A lie detector would make the whole interview process a whole lot easier, but we all know that you can’t rig a candidate up Jeremy Kyle-style and triumphantly present them with their own failings at the end of the interview.
You don’t have to. If you know what to look for, then you can spot a lie a mile off.
The human body gives off a series of subconscious indicators and with a little practice you can be your own human lie detector, which puts you in a position of power when it comes to the interview process.
Lying is guaranteed
Everybody exaggerates, embellishes or plain makes up at least one thing on a job application. Even in an average 10-minute conversation with a stranger, psychologist and lying-specialist Robert Feldman reckons that we will lie three times.
So people will lie in job interviews. That is a guarantee.
The essential part of spotting a liar is to establish a baseline. This will help you with several of these techniques and is the fundamental basis of an actual lie detector.
How to establish a baseline
Identify a topic (at the beginning of an interview) that you could ask about, which you feel comfortable that the candidate will not lie about.
For instance, you might ask, “what was the first football match you ever saw?”, or “how old were you when you learned to ride a bike?”. It needs to be a question that they wouldn’t instantly know the answer to, and a topic that they’re unlikely to lie about.
As they answer watch their behaviour, the movement of their eyes, the way they move in their chair and even the way they breathe.
Everyone’s responses are different – what you’ll have done here is establish a baseline pattern for you to work with later in the interview. You’ll be looking for deviations from the established norms as the interview progresses.
But if you’re looking for specific ways that you can spot a liar in one of your interviews, here are 8 of the most useful indicators:
1. The eyes have it
The eyes really are windows to the soul when it comes to lies and it goes beyond the obvious. Of course if the interviewee suddenly stares at the floor while they answer a tricky question about their work history, then there’s a good chance that something isn’t quite right.
An accomplished liar meanwhile, will hold your gaze, determined to show their lack of fear. This is nursery school psychology, however, and smart candidates can beat this test.
But the eyes have other indicators, deeper tricks that are almost impossible to escape.
The key here is to establish normal behaviour for the candidate’s eye movement when recalling a true memory. It’s generally believed from NLP circles that for right handed people, looking up to the right when asked to recall something visual means that they could be lying, whereas looking up to the left means that they’re recalling a real memory (and vice versa for left handed people).
What you should be looking for is a deviation from the norm with their eye movement to help identify a lie. So, using your established baseline above, if there is abnormal eye movement (compared to previous patterns) it could alert you to think something might be up.
For instance, if the interviewee is consistent with their eye movement to the left when recalling memories and then, later, suddenly their eyes flick to the right when talking about why they left their last job, it’s an indicator that they’ve switched to the constructive part of the brain and might be telling a fib.
Ask more questions and watch their eyes.
Recruiter Pro Tip:
This isn’t a foolproof methodology and is easy to get wroung, but what it gives you as an interviewer is a tool to identify an issue that you might want to investigate or probe further.
The trick is to establish what you think is ‘normal’ eye movement – any deviation from this when recalling a fact will then give you opportunity to ask more questions and establish whether you think they’re telling the truth or not.
2. Sudden change in the voice
It’s a myth that a liar will suddenly speak in strangled, high-pitch tones. That doesn’t work, individuals have their own speech patterns and you can’t apply a one-size fits all approach to this.
The voice can raise because their heart rate increases due to the additional stress of the lie and the candidate physically finds themselves running short of air.
It doesn’t always work like this, though. For instance, the candidate might be nervous or stressed because they’re in an interview.
If your candidate suddenly drops an octave, or slows down dramatically, or speeds up, there’s a chance the answer isn’t coming as naturally as they’d like. Sudden pauses could indicate that the candidate is having to think about what they’re going to say before the say it.
If you really hit a nerve a candidate might literally dry up completely as the central nervous system reduces salivary flow and your subject has to stop and clear their throat. Stammering, too, is a sign they’re struggling to form a coherent and perhaps untruthful response.
Sudden lip biting or pursed lips are often a sign that your candidate is trying to get some feeling back into their mouth, too, as the nervous system stops forcing blood to the extremities and focuses its efforts elsewhere, which could be as a result of lying.
Of course everything needs to be taken in context – the individual concerned might be a particularly nervous person who naturally behaves like this in pressure situations.
Recruiter Pro Tip:
Be cautious with this one. Your questioning might have hit a nerve if there’s a sudden change in voice pitch or a lot of lip biting, but it doesn’t necessarily mean someone’s lying.
Equally they might be, so use it as on opportunity to explore the issue further until you’re satisfied with the answer. Or not as the case may be…
3. Fidgeting, or Not…
You might be looking for a telltale shift in the seat, or fiddling with their hands, but what if the candidate doesn’t move at all?
When faced with the moment of truth, if they decide to go through and tell a lie, the candidate has to go through the age-old fight or flight response.
We’ll assume for a moment that they don’t just get up and run out of the room (in which case your decision is made for you), and then it’s a case of looking for the vestigial signs. Here’s the really bad news, though, this isn’t a totally solid indicator and again you have to relate it back to the individual’s baseline and look for a break from their standard behaviour.
The feet are a great indicator, someone shuffling their feet is a clear sign they want to walk away from this particular confrontation, so if you want to put a prospect on the spot then make sure you can see them.
Elsewhere, look out for the sudden shifts in posture, moving the head to the side, people picking at their fingers or skin to occupy their hands or even nervous twitches. But most people move when they talk and if the candidate freezes up then chances are they felt the nervous moment coming and have steeled themselves to fight through the encounter.
This kind of liar can be far more devious, and far more damaging to hire.
Recruiter Pro Tip:
Most people find lying difficult and requires concentration. On the contrary when someone is relaxed and not lying, people generally move around a touch.
So, if someone suddenly becomes very still, it could be a great indicator that a lie is being told.
4. Covering Up
This is an extension of the fight or flight response. The candidate has decided to power through, not run away, but as with any fight there’s a natural tendency to cover vulnerable body parts.
Of course most of us know that a hand over the mouth can cover subterfuge, as if they’re actually physically trying to cover the lie, but it doesn’t always get that far.
Look for a hand on their throat, chest or abdomen as they cover up the most vulnerable parts of the body and others fight the natural instinct to go for the mouth and need somewhere else to deposit those telltale digits.
Recruiter Pro Tip:
Face-touching is a classic lying response – we see it all the time in interviews. Typically, candidates do it when asked sales figures for example, or how often they won ‘Performer of the Month’.
If you see it, probe deeper and ask more questions.
5. Too Much Information
Have you ever listened to a five minute answer to a straightforward question and been genuinely confused as to what just happened?
Chances are you have been lied to.
A good liar will take the opportunity to cloud a simple issue, introduce numerous different strands of information including masses of detail you simply didn’t ask for to deflect your attention.
Why do they do it?
Well, they want you to feel at ease with their apparent openness and they may also want to take the conversation from an uncomfortable place. Calmly listen, take the conversation back to the start and even the best will often realise you’re on to them and give up on the lie.
A less accomplished novice will simply babble. Be careful though, this could simply be a sign of job interview nerves as well.
So before you label them as an outright liar, look for other signs on the list as a babbler will not be able to keep the other nervous ticks under control either.
Recruiter Pro Tip:
This one is down to gut feel. Make sure you can make sense of the conversation and do not get distracted by a liar’s smoke and mirrors.
Take the conversation back to the point it originated and get an answer to the question you asked. Best way to do that? Write down the questions you want answering in advance.
6. Speaking in the Third Person
Unless you’re dealing with a psychopath who gets off on the drama, which is statistically speaking, highly unlikely, then your interviewee will be just as uncomfortable with a lie as you would be.
They are trying to get a job, not to get away with murder, so many try to distance themselves from the lie psychologically.
So if the interviewee suddenly starts speaking in truncated sentences, dropping ‘Me’, ‘My’ and ‘I’ altogether, or even speaking in the third person, it’s a real indicator that they’re struggling with a fib.
Even the most accomplished liar will betray themselves, if you’re watching closely.
Microexpressions can last as little as 1/25th of a second, according to Paul Ekman, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California and the inspiration for television show ‘Lie to Me’.
Ekman believes that microexpressions are the only true way to spot a liar consistently, but they’re exceptionally hard to master and may be beyond the scope of a job interview.
Inevitably police have found them useful when interrogating subjects and for a CEO position it might be wise to invest in a consultant to sit in on the meeting, but microexpressions might just be muddying the water for most job interview situations.
8. Go with your gut
We spend our entire lives trying to surround ourselves with people we trust and distance ourselves from those we don’t. In the real world it comes down to gut feeling.
So ask yourself would you lend £20 to the person who’s applying for the job? If the answer is absolutely not, you might want to consider your decision to employ them too.
Its amazing how well tuned we are to working out who is and isn’t lying. In saying that, there are some brilliant liars out there who make everything sound plausible.
If something doesn’t sound or look right, rely on your gut instinct and question it further, and don’t be satisfied until you have a satisfactory answer.
You might still have been lied to of course, but the chances are your interrogation over a potential lie will have flushed out the truth, or at least a version of it.
Interviews can be stressful for both parties. The client needs to establish whether the person is as good in real life as their CV made them out to be, and whether or not they could do a good job for the company.
The candidate needs to put on a good show and prove their worth to their potential employer.
Given this pressure cooker environment, it would be naive to think that a candidate wouldn’t embellish the truth once or twice at the very least.
The list above gives you some great tools to identify when this might be happening to allow you to question a topic further, so that you can make an informed and qualified decision before hiring that individual.
If anything, probing further will reassure you and allow you to rule out whether someone is lying. Just remember to take everything in context, especially the character of the person you’re interviewing. It’s really easy to confuse an anxious, nervous person with someone who is lying.
It’s not easy to identify who is and isn’t lying, but with practice and knowing what to look for you will get better and the quality of your hires will improve as a result.