The Way We Work

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.