When Deception Is a Feature, Not a Bug

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Put your cynicism aside for a moment and think about how our society values telling the truth. We make movies about whistleblowers and activists; we embed it into our legal system; we teach our kids that lying is bad, full stop. Then again, we do love charming rogues and cunning heists. Sometimes that bias even slips into the hiring process.

Behavioral scientists at the University of Chicago have just released a study on how we perceive on-the-job competence. While we pay lip service to absolute forthrightness, the researchers found that when you're in a career that's oriented toward sales, deception is actually seen as an asset. "Companies expose themselves to greater risk by hiring deceivers," the study authors write — but according to a press release, "participants believed that liars would be more successful than honest people in high-selling orientation occupations."

If you know the particular expectations of careers like banking, advertising, and sales, you're probably nodding along. Financial advisers have a shocking track record of misconduct overall, while hedge fund managers can ruin your nest egg with some bad personality traits. On the flip side, a propensity toward kindness can cost you in your career and your finances. That still doesn't make habitual lying a real benefit in life.

In fact, research published last summer found that the most trustworthy employees are the ones who are most in tune with feelings of guilt. Whether you have hiring responsibilities or not, your bet on the honest person at work is far more likely to pay off for all involved.