It’s no great shock to see statistics about the prevalence of lying on résumés – one recent survey pegged it at 66% and another survey’s findings put it at 78%! But what about lying in job interviews? Those numbers look to be even higher. A whopping 81% of participants in a study written up in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology lied during what they thought was a job interview. The average was 2 lies per 15 minutes of interviewing.
So what is everybody lying about and what can you do?
Spotting Lies On Résumés:
According to the AOL Jobs survey the most often items lied about on résumés are current salary (40%), followed by inaccurate or misleading job titles and descriptions (33%), altering employment dates (29%), falsifying references (27%), and listing fraudulent college degrees (21%).
You may not really care if someone is inflating a current salary if the person’s salary requirements fit within your range for the position. But with salespeople, this becomes more important and a bit trickier to figure out if someone is giving you an accurate number. Want to know for sure? Ask for a copy of the candidate’s previous year’s W-2.
Misleading job titles and description as well as altering employment dates, can be ferreted out by calling the candidate’s previous employers. Even if a company won’t answer specific questions, they will almost always verify dates of employment and titles. As for fake college degrees, any company that performs background checks (and there are dozens of online companies that offer these services starting at $15) can verify education. Maybe you are interviewing people for a job where you don’t care if someone has a college degree – but you might want to know if the person is lying about having one.
Falsifying references is probably the hardest of all of these to detect. Candidates who do this, are counting on managers not calling all (or any) of their references, and if so, not asking too many specific questions. If you are not calling a candidate’s previous employers AND references, you are taking a HUGE gamble. (Click here for how to do effective Reference Checking)
Spotting Lies In Interviews (And Other Situations):
Research shows that most of us are terrible at detecting whether or not someone is lying to us. We tend to take things people say at “face value” (you know, “innocent until proven guilty”). The book, Spy The Lie written by three former CIA officers, offers some terrific insight on how to detect if someone isn’t telling you the truth.
One key, the authors say, is really listening intently so that you can pick up on verbal clues. Just spotting one of these verbal clues may not indicate anything, but if you detect a pattern or several of these behaviors – well you may have a Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire! For example, not giving you a direct answer to a question may indicate that a person is trying to think up an answer and is stalling or trying to distract you by re-routing the focus of your question.
Liars may try to skirt the truth and provide too much information to create a “halo” effect in order to skew your perception of them. Over complimenting you or being overly polite (“You look lovely today Mrs. Cleaver”) can indicate the person is trying to ingratiate himself because the more you like someone the more likely you are to believe him.
There also is something that psychologists call “dressing up the lie” which is when someone starts talking about religion or God. The authors say examples of this are phrases such as “I swear to God” or “As God is my witness,” which could indicate the person is “dressing up the lie.”
If someone is lying you might detect it in how the person responds to you when denying something. If you ask, “Did you do X?” A straight forward “no” is usually the honest person’s answer. If the person responds with a non-answer such as “Why would you think that?” or “I didn’t do anything,” the authors say that this is often a way for the person to psychologically avoid admitting to himself he is lying.
In interview situations, I tell managers to avoid typical interview questions where a person can have a rehearsed answer. Ask behavioral interview questions that require specific examples of situations where the person demonstrated the skill or behavior in which you are interested. Good answers will be very specific, not generalizations. When you ask a question be wary of qualified answers such as “most of the time”, “I try”, “for the most part”.
What about non-verbal behaviors? The authors say there are nonverbal cues that can indicate someone is being less that truthful. When watching for these, only consider the cues relevant if they happen in direct response to a question.
For example, if in answering a question the person touches her face, licks his lips, or pulls on her ears, that can indicate the person isn’t being truthful. Lying can trigger a person’s natural flight or fight response which makes blood rush to these areas and make the person itch or have a sensation of being cold.
Another interesting non-verbal that the authors point out is something called “moving anchor points.” Anchor points are what keep a person in a particular spot. If someone is standing then the feet are his anchor point. If someone is sitting in a chair then the buttocks are the anchor point. If a person begins shifting his or her anchor points while answering a question, that can be a sign of the person lying. Also, watch for signs of grooming. This could be adjusting an article of clothing, smoothing their hair or even straightening out the area right around the person.
Someone being deceitful might cover his mouth or eyes or even close her eyes while answering your question. This can mean that on a subconscious level the person doesn’t want to see your reaction to the lie. If the person nods “yes” while saying “no” or shakes his head side to side while saying “yes” that’s called a disconnect, and can be an indication of deception.
I’m going to let Mark Twain have the last words about this topic as he summed it up brilliantly when he said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”