Lying During An Interview?

The Gerson Lehrman Group, a consulting firm, recently posted a blog about deception during employment interviews.

According to the article, studies have shown that around 49% of job applicants lie during the interview process, and about 40% of employees steal from their employers.

Jim McGuffey, CPP, the author of this article, has 38 years of interview experience. He states that background checks and drug testing, the main litmus tests employers have been using for new hires, aren’t always 100% accurate.

For example, many employers won’t release negative information regarding a former employee for fear of legal action. Also, depending on the type of drug test that is conducted, some substances may go undetected.

McGuffey argues that the observation of an interviewee’s body language and facial expressions during the interview plays a large part in determining their future behavior, and that employers’ tendency to rely solely on background checks and drug tests is one of the reasons why employee theft, violence, and misbehavior are so common.

While McGuffey concedes that evaluating non-verbal behavior is difficult, he still talks about establishing a baseline for behavior, and then comparing that baseline against the interviewee’s verbal and non-verbal behavior.Contradictions between non-verbal and verbal behavior are referred to as ‘hot spots.’

Establishing a baseline is difficult during a job interview, since there aren’t very many questions one can ask that would definitely result in a true answer. If this baseline cannot be established, there is nothing to compare the applicant’s verbal and non-verbal behavior to.

Furthermore, there is no single behavior that is absolutely indicative of deception. Also, most people have difficulty reading non-verbal behavior. Microexpressions, for example, come and go so quickly that most people don’t even notice them.

Do you think that most interviewers would be able to accurately judge a potential employee based on their non-verbal behavior?

Regardless of these factors, observing an interviewee’s behavior is still important. Most people can at least say that a person ‘gives them bad vibes,’ and that impression should not be ignored. Background checks and drug testing, despite their faults, are still important in evaluating a future employee.

Do you believe that there are any other ways to determine a prospective employee’s credibility?

4 responses to “Lying During An Interview?”

  1. Ian Trudel says:

    Basing our judgement on impressions will lead to different problems. There are people who are excellent at giving others a good impression. A good impression does not reflect on the candidate’s competency. Moreover, a bad vibes for a deception expert is different from a bad vibes from an average person; let’s not forget that an average person detect lies at no better than chance.

    The science of influence as researched and written about by Dr. Rorbert B. Cialdini is reminding us there are several techniques that will make us by-passing our normal process for those who use compliance techniques on us. One of the techniques is being liked. A person is more likely to comply to a person’s request(s) when he or she likes this person.

    I believe employers without an extensive deception training should be suspicious when they actually get a good vibe from a prospective employee. It’s the old adage too good to be true.


  2. Russ Conte says:

    I interview and hire people for a living. So far this year something north of 600 people. To answer the question the blog entry raises, a lot of what I read (quoting the study) is garbage. First and foremost, workplace violence is positively correlated to several variables, drug use is just one of them. The CDC has a whole section of its web site devoted to occupational violence:

    Workplace violence is not happening only because employers are hiring a bunch of drug addicts and ex-cons. There are many causes, which anyone in the field is familiar with. One huge cause is improper separation, and that has nothing to do with drugs or prior criminal behavior. OSHA also has a huge section of their web site devoted to preventing workplace violence:

    Beyond that, there are ways that employers can set up pre-employment criminal background checks and drug screens to make sure people who fail those will not be working.

    Establishing a baseline is very easy. I do it every day, in many ways. My desk faces a door with a window. As one example, (there are many possible) I’ll ask applicants about the weather as they walk in, even though I can see it right through the window. Applicants tell me the truth about the weather (no one has ever lied to me about the weather). Or I’ll ask them about local sports or something totally non-personal to them, such as road construction. A good interviewer knows how to do this to establish a baseline, before the formal interview starts. During the more formal interview, I’ll ask questions I know the answer to, and so do they – their name, verify address, etc. Again, this is establishing a baseline. I’ll also be warm and inviting to the applicant, so they have a genuine sense of who I am, and that I’m a safe person (which is entirely true). So a baseline is very easy to establish, even in a fairly brief interview. By the time I get to questions of criminal conduct, we know a bit about each other, and both of us are open, so I get a lot of confessions. And I mean a LOT. My goal is to get the best applicants on to the job, and make sure those who do not qualify do not get through the process.

    As one measure, so far this year, I’ve had a little over 4% positive pre-employment drug screens (those are people who have actually completed the hiring process that I thought were good – it’s actually 24 out of 550 and those 24 people never worked, of course). I’d like to see that figure below 2%, and I’m working on improving my skills to get that number down to less than 2% – and I’m open to any advice on how to do that). The number of failed criminal background checks year to date is much lower than the drug screen numbers I just cited. So I don’t buy the figure that was quoted about 49% of applicants being deceptive, at least where I work, unless I’m missing something really big. (and everyone else at work would also be missing it, too)

    There are lots of ways to detect during an interview how an employee will be during employment. The most direct one is very simple – people are incredibly consistent – what they show me during the interview is going to be consistent with what they are like on the job. My job is to find those people who are a great match for the job, and place them.

    It can be done, and done well. Detecting deception is one part of the whole hiring process, but having a place where people want to work is extremely important to attracting the best candidates, and keeping the rates of theft and violence and turnover as close to zero as possible.

    Russ Conte

  3. Keith D. says:

    A smart interviewer who asks questions based on a series of carefully crafted questions to illicit indirect truth, and who listens and thinks about the candidate’s answers would be a good place to start.

    Russ, who comments here and does hiring for a living, has brought up some interesting thoughts on Eyes for Lies’s blog recently about patterns of consistency that people typically have. By carefully selecting questions that get “harmless” answers from a candidate in an amiable, conversational manner, you can look for those consistencies or lack thereof in the answers to determine how honest or dishonest a prospective employee is being with you, while also looking for those types of consistency that might either qualify or disqualify an interviewee for a particular job. That can’t be used alone as an interviewer’s only tool, but it’s one useful and important one in an arsenal that a quality interviewer has available to bring to the table.

  4. Russ Conte says:

    Today was typical. I had a 9:30 interview scheduled, the candidate showed up at 9:00 (a very good sign). I had him start the process at 9:30, as scheduled. I had no problem establishing a baseline with him. Once we had a baseline, I got to the application itself. He had very good experience, a strong drive to work, followed directions well. There were a few issues, but very minor. I established a rapport that was warm, inviting, and open. When we got to criminal convictions, he admitted two felonies. But he said he was not sure what they were. Now he was hesitating. He said one was fleeing the police, and another was driving without insurance.

    So now I have some consistency. When he’s around people who are polite, he is polite. But around authority (the police) he has at least two examples where he showed clear disregard for authority based on the convictions he admitted to. There may be more, and it’s likely he knew much more than he was telling. He was also avoiding telling me all of the stories. If he shows me this in an interview, he’ll be consistent with this same type of behavior on the job. My hiring decision was simple – no. I can not in any way guarantee that he’ll only work for people he likes and who are nice, and who will go very easy on him if he breaks the rules. Instead, he would be with people who want him held accountable. He’s already shown twice that he did not do that, and I’m sure he’ll do it again. Just not for my company.

    That’s a real life example (albeit very abbreviated) of how interviewing is done in a way that gets to enough of the truth to make a fair and legal and good hiring decision. I hope this helps!

    Russ Conte

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