Liar, Liar, Hire on Fire!
A guide for human resources professionals, hiring managers and interviewers
Spot lies, get the truth and make good hiring decisions
Deception is rampant throughout the hiring process. A staggering 84% of job seekers admit to lying in their pursuit of employment. 34% of candidates lie on their LinkedIn profiles and 50% lie on their resumes. For the chance of an interview, candidates pad their resumes with keywords to trounce the automated systems that sort them. To build a strong culture of trust with the right team, hiring managers need to know how candidates fabricate, obfuscate, and omit critical information.
Nine Surprising Truths About Lies During the Hiring Process
What’s the most egregious lie you’ve seen on a resume? Was the applicant the assistant to the prime minister of a foreign country that didn’t in fact have… a prime minister? Did they document twenty-five years of experience at age 32? Although these are real examples, most deception in the hiring process is subtle.
Keep these fascinating facts in mind when making hiring decisions:
- We are overconfident in our ability to detect deception. Not only do we miss lies, but the interview process lends itself to overconfidence bias. Overconfidence in interviews can lead to blind spots—like missing a candidate’s history of burned bridges because they appeared energetic, articulate, and trainable during the early stages of the interview. Formal deception detection and interviewing training can increase lie detection accuracy from approximately 50% to 94%.
- We forget to background check internal hires. Most internal hires don’t go through a background check—even for C-suite When you first hired Mike for that IT role, he cleared the background check and now you’ve known him for years. He’s up for a promotion to CIO, why would you bother doing another background check on him? Maybe he’s gotten into some shady crypto investing and is tied up in an embezzling scheme. Although it can be awkward to investigate a long-term trusted employee, verifying their recent history with a background check can go a long way toward preventing an embarrassing and costly oversight.
- The most common lies are lies of omission. Those are also the lies we miss. You’ve probably seen this before. Perhaps a candidate included four years of work experience on their resume but never mentioned their consulting side gig that’s in direct competition with your organization. Or maybe the technical experience they claim in finance might make sense based on their title but in reality, the hard number crunching was outsourced at their previous company. These omissions are difficult to spot but often obscure crucial details that make or break an applicant’s fit for the role.
- Men lie more than women on resumes—and are more willing to wing it on the job. Men are also more likely to apply for a job if they are only partially qualified. Women are less likely to apply if they don’t meet all the qualifications for the role. When considering applying for a position they aren’t 100% qualified for women express fear of rejection or fear of failure on the job. A McKinsey study also found that men are often hired or promoted based on their potential while women are more often promoted for their experience and track record.
- Millennials are twice as likely to lie on resumes than any other generation. They also happen to be more likely to gossip which can break down an organization’s culture of trust and harm employee wellbeing.
- High earners lie more frequently than low earners. One study recently found that individuals who earn six figures or more lie on their resumes 20% more often than lower earners. Higher earners also tend to lie more about their education, skills, and abilities while lower earners lie more about their years of experience and how long they’ve held past positions.
- IT candidates fabricate their experience more often than candidates in education or healthcare. According to Resume Builder, lying on resumes is more prevalent in IT and finance than in education and healthcare. IT professionals usually start as gig workers. Some researchers have suggested that they exaggerate their experience more frequently because the rapid pace of technical change in their field compels them to stay on the cutting edge and claim expertise they may not have in order to stay employed. Healthcare workers, however, might be frequently reminded of their ethical responsibilities and subtly encouraged to be more honest. Take note of the field you are interviewing in when your antenna goes up and you hear something that sounds “off”.
- Candidates exaggerate more when being interviewed for a new role that isn’t a logical next step from their prior experience. From slight exaggerations to full fabrications, research shows that candidates lie about responsibilities in their former role, reasons for quitting, and skill level, when convincing hiring managers of their fit for a position that could be considered a stretch.
- Reference check scripts aren’t enough. A UK study found that 21% of candidates encouraged their references to pose as a former manager, or lie about the candidate’s ability on their behalf. Although it is important to avoid potentially discriminatory questions, pre-written scripts that are used for reference checks can limit your ability to build rapport with a reference and can lead you to miss key signs of deceit—especially when you hear glowing reviews of a candidate that just don’t sound quite right.
Get to the Truth and Build a Culture of Trust
Getting to the truth matters. It’s a first step toward seeding your organization with team players who trust each other. Cultures of trust are imperative for employee health and wellbeing. Employees in high trust organizations report 74% less stress, 76% more engagement, and 13% fewer sick days than employees in low trust organizations. Here are six ways to get to the truth during the hiring process:
- Check if your candidate has a history of rule breaking. If a CEO has a past criminal infraction, either serious or minor, the firm is more than twice as likely to be involved in fraud and the CEO is more than seven times more likely to be personally named as a perpetrator. Go beyond the basic background check and ask specifically about a history of flouting the rules. If the candidate’s former manager mentions a history of submitting false expense reports or a few past instances of inventory theft take note of these red flags as they could be predictive of future illicit behavior. Minor instances of cheating such as inserting a colleague’s text from a report and claiming it as original work can also seem insignificant or routine—but could be part of a larger pattern.
- Declare your honest ways. State your honest commitment to transparency at the beginning of an interview. Plan your interview carefully when asking about sensitive issues—gaps in the timeline of jobs, the appearance of excessive spending, prior suspensions, leaves of absence. Only approach the hard subjects after rapport is developed. Start by being open about wanting to find the right fit, and then clearly describe the importance of a culture of honesty and transparency. Acknowledge that your goal is not to close a “fast deal” but instead find someone who can succeed and grow over time in the position. Studies show that acknowledging honesty and transparency up front, greatly encourages your interview partner to be honest and come forth with material information.
- Stay 100% curious and 0% judgmental. If someone reveals critical information—such as admitting they were fired or suspended—don’t overreact. Instead, get sincerely curious about what happened and why. Get your interviewee talking about the process and not the facts. The facts will come out. For example, if they were demoted in a prior job can they talk objectively about not having the right skill set, or do they start subtly complaining about their boss and a co-worker who set them up? How someone talks about sensitive issues is far more revealing than the specific nuggets of information you may feel compelled to extract. Stay curious and warm: pursue facts with an open mind.
- Don’t prep with a list of questions; create a questioning strategy instead. Most interviewers are taught the “funnel” method of questioning. First, ask open-ended questions early in the interview. Then, ask closed yes or no questions later once some rapport has been established. A questioning strategy should be employed when you need to elicit hard-to-get information in order to assess someone accurately. A strategy includes timing your hard questions strategically, and using prefix bridges, connecting questions, bait questions and more. You can learn to master seven expert questions in the course Expert Questions for Deception Detection (while earning SHRM credits!)
- Master the subtle signs of deception. Look for clusters of two to three verbal and two to three non-verbal indicators of deceit when interviewing.
Qualifying Statements: “As far as I know…to tell you the truth”
Bolstering Statements: “I certainly did not…”
Inappropriate detail: When someone tells a story—do they pepper it with too much detail in all the wrong places and gloss over the key event you ask about?
Religious References: “I swear on the bible I had nothing to do with…”
Non-spontaneous Response Time: While a high stakes conversation might trigger someone to pause and respond thoughtfully, take note of a pattern of responses that veer from your subject’s baseline rhythm of speaking
Nonverbal Indicators (Body Language)
Slumped or self-protective posture in response to a particular area of questioning
Shift in vocal tone—usually a deceptive response is associated with a lower tone
Stiff upper body—inappropriate stillness—can indicate high cognitive load-subject is trying to think what to say, act composed
Grooming gestures—for women, twirling hair; for men dusting lint off shoulders
Excessive sweating, finger tapping: some people are naturally anxious—note when this occurs outside your subject’s normal cadence and baseline
- Take note when direct questions aren’t answered. Liars can both consciously and subconsciously minimize the severity of key events, deflect, and protest your questions. While not proof of deception, indirect answers can be hard to detect in a hot moment, so take notes and observe patterns of deflection that are red flags for further investigation.
Minimizing statements: “It wasn’t a big deal…no one was concerned”
Protest statements: “That’s the wrong question to ask. Let me tell you why”
Deflection: “That reminds me of a story about when I ran the Costa Rica office”
Want to get certified in deception detection and master the facial microexpression identification, body language, interviewing, and investigation techniques that could turn you into a human lie detector and allow you to read people accurately?
Earn 12 SHRM PDCs with the Deception Detection: Interviewing and Getting to the Truth Masterclass with Pamela Meyer or take the shorter 6 PDC course, Interviewing and Getting to the Truth to become an expert at interview strategy. Pamela Meyer will also personally train your team in deception detection in one custom workshop. Feel free to reach out!