COMMENTARY 781.2: How Honest Do you Have to Be When Applying for a Job?

Can a job applicant properly withhold information about a criminal record or being fired in a previous job? Can a woman who has just started dating properly say nothing about a previous marriage or abortion? These are problems of candor: When does an ethical person have a duty to reveal negative information about his past?

First, let’s reinforce a basic premise: All dimensions of honesty — truthfulness, nondeception and candor — are important to establishing and sustaining relationships of trust. Intimacy flourishes in an atmosphere of openness and vulnerability. While knowledge of negative information can damage some relationships, later discovered secrets are often fatal.

Second, there is a much higher expectation of full disclosure in personal relationships than in business relationships.

But, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson, not everyone can really handle the truth. So why should someone sabotage himself by telling a new boss, friend or potential life partner things that could impede the relationship?

As tempting as it is, keeping such matters secret is like burying landmines within the relationship. Undisclosed truths build fault lines under the foundation of important relationships and, in a person of conscience, they create guilt, fear and insecurity.

Trust is just a state of mind and maintaining trust is about meeting the expectations of people who trust us. So here’s an easy test: Upon finding out the whole truth, will the person who was denied knowledge feel betrayed? If so, the honorable thing is to fess up.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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