The Way We Work
February 23, 2011 by Tamara Rice

Few of us want to admit to being dishonest, especially when it comes to our careers as contract workers. However, in this economy there is a lot of pressure to land freelance gigs and keep them, which can sometimes push us away from total honesty into a gray area where the truth may not be totally absent, but just a little more elusive.

Dishonesty comes in many forms, so here’s a look at three temptations and how the truth — no matter how ugly — can get you the results you want and the income you need:

TEMPTATION #1: Exaggerating or lying in the interview process. We all sell ourselves in the best possible light during the hiring process, because we want the job. But if your self-promotion includes job titles and degrees you never actually earned, you’re crossing a line that can lead to serious career damage if the truth comes out. A 2009 study by the payroll company Automatic Data Processing (ADP) showed that there are discrepancies in job applicants’ work and eduction histories 46% of the time. So, while this type of untruth is certainly not uncommon, it’s also not without consequence.
GET FREE: Don’t ever lie about your education or work experience. When these lies are discovered — and smart employers will find them before or after the hire — trust is lost, which can lead to termination of your contract or even (in rare and worst-case scenarios) the legal ramifications of fraud. Adjectives on resumes and cover letters may be up for interpretation, but never fudge on the facts.

honesty twoTEMPTATION #2: Fibbing to overcome mistakes or errors. This is done to save face after a screwup (and we all screw up now and then), but the problem is that made-up excuses usually come across as lame excuses — making the fibber look like both a flake and a liar. However, when contractors admit to mistakes (maybe before they are even noticed!), employers are likely to forgive quickly and see them as trustworthy — and being trustworthy ranks as a high value for employers.
GET FREE: Be the first to admit when you’ve blown it. One community college in Northern Virginia found that having strong “work ethics” (defined as trustworthiness,  honesty, respect, etc.) was the most valuable employee characteristic to 95% of the employers they surveyed. Look at your mistakes as an opportunity to prove your trustworthiness. Want bonus points? Come prepared to discuss what went wrong and potential ways to fix it quickly and at little to no cost for the employer. Being honest about the problem and presenting potential solutions showcase your respect for the employer and the work, and can help build your relationship with them stronger than ever before.

honesty fourTEMPTATION #3: Taking advantage of the employer’s resources or money. Making a personal call on company time may be all but expected in a traditional work setting, where people may commonly use the company copy machine to make “lost dog” or “garage sale” posters. Contract workers, however, would be wise to stay completely above reproach in this area, because their careers depend on maintaining solid reputations and building unshakable trust with their employers.
GET FREE: Be loyal to your employers and mindful of your reputation. A single online accusation of dishonesty — such as, “He used my iStockphoto account for his personal blog” — can kill your career. Bad online feedback can be hard to live down. Think big picture, when this type of “innocent” temptation rears its head.

So, is honesty the best policy? We think so. Moral implications aside, lies usually lead to more lies, more stress, and more anxiety — not a great way to live or work.

What about you? Has honesty ever backfired in a working relationship? Have you ever been caught in a work-related lie? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.

  • Freelancer Diary

    Admittedly, most people lie when applying for jobs – whether about their experience or educational background. The times when honesty backfires, you are still left feeling good knowing that you were honest. I’d rather say I can’t do something than botch it up. But most people tend to try and wiggle out of responsibility.

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  • Romz

    I dislike B.S. and anything resembling excessive courtesy for the sake of courtesy, aka posterior kissing. I am straight-forward with my clients and in return I expect the same from them. I have no qualms in talking about my abilities and my limitations and I expect the same from the client.

    I use this approach because, mathematically speaking, B.S. translates into cumulative wastes of time and money. My clients know that, by cutting the B.S., they do better work and they make more money.,,and I know that if they make more money, I make more money. Everyone is happy.

    Not everyone is comfortable with this blunt approach. But those clients who have taken me up on it seem to be very loyal and appreciative of my work and the way I do it. I also find that it’s an effective tool to do away with bad clients.

  • Manoj Kumar

    Great informative article, I read it with deep interest.

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  • Stephanie

    This article reminds me of that old saying my father would constantly remind me of, “No matter how much you try to hide the truth, it will always come out like wisps of smoke.” It remains true for all kinds of situations, including freelancing.

    Being honest has never backfired for me. I admit to clients about my inexperience, BUT I let them know that I’m interested in their projects, assure them that I’m a fast learner, and prove it to them once they decide to hire me for the job. It’s worked several times for me and I encourage all my fellow freelancers to be honest and humble at all times. :)

  • Mary Ann Reitano

    Thank you, Tamara for writing such a timely article! It can be very frustrating in the freelance market to be someone who considers honesty as the heart of what she does.

    Often times the desire for the almighty dollar will make folks into someone they really don’t want to be. While I may have not been hired for jobs that I was qualified for because I refused to state experience that I didn’t have, I am confident that once I have been hired by a client, they will often become a repeat client . They know they are dealing with someone who does great work and someone they can trust.

    In the long run, I’d like to believe that clients find these characteristics refreshing in today’s somewhat cut-throat workplace.