I was talking with a friend yesterday who described a time when she was unemployed. She got a call from a potential employer asking if she could come in for a follow-up interview the next day. She told him that she couldn't because she had another interview already scheduled during that time, but that she could come in later that week.
She was lying. She didn't have an interview. In fact, she said she ended up spending the time eating ice cream and watching TV. She turned the employer down for its short-notice interview request because she believed it was dangerous to appear too available. So she lied to make the company believe it had competition for her services. Oh, yeah, she ended up getting the job.
I don't think I could have pulled that off. I tend to be all about enthusiasm when someone is interested in working with me. I also tend toward the truth, the whole truth and nothing but when I'm applying for work (not because I'm doing my impersonation of Mother Teresa but because I think it's a real bummer to get a job and then lose it because one of your lies ends up biting you in the butt).
And I also don't think that I could recommend this strategy for someone else to follow. But I did have to give my friend credit -- she realized that getting a job is much more like dating than applying for a bank loan.
In other words, getting a job should be a two-way street. Employers don't hold all the cards, unless you give 'em to them. So in interviews it makes sense to ask questions, to not be too accommodating, to make it clear that at the same time they're interviewing you, you are also interviewing them.
And this plan of attack is not limited to just getting a job. A while back there was an article in The Wall Street Journal that talked about "tribal" or "voodoo" knowledge. This is when an experienced worker has learned things about how to do the job and then refuses to share them with the company. According to the article, this was mostly about older workers who knew that if everyone knew what they knew they would get pushed out the door for younger, and often cheaper, pairs of hands. These older workers maintain their value, and their jobs, by making sure they are not team players.
Maybe there was a time where the relationship between worker and company was totally based on honesty and trust. Maybe even you have that kind of relationship now with your employer. But unfortunately, this is often the exception and not the rule in today's lean, and really mean, workplace.
I like to call this the dance at work. It would be great if we could get by without playing so many games, but given the lack of loyalty and trust in the vast majority of workplaces, the dance is the only way to survive. Or as a friend once paraphrased the old saying it takes two to tango, it takes an organization to really do the tango.
"A fool who persists in his folly becomes wise." -- William Blake
Here are the results from a recent Working Wounded Blog/ABCNews.com online ballot:
How would you describe the people you work with?
Losers, 12.7 percent
Winners, 29.7 percent
People, like me, just struggling to survive, 57.4 percent
Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker, and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.