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Spotting Dishonest Candidates

NEWSLETTER • volume 2 • number 5

There are always a few job seekers who send out embellished resumes - fictional vitae whose creativity is mind-boggling. The "Stanford grad" who never actually made it through college, or the CEO with the imaginary MBA. Some people get away with this, at least at first, because employers don't bother to check references. But it's harder to be deceptive in an interview where even the most polished dissemblers may be betrayed by their bodies.

An applicant who's not telling the truth will typically have a stiff, defensive posture and use a minimum of gestures. Keep your eyes on a candidate's fingers, hands, and upper torso - these are the most telltale parts of the anatomy. A good liar is usually adept at controlling facial expressions, but the voice can be a dead giveaway. Higher pitch, longer response time, and more "ah's" and "uhs" occur in dishonest answers.

Still, it takes practice to spot lies. To accurately interpret nonverbal signs, interviewers first need to discover how the candidate behaves when she's relaxed and honest. It's the equivalent of asking innocuous questions name and age, for instance at the beginning of a lie detector test.

Once a baseline of normal behavior has been established, however, it can still be tough to catch deception. Practiced liars tend to improve their verbal and non-verbal performance as they become more relaxed. There is also the danger of a "false positive" response people who act guilty because they think they're under suspicion. These candidates will usually cut back on their head, trunk, and leg movements, but continue to gesture with their hands.

The system is not perfect, and an expert and determined prevaricator can probably fool the most skilled interviewer. Still, short of strapping applicants to a lie detector, interviewers who are savvy, alert, and prepared are a company's best defense against candidates who try to fib their way into a job.