together that will bring you to a deeper level in your relationship.

If the intention is to be more candid or intimate in your conversation there are some other phrases that I think will serve you better. Here is a playful example where the intent of the conversation and your answers is to get on a more personal, deeper level as if you’re sharing secrets with a girlfriend at a slumber party- the kind of relationship we all want in interviews and sales calls right?

Question: I’ve always grown up with dogs, but secretly I’m a cat person, what are you?

The question already uses the word “secretly” so you know there is an expected level of reciprocal intimacy expected in your response. These are cues you can look for when your answers will dictate a mutual level of transparency with your clients.

Answer [1]: To tell you the truth, I think cats are lazy and would abandon you in the desert to chase a tumbleweed, everyone should be a dog person.

This is brutally honest, but the first part of the answer negates the rest of your conversation as if you haven’t been expressing your true thoughts until just now. 

Answer [2]: You don’t waste any time getting to the core of a person! I’m a dog person, but I’m willing to look past your error in judgment.

Saying something like “that gets right to the core or root of the issue” still implies that you are getting to a deeper level of conversation and your candid answer will give you more meaning to the broader discussion.

Answer [3]: If we are gonna go there… then I hope you can still get along with a fervent dog lover. 

You can playfully say almost in a defeated way “If we are going to that level” as if the interviewer or prospect has broken you down to get to the deepest level of knowledge you were keeping hidden for only the closest relationships.

The intent here is still the same, it’s to build your answer around some piece of secret or special information as if you wouldn’t just give it to anyone and they have now earned that exclusivity with you. The only difference here is you don’t negate the rest of your conversation by calling into question the validity of your previous comments up to this point.

What are some of your other filler statement pet peeves in recruiting or sales?


Kelli Lampkin works in Netsuite’s Boston office and is focused on Making Cloud ERP Fun (no small task!). She originally posted this piece on LinkedIn

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