Hiring managers don't want sycophants, they want honest answers and opinions from their prospective hires. Here are a few ways you can apply constructive criticism in a job interview without looking like a jerk.

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Consider for a moment the plight of the hiring manager. This person has a problem to solve: Find the right person with the right skills and temperament to fill a permanent position. However, the crucial data the hiring manager needs is often based on information supplied by the candidate — hardly the best source of objective information.

“So are you qualified in X, Y and Z?” the hiring manager asks. “Oh, certainly, I used X, Y and Z all the time,” the candidate says. When the hiring manager checks up on the veracity of this response, she calls for references, usually hand-picked by the candidate. “Oh, certainly,” confirms the previous employer, who was no doubt tipped off in advance that a call was coming. Nowhere in this chain of events can any reliable, useful information be shared.

This is when a little honesty goes a long way. If you want to get the ear of the hiring manager, show that you know what you’re talking about. Make it clear that you understand the company’s business model. This will require a little more homework than what some job seekers are doing.

Research the company’s products and/or services. You might be surprised to hear from recruiters that a number of interviewees barely know what products or services a potential employer even offers, much less how they work. Be sure to at least explore the company’s website and try out its products. By referencing them in the interview, you place yourself ahead of the pack.

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Don’t be afraid to provide criticism… By seeking a new employee, the hiring manager is looking for a way to improve the functions of the company. If you truly are the best candidate for the role, you should be able to identify weak spots that can be strengthened. Before the scheduled interview, try to find three areas where the company is lacking and describe the ways you could solve the issues. Award yourself extra bonus points if you can put together a brief schedule that provides a realistic timeline for your intended improvements over the first few months of your tenure.

… but mention the good things, too. While criticism can be very productive, you don’t want to come off like a difficult or rude team member. Along with your list of improvements, mention at least three things you really like about the company. Describe why those are some of the main reasons you want to work there. Earn more bonus points by bringing up recent news developments at the company, such as new product launches, acquisitions or interesting Twitter discussions. Just make sure you convey that you have researched the company and that you’re enthusiastic to work there. No hiring manager can resist that.

If you recently quit your job or were fired, you may think you won’t qualify for unemployment. However, there are mitigating circumstances you may consider. If your story falls under these categories, you may be eligible for a little help from the state.

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at randywoods67@gmail.com.