Lesson 3: Lie to Your Boss

April 21, 2008

There’s an idea in the world that one must work his way through the ranks, pay his dues, and move up when he’s earned it. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.

There is substantial evidence that experience makes virtually no difference to job performance after about 2 years on a particular job [need sources, can someone help me out with that?]. There is also evidence that the quality, not the quantity, of experience is the deciding factor in the output quality of a person.

But as I discussed in People Matter, hiring managers have to be confident in you, and be able to justify their confidence in you to their superiors. This is where fictionalized context has a place.

Fictionalized context is simply telling the essential truth in way that your audience is comfortable with.

Don’t Lie to your Boss

I want to make thing abundantly clear. If you bullshit your way into a job you’re not qualified for, then you deserve to be fired. Business is about relationships, and if you violate trust for your personal gain at the expense the hiring manager and of the business, you are a bastard, pure and simple. The catchy title of this article not withstanding, fictionalized context is not a lie, so don’t take this as permission to act like a shit.

True Lies

As a convenient, culturally salient example, religious texts are full of fictionalized context. Every religion uses parables to illustrate points. Depending of course on the religion and the believer, the stories aren’t taken literally because they point to a larger truth that isn’t even implied to be historically accurate. I’m not being controversial here, every deity and guru figure from Buddha to Mohammed told hypothetical stories on topics ranging from mustard seeds, to monkey armies, which is what I’m advocating here (because who doesn’t love armies of monkeys?).

It’s more ubiquitous than religious texts though. You actually think in fictionalized context without realizing it, because that is what a metaphor is. A metaphor is an alternative description of a central truth, formulated to help the listener gain an intuitive understanding of the topic.

Native English speakers might use phrases like “on the other hand,” or “a drop in the bucket.” It’s a convenient mental image that is fictional, but in context allows our truthful intention to come through.

If you are an expert Python programmer with extensive experience writing games, and you’re sitting across from a dinosaur who wants to know if you can write a CRUD application, then why confuse the issue? Why introduce doubt by trying to convince him that games programming and CRUD programming are essentially similar and that you can handle either? Why not inspire confidence by describing all the wonderfully robust, hypothetical CRUD systems you’ve written (read: could write) in Python? The truth is that you can handle it, and the easiest way to let him know that is to tell him in a context he’s prepared to understand.

If you are a thoughtful person and a skilled negotiator, tell the interviewer about all the high drama situations you’ve diffused in your career. Those experiences could have happened to you, and because you’ve thought ahead, you’ll be prepared if a similar situation arises. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t had that exact, incidental experience, he justs want to know you can handle yourself.

A Word of Caution

Use this technique wisely. It’s easy to wander from “innocent metaphor” to “bullshitting my way into a job I’m not qualified to do.” Be judicious in your use of fictionalized context, and be sure you have the metal to back up your words.

Remember, the goal is to get a position that you add serious value to, and that also helps you achieve your goals. Don’t ever be a parasite, and don’t ever be a doormat. Neither is sustainable.

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3 Responses to “Lesson 3: Lie to Your Boss”


  1. […] Top Articles None « Lesson 3: Lie to Your Boss […]


  2. […] had a resume that listed my undocumented experience in a context that made sense to corporate recruiters and hiring managers. I sent it to everyone I knew, and put it on job boards […]


  3. […] Articles Lesson 3: Lie to Your BossGet your Foot in the DoorAcme, Inc.Lesson 2: People Matter « […]


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