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How to Spot Liars with Effective Interviews

by Dave Druzynski, Chief People Officer

Job applicants lie on their resumes, they lie to your face in interviews and they ask references to lie on their behalf. According to separate 2017 studies from CareerBuilder and HireRight, 75-85 percent of employers say they have caught job applicants lying on their resumes or in job interviews. This is not welcome news, especially considering that 62 percent of employers listed “finding qualified job candidates” as their top business challenge.

 

The good news is, spotting the liars and fakers is not hard, once you know what to look for.

 

I have studied this topic for many years, and have received formal body language and lie detection training from U.S. military and intelligence interrogators. After conducting thousands of interviews over 20+ years, I have come across great liars and I have come across some of the worst liars you can imagine.

 

While I utilize techniques learned from former interrogators, it’s not at all like what you see on TV, and it certainly doesn’t include waterboarding. To catch liars requires that you be nice as pie, but observant like a hawk.

 

Lying is revealed in body language, but not in ways that you might expect. You may have heard that liars avoid eye contact, cross their arms, have a verbal tic, act nervous or fidget. None of these signs alone are proof of lying.

 

The key to spotting liars is to first establish a normal “baseline” of behavior, including body language, posture, conversational tone and even normal, nervous behaviors. Then, during the interview, watch for deviations from this “baseline” behavior.

 

To determine a candidate’s baseline behavior, take the first five minutes of your interview to establish a rapport and put the candidate at ease. Ask a few icebreaker questions about sports, interests, hobbies, where they went to school or past employers.

 

I like to name drop during this portion of the interview as well. Before the interview begins, I’ll scan the list of past employers to see if I know anyone at those companies. If I do, I’ll mention their name. Remember, the goal is not to catch a liar. The goal is to get the truth in the first place. A candidate will be a lot less likely to lie to you in an interview if they believe you can simply pick up the phone to verify something they said.

 

During the icebreaker portion of the interview, observe the job candidate’s body language. Note their posture, whether or not they fidget, how often they make eye contact, speech patterns and whether they’re filled with nervous energy or completely relaxed.

 

Also, observe if they have any “verbal tics” because these are very common. For example, Donald Trump has a tendency to frequently say “believe me.” Whether or not you like what he has to say, the fact that he says “believe me” is not a sign that he’s lying. It’s simply a verbal tic that comes from his background in sales and persuasion. For him, it’s completely normal.

 

Verbal tics are common and if they are established in a candidate’s baseline behavior, there’s no reason to assume they mean anything during the rest of the interview. Now, if you are interviewing a candidate who does not say “believe me” as part of his normal baseline speech pattern, but after finishing a sentence describing how money went missing from the register at his last employer, and he closes it out with a “believe me,” my lie detector would be going off.

 

Once you have established what a candidate’s baseline behavior is, look for sudden deviations throughout the interview. A poker player would refer to these as “tells.” If an applicant is calm and relaxed during an interview, then suddenly fidgets when you ask how their previous manager would describe them, they may be lying.

 

Also, listen for changes in tone and speech patterns. Warning to all Patriots fans: you may not like this example. During the Deflate-Gate press conference, Tom Brady was caught off guard when a reporter asked him, “Did you have any knowledge of the footballs being deflated?”

 

Normally Tom Brady is calm, cool and collected. Suddenly, he became flustered and his tone became high-pitched. His response went something like, “I don’t know anything about anything.”

 

Any time I see a shift in a job candidate’s behavior or hear a change in tone, my curiosity is piqued. I will immediately ask a couple of follow-up questions on the same topic.

 

Sometimes, if I sense a person is uncomfortable and I suspect they’re lying, I’ll ask direct questions like “Were you fired?” or “Did you get caught stealing?” Depending on the personality of the candidate, I may adopt a “good cop” stance and relate to them, saying things like, “I get it, you put in all those hours while your boss is playing golf, you deserved more than they were paying you.”

 

In addition to behavior and verbal changes, there are several other signs that a job candidate might be lying. Here are a few to watch for:

 

 

I’ll be breaking down all of these behaviors and more in my presentation, “How to Spot Liars and Fakers with Effective Interviews,” at the upcoming Digital Dealer 24 Conference & Expo in Orlando. Additionally, in my session we’ll be reviewing videos of famous lies caught on tape (including the Tom Brady Deflate-Gate example).

 

I hope to see you there!

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