How many times have I sat in an interview with a candidate or sat in an automobile sales office, or in some other meeting on a sensitive topic where the person with whom I’m speaking says, “To be honest with you…”?
Now, I’m sure the expression is mean to address the idea that what has been asked or that which has been otherwise addressed, is somehow sensitive or somehow difficult to answer – particularly for a sales representative trying to sell me an automobile who wants to recenter the conversation away from potential issues or additional costs. Particularly in the case of an interviewee telling me that he or she is going to be “honest with me” though, I immediately note that something other than the complete truth is about to come my way.
It’s a verbal cue. It tells me instinctively that the person saying it feels they haven’t built sufficient credibility throughout the conversation – or relationship or body of interaction with you – to sufficiently express themselves. OR they’re flat out lying, putting some undue spin on what they’re telling you, or telling you something other than what one might reasonably consider the truth. An interviewee saying “to be honest with you” to me is essentially telling me that “I haven’t been honest with you up to this point, but please accept what I’m about to say as truth.”
In either case, now the listener is focused on a few things other than that which the speaker is expressing. Bingo. That speaker has redirected full attention away from that which he or she has expressed to you. While you’re thinking about whether they’re about to fabricate something out of whole cloth or if your relationship is something other than wholly honest, this person continues talking.
If you’re a sales representative trying to sell a car, this may be a good thing.
For an interviewee, this is potentially fatal. As a job interviewee, it is your ONLY job to be communicating who you are, what you are about and why you are the right fit for the organization. Your ONLY job is to communicate a positive message about yourself, TO ANSWER QUESTIONS. “To be honest with you” screws that up. I’ve now got MORE questions about you. I’ve now got MORE questions about what you’ve already told me. My pace and track has been derailed. Does that mean you won’t get a second interview? I don’t know – it depends. Do you want to take that chance?
It’s loaded. Don’t bring a loaded phrase into an interview, lest you shoot yourself with it.