How to find out when candidates are lying in an interview: 9 techniques to test
Have you ever thought that a candidate would lie to you during a job interview?
Many recruiters and line managers do not expect candidates to lie during a job interview. Yet it would be naive to think that all candidates tell the 100% truth. In a mature and hyper-competitive market, in which open positions are limited – it often happens that a candidate emphasises some of their professional experience, omits others or (in rare cases) deliberately lies.
While on the one hand, candidates are increasingly competent on personal branding techniques, on the other hand, it is increasingly important that recruiters have a bag of tools to find out (with a good approximation) if a candidate is lying.
From some recent and authoritative research it emerges that 60% of people find it possible to lie three times in a ten minute talk.
In this regard, we recommend watching Pamela Meyer’s video at TEDGlobal 2011: “How to unmask a liar.”
WARNING: to avoid misunderstandings, we cannot know for certain whether a candidate is lying because there is not always a direct correlation between candidates demonstrating one of the elements that we will describe and definitely disguising reality. Rather these elements are useful red flags to alert the recruiter to consider carrying out further verification.
Here are 9 techniques and tips (used by recruiters around the world) to effectively identify liars and see if a candidate is lying to you during a selection interview. Some techniques will only be applicable during the pre-screening or telephone interview phase, others also in front of the candidate during a live interview.
1. Trust your intuition to sniff out lies.
Paradoxically the first thing to watch out for is your intuition: if, “under the skin” you feel that in the candidate’s story there’s “something is wrong” or “something doesn’t add up”, it may be the case to dig deeper with further questions that confirm or dispel your hunch.
This first element is more useful for higher and more senior recruiters who have had years to refine their intuition; whereas for a junior recruiter it is advised not to rely solely on your own intuition.
2. Use a standard interview procedure
Intuition can be a good ally but can also mislead you, for example, to positively evaluate candidates with similar characteristics to yours (as proven by one of the six principles of persuasion formulated by social psychologist Robert Cialdini: the principle of Simplicity that tends to make us prefer people similar to us).
For this reason, it is useful to follow a standard questioning procedure, that is, to ask the same questions in the same order to all candidates, so limiting the elements that would interfere with an objective evaluation.
3. Look for explicit omissions in the CV
Some specific items within the CV are the first alarm bells to see if a candidate is hiding something. It is useful to pay particular attention to these items.
1. Do your CV dates not match? Often, candidates change the starting and ending date of a single experience to cover any gaps between one experience and another.
2. Is there any information regarding their training (e.g. a final grade)? It may be that the grade is not so high. If we select new graduates we recommend asking a question about this element, and also asking why the information was omitted.
3. Does the school or university seem uncertain? Unfortunately there have been instances where the diploma / degree was false or bought online.
All these elements could be signs that the candidate lied in their CV. Many times, verification of these elements can be made during the first telephone interview.
4. Evaluate body language
Although body language is useful to reveal whether a candidate is lying, in recent years, body language has become a fashionable topic and is often overestimated as a way to analyse a candidate. Sometimes you read on the web that simply crossing your arms is an unmistakable sign that the person is lying (when , in fact, it’s just a possible clue).
In fact, some reliable studies have shown that only some types of clues can really be effective in determining if a person is lying.
The most common belief that liars are nervous is wrong, because in high-stress conditions – like during a job interview – even those who are speaking the truth can act nervously. A search on lies conducted in 75 countries found that, for example, these behaviors are totally unreliable for detecting a liar:
- Avoid eye contact
- Moving continuously
Conversely, a whole set of other clues – taken altogether – may signify a liar and should seriously be taken into consideration (see the experiment on Trustworthy Signals by Professor Deno at Northeastern University).
These elements are:
- Touching the hands
- Touching the face
- Crossing arms
- Tilting back
5. Check the Web Reputation of the candidate
Visiting social network profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) of a candidate can give a useful counter viewpoint to their statements (as well as being a good example of Social Recruitment).
If they argue that the role for which they submitted is “what they always wanted to do”, be sure to check their social profile (personal ones like Facebook and Twitter, even more than LinkedIn). Although nothing unusual is coming out, it’s worth visiting their social channels to understand their attitude: if they really are passionate about the industry or role as they say, they should at least have made some posts about it.
6. Make them tell the details of a single experience
When the candidate’s statements are too vague and do not provide enough detail, then perhaps they are hiding something, you should dig more thoroughly with specific questions to identify possible lies.
For example, if they state that “they successfully managed an ambitious project to implement the new CRM in the company,” you could ask about the mechanics of that specific project, how they handled this situation, why they managed it in that way and what result they specifically obtained. Ask for numbers and investigate the KPIs they had.
7. Ask for evidence or put the candidate to the test
If some element does not convince you, in some cases it will be enough to ask for evidence. For example: candidates often inflate the data about their previous or current salary to verify these numbers simply ask to view their last paycheck.
Alternatively, if the candidate has significant results that might be suspect, you might need to deepen your questioning: test the candidate to prove the veracity of their statements.
1. Candidate: “I speak fluent German”
Recruiter: “Interesting, so it would not be a problem for you to continue our talk in German?”
2. Candidate: “I was in the national athletics team”
Recruiter: “Interesting, would you describe the last race that you did?
8. Do a reference check
Checking the references of previous employers is crucial. Sometimes however, the candidate provides the reference of a compliant colleague and not of the direct superior, so the information you may obtain may be sweetened. To avoid this situation, ask specific questions: ask for the results obtained and the ways in which they have been achieved. If you have any doubts about the truthfulness of a testimony it is preferable not to take it into account and ask for another name.
Also, if you suspect a false reference, you can take advantage of this second technique. While you’re talking, you cite some element of the candidate’s CV in a deliberately wrong way and see if these fixes them. For example: if the candidate claimed to earn 45,000 euros, ask the referent “so David was earning 36,000 euros when he worked with you was he?”
9. BONUS: Challenge them with this secret technique
A really effective technique is to challenge the candidate, but it should only be used by experienced recruiters.
You could tell the candidate that your company has a standard procedure of verifying statements in a timely manner, and then say in a completely neutral and non-accusative voice “Is there anything I might find out that would be different from your CV that you would like to tell me now?”. Many candidates, so challenged, will open up and provide an alternative version.
By following these tips, you can formulate guidelines to integrate into your standard screening and selection interview process. One last suggestion: it is important not to become paranoid and assume that all candidates are lying. Mastering these techniques is important, but do not forget that most of the candidates are really honest during an interview.
I am curious to hear your recruiter experiences, have you ever had a candidate lying during an interview? How did you find out?