No, Nick. You should never lie (your instincts were spot on there). Lying will always come back to bite you. However, there are many different ways to slice the truth and share your story, and it’s important to put a positive spin on things whenever possible. Perhaps things would have gone better if you had wrapped your answer up with something like “It turns out I’m really glad I turned down that job in finance. I really enjoy both customer service and living in Minnesota”.
Interviews can be REALLY frustrating, and I normally think a little humor can be great way to ease the tension on both sides. However, it can be dangerous; you can never know how your audience will respond until it’s too late.
Here are 4 possible reasons why the manager took your answer so badly:
He’s afraid you will not be happy in the role. It’s easy to interpret your answer this way: you settled for customer service work, you don’t like it very much, and you won’t be happy working for him. One of the most important things for a manager to find out during an interview is this: do you want the job? Not just any job. HIS specific job.Because you did not wrap your answer up with anything positive about customer service, it sounded like your heart is still with finance work. To be honest with you, if I were the hiring manager I would have had the same concern.
He’s afraid you will quit – either for a finance job or for a job on the east coast.
He’s afraid you might stay, and be an unhappy, disengaged employee who drags down the rest of the team. I know it sounds harsh, but I’ll tell you what: once a manager has made that hiring mistake, they never want to make it again.
He’s afraid you will point fingers every time something goes wrong at work (instead of taking accountability, or working to solve the problem). Nobody likes finger-pointing or the “blame game” at work. Blaming your wife for your career in customer services might have spooked the manager into thinking you’re the kind of person who blames other people for his or her decisions and mistakes. They want to hire employees who will take responsibility and work to fix the problem, not hide it or throw someone else under the bus. This is especially true when hiring someone for a management position (and that’s what you were interviewing for).
There is a better way to answer the question about finance vs. customer service
I encourage you to think about another way to answer that question, in case it comes up again (I suspect it will). Imagine how the manager would have felt if he heard this from you instead:
“The truth is, I never planned on customer service as a career. I got a job offer as a financial analyst in Connecticut right out of school, but my wife did not want to move. I fell into a customer service, but it’s turned out to be a great fit for me. My knack for numbers makes me a real stand-out. I understand how every extra minute on the phone affects the bottom line. Beyond the numbers, though, I also love motivating people. I’m good at helping my team understand why the metrics matter, and motivating them to beat expectations. In my last job, we reduced call times by 7% in my first 3 months.”
That story delivers a profoundly different message. It’s positive. It also allows you to celebrate your degree, your experience and your soft skills at the same time. You can tell the truth “My wife didn’t want to move,” then immediately put a positive spin on how things turned out for you (and why you’re excited to be talking with him about HIS job at this stage in your career).
You’ll have to find your own truth and weave the short story that works for you … but make sure it ends on a positive note.
Most people have made sacrifices (or at least compromises) in their careers at some point because of family, so your story about your wife is something most people will relate to (I certainly relate to it! I’ve stepped away from jobs I really wanted to take care of my kids and my elderly parents). The trick is to share the truth … briefly … then quickly move on to something positive that has come from it and tie it back to the job you are interviewing for at the moment.
I hope this helps. I encourage you (and anyone else reading this) to anticipate the “scary” or hard interview questions ahead of time, think about a clear, concise positive answer that will work for you, then practice it until it’s easy to share.