When conducting interviews as an employer, your goal is to learn more about the candidates and hire the best person for the job. For the candidate, their goal is to discover whether your position is the right fit for them and to convince you that they are that best person.
Sometimes, these two goals don’t align. For a candidate, there is a lot riding on the success of their interview, very often translating into a higher salary, a better position, or even just the ability to sustain themselves financially.
Unfortunately, this can result in a high-pressure situation where people can be motivated to bend the truth.
That’s right: sometimes a candidate will lie to you—a sad reality, but reality nonetheless.
This blog post will help you to better understand some of the ways to spot an interview candidate who possibly isn’t being completely honest.
Needless to say, use these tips as guidelines only. If you suspect someone isn’t being truthful, give them the benefit of the doubt and dig deeper using probing questions, reference checks, or hiring tools that can detect when a candidate isn’t presenting themselves truthfully.
The tell-tale signs of someone who isn’t being truthful don’t always come down to what they say; quite a lot of what they don’t say will also serve to give away their dishonesty. By this we mean reading the actual body language of the candidate is an excellent way of spotting the odd lie.
Things to look out for will be where their eyes go when you ask them a question. Though it’s not always the case, most research suggests that when a person is recalling factual events, they will look slightly to the right, whereas when they are making something up, their eyes will often move to the left. This is to do with where the brain stores information relating to actual events.
Another thing that is more likely to happen when someone is telling a lie is that they will move their body shape slightly away from yours; this is often the way that the liar will aim to avoid direct contact. They might also place objects between you and them, often unconsciously. They might place things like a coffee cup or a book in between you; these objects can also serve to act as a barrier between the two of you.
It is not uncommon for a liar to partially cover their mouth when they speak; often this unconscious action is done to try to hide the lie as it is being spoken. They might scratch behind their ear or their nose—again these can be signs of dishonesty.
It makes sense to try to understand a person’s body language when they are telling the truth; this can be looked at as establishing a baseline. In many respects it comes straight out of the lie detector practices that are shown in movies and on television. The best way to establish a baseline is to build rapport with your candidate; try to make them feel comfortable in the interview situation. If you don’t know the person then you can start by asking their name and what they do for a living. Asking about hobbies is another great way to build rapport.
People will normally answer these questions truthfully, so it is important that you pick up on the body language that is exhibited. This makes noticing body language when they could be lying much easier.
You can establish a baseline even in the event of already knowing the person. This would be done by asking about something that you know they are doing already. An example of this might be to inquire about how they are getting on with a particular project.
As funny as it might sound, often a person’s claims of their honesty might well confirm that they are actually lying. Many liars will respond to questions with the phrase, “To be honest” or “To be perfectly truthful.” The overuse of these types of phrases will often act as a clue that the interviewee is about to lie to you. It is also not uncommon to hear them say something like, “On my mother’s life.” They believe that using this to prefix their statements will make you believe them more.
Sometimes an individual will suffer from dryness in their throat when they are lying. This will come across as them trying to lubricate the throat area. Often this is done by them gulping, swallowing, or clearing the throat in an attempt to relieve the build-up of tension.
Coupled with this accentuated throat action can be a faster breathing rate. Signs to be aware of include a series of shorter breaths that are followed by a longer one. This can sometimes be in response to the dry throat issue.
One of the most important things to do is actually a form of preparation before the interview itself. Taking a good in-depth look at the person’s resume can really help to serve as a basis for putting you firmly on the front foot. This way you will be able explore the breaks between employment and other key factors of the applicant’s history with a degree of confidence.
A great way to start the conversation would be to ask the person to talk you through their career. Someone who has inflated their experience or accomplishments will very often need to refer to what is written down on their resume, almost reading it word-for-word rather than talking confidently from memory. This is often an easy way to find out just how accurate their resume really is.
To expand on this area a little further, it is worth noting that many competent liars will rehearse their stories well. By asking a candidate to tell you their employment history in reverse order, you can often uncover someone who is less than honest. A truthful person should be able to tell you their story, albeit it might be a little muddled, but they shouldn’t come across as too fazed by this.
Many interviewers have been brought up to believe that a liar will try to avoid eye contact. This is not necessarily true and should be used with a degree of caution. The reality is that most liars are aware of a lack of eye contact and if anything they might even overcompensate, giving too much eye contact to the interviewer.
Another reason why a person might avoid eye contact is that they feel under pressure during the interview. You should also consider that they might be shy or just nervous.
During a conversation the applicant might exaggerate the amount of information they give, often adding in irrelevant detail. This happens because they feel uneasy with lying and try to make what they are saying more believable.
Liars will seldom use contractions when they speak. This is because they want to place more emphasis on the element that confirms their action. An example of this might be, “I did not do it.” Whereas a more truthful person might respond like this, “I didn’t do it.” Although this is only a subtle difference, it can really help to understand when a person is not telling the truth.
They might also speak in a monotonous tone and leave out pronouns during parts of the conversation. When the truth is being told, pronouns are very often emphasized just as much, if not more than the other words in the sentence.
When you suspect someone is lying, change the subject of the conversation quickly. The process behind this is that the liar will be feeling uncomfortable with the conversation and be glad that it has changed tracks. The non-liar will often be confused by the sudden change in conversation and seek ways to return to the previous subject.
If someone is being dishonest, they often hate pauses in conversations. As a result they will often try to fill the void that is created by your silence. They will be hoping to receive confirmation that you have indeed believed what they have said. However, silence gives them little or no feedback that you have swallowed their story. If you can keep silent and avoid talking, you will probably notice that the liar will keep talking in an attempt to try to embellish their story—sometimes even slipping up in the process.
As the conversation unfolds the applicant will mirror some of your body language. Mirroring is simply copying someone else’s body language when building rapport. It is often very subtle, but can be easy to spot by the trained eye. Examples of mirroring might include the crossing of arms, or leaning in during parts of the conversation. This is perfectly normal behavior; the trick here is to be aware of when the mirroring stops. This can be a sign of when the person is using his or her skills to develop the lie that they are about to tell and as a result of this they will often stop the mirroring behavior.
It isn’t always easy to spot when someone is lying to you, but being able to read certain body language signs will almost certainly help. Sometimes conducting the interview and taking notes will prevent some of the signs from being recognized. If you feel that this could happen, there is nothing wrong with having an additional person in the interview—this person’s role could be something as simple as noting the body language.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that observing some or all of these behaviours does not necessarily confirm that someone is being dishonest. However, if you notice many of these traits, it can be a red flag prompting you to dig deeper, for example by verifying facts with previous employment references.