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Honesty is the best policy

True or false? After completing the interviews of candidates to fill an open position on your staff, you should first rule out ...

By Daniel Cable and Virginia Kay . 07 February 2011

True or false? After completing the interviews of candidates to fill an open position on your staff, you should first rule out applicants who disclosed any shortcomings. The answer: probably false. In fact, on the contrary, the better decision would be to rule out candidates who disclosed no shortcomings, based on research by Daniel Cable, Visiting Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, aided by University of North Carolina doctoral candidate, Virginia Kay.

This article is provided by the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and EntrepreneurshipHonestyisthebestpolicy

True or false? After completing the interviews of candidates to fill an open position on your staff, you should first rule out applicants who disclosed any shortcomings.

The answer: probably false. In fact, on the contrary, the better decision would be to rule out candidates who disclosed no shortcomings, based on research by Daniel Cable, Visiting Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, aided by University of North Carolina doctoral candidate, Virginia Kay.

“We found that the outcomes tend to be better for both employee and employer for those applicants who were more brutally honest in their job interviews,” the authors say, noting that those candidates, compared with hired applicants who tended not to mention any negatives:


  • Were happier and more successful in their new jobs
  • Felt a stronger commitment to their new employers, and
  • Received more favourable performance evaluations from supervisors after a year in their new jobs


Their research, pointing to these conclusions, focused on an area of behavioural psychology known as ‘self verification striving’. Those who strive to self verify wish to convey to others a picture of themselves that is more comprehensive, what might be described as ‘warts and all’.

“People who self verify tend to speak of their abilities and actions as they themselves perceive them,” the authors explain, “whether that self-concept happens to be positive or negative.”

Past self verification research has tacitly assumed that all people are equally motivated to self verify. “But our research,” the authors say, “shows that some people place greater value on the process and outcomes of self verification than others.”

Why would those higher in self verification perform better in a new job than others? The authors believe that interviewers can get a more complete picture of the candidate who’s higher in self verification striving. If a candidate, for example, has told an interviewer that she is more productive when working alone, hiring decision makers would be less likely to hire her for a job that’s largely performed in teams.

Although the higher self verifier’s failure to get a job seems at first blush to be a bad thing, Cable and Kay observe that most job applicants – in the long run -- would prefer not to win a job in which they’re unhappy and judged unsuccessful by supervisors.

And the employers’ downside in such instances is obvious, leading the researchers to suggest that interviewers may want to ask candidates what skills they prefer to use and the values with which they identify the most. Interviewers may also gain from restructuring their hiring process to include less formal selection practices, such as allowing applicants to shadow potential peers for a day, so that job applicants are more comfortable with revealing their self views.

“Creating a setting where applicants feel free to express their views and values,” the authors conclude, “can result in hiring employees who contribute greater innovation and creativity.”

“Honesty is the best policy” can be found in the Spring 2011 issue of Business Strategy Review.

Dan Cable and Virginia Kay, ‘Striving for self verification during organisational entry’, Working Paper, London Business School (awarded the Academy of Management Organisational Behaviour Division’s 2010 Award for Best Competitive Paper and the 2010 McKinsey Award for Outstanding Practical Implications).

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