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Why do candidates lie in interviews & how can YOU suss them out? [Radio Interview]

kind man with devil shadowWe’ll probably get a lot of stick for saying this again (we usually do) but…

Everybody lies in a job interview.

From little white lies like “no, I’m not thirsty thank you” and diplomatic lies like “my boss is great, we get on very well” to huge, big, whopping lies like “yes, I studied English Literature at The University of Liverpool (I’ve heard that one before…)

It’s time we all started facing the facts, so we can do something about it – separate the truth from the lies.

This week, check out Anthony Hughes, Coburg Banks’ (CIPD qualified) Director of Recruitment and Training getting grilled by Nick Peters from Share Radio

The Big Interview


Nick Peters:

Have you ever lied at a job interview? No, not even a tiny little bit?

If you’re telling the truth, you’re somewhat of an exception because research shows that there is no more fertile ground for falsehoods than the job interview.

Anthony Hughes is a Founder/Director of the Midlands-based recruitment firm, Coburg Banks and he’s made something of a study of the ignoble art of lying in job interviews.

Of course, it’s a two-way street. If a lie is to work, it has to fall on willing ears.

Anthony says interviewers themselves need to be alert.

Anthony Hughes:

You tend to find that people fall into two areas really – you get some interviewers who are very trusting of everything a candidate may say and you get others who don’t believe a word that the candidate says.

Our advice, to those who don’t believe anything is to maybe give people a break from time to time, but more importantly, to those who do believe that everyone will tell the truth – they won’t.

It’s really important that you do a thorough assessment of things like body language; their voice tone, eye-language, bodily contact, facial expressions and things like that.

Nick Peters:

Obviously it’s a very high-pressure situation when you’re in an interview.

Not only for the candidate, I’d imagine that if you’re a recruiter, there’s also a little bit of tension in the air…

Anthony Hughes:

Yes it is. An interview is potentially a life-changing situation for candidates. In fact, they could be going into something completely different to what they’re currently doing.

And yes, they are under a lot of stress.

One positive I suppose from a candidate’s point of view is that it’s not very often that you get a chance to talk about yourself and someone’s taking a real, genuine interest.

But yes, one of the things that I would say is that you have to take everything in moderation.

When we advise people to look for the tell-tale signs that someone is lying, you do have to take into consideration that it is a very stressful time.

Nick Peters:

We’ll get into what those tell-tale signs are in a second, but apart from the obvious, what are the typical lies that people will tell when they’re sitting in front of an interviewer?

Anthony Hughes:

The biggest two, I would say that we face are to do with employment dates…

Nick Peters:

Why is that important?  Why do they lie about that?

Anthony Hughes:

I think it’s because, if they’ve had a few jobs – so they might have had five jobs in a three year period and two of those jobs might have been for a very short period of time – they think that by admitting that on their CV, it’s going to make the employer think they’re a little bit unstable and likely to jump at the first sign of anything going wrong.

Consequently they will typically remove those short-term jobs completely and prolong the dates spent at other jobs or they will change all of the dates to look like they’ve stayed everywhere longer.

Nick Peters:

OK, what comes after the dates?

Anthony Hughes:

I would say salary. That’s always quite a big one.

People realise that employers will take into consideration the salary they are on and standardly offer an increase of between 5 and 10 percent.

So they think that by inflating the salary they are on and lying, they will get a better salary from their next employer.

Nick Peters:

Is that something that’s easily checkable?

He said, thinking of data protection and all that kind of stuff, because ex-employers are somewhat reluctant to get involved with passing information across, aren’t they?

Anthony Hughes:

They are and there is no fool proof method of checking. But you could take a look at their last P60 – that would give you some indication.

Quite often what we find is that those who’ve lied about their salary either go very quiet or admit to their lie, when you ask for their P60.

Nick Peters:

If somebody is caught out in – I won’t call it a white lie, because any lie is obviously a bad lie – is that an automatic strike-off as far as you’re concerned?

Anthony Hughes:

It’s certainly a case of further questioning.

Again, you’ve got to bear in mind that it’s a very pressurising situation and that people are obviously going to want what’s best for their livelihoods. And extra salary will certainly be something they want.

Employers should further question the candidate to find out exactly why they decided to lie.

And then make a decision based on that.

Nick Peters:

I have to say, in your list of 10 typical lies that a candidate will tell, there’s that horrible cliché – and let’s not forget, an awful lot of interviewers will ask some pretty dumb questions too – but in response to “what’s your greatest weakness” people say ‘I’m a perfectionist.’

People really do say some stupid things don’t they?

Anthony Hughes:

They do, but you know, equally, as you said, you’ve got to question the interviewer for asking such a cliché, really.

Nick Peters:

So those are some of the things people try to pull the wool over your eyes about, but how do you tell your recruiters at Coburg Banks to spot a potential liar.

I mean it sounds to me as though you’ve almost got to have the same skills as a police interrogator!

Anthony Hughes:

Hopefully it’s not quite as bad as that, but yes, not far from it!

The first thing we tell our consultants to do is to establish a baseline on the candidate.

So, you’re interviewing face-to-face and it’s about noticing things like the way they move their eyes as they answer certain, simple questions they’re not going to lie about.

So for example, “is your name X?” They’re – hopefully – not going to have lied about that!

After you’ve established that baseline, it will give you an idea of how they’re going to naturally respond to your questions – so from then on, you’re looking out for slight variations in that baseline.

Nick Peters:

And obviously body language is a classic isn’t it? When people start doing something differently from what’s normal?

Anthony Hughes:

Absolutely, yes. Things like shuffling, twitching and getting aggressive when you wouldn’t expect them to… these are the kinds of things we look out for.

Again, you do have to bear in mind that it is a stressful situation so they are going to be a little bit under pressure and as a result, they might shuffle a little bit anyway – but if there’s a noticeable change (in body language) then there may be reason to be concerned.

Nick Peters:

I’d also be concerned if someone was too danged calm and collected. Because I would expect someone to feel nervous in an interview…

Anthony Hughes:

Yes, I have interviewed people like that before. They seem ridiculously relaxed, almost like they’re having a coffee in a café or something.

It is a worry as you say because you think they’ve almost rehearsed this a little too well.

Nick Peters:

So in terms of the recruitment landscape at the moment – the economy is doing well and there are an awful lot of new jobs being created.

Does that mean that it’s tougher to find new talent or are you finding there’s a lot of new talent coming onto the market?

Anthony Hughes:

No – it’s exactly as you initially said.

We are finding that the ‘war on talent’ is back. It’s more important than ever for employers to become employers of choice, sell all of their benefits and make people want to come and join them.

That’s really what’s critical.

Nick Peters:

Do you find that employers are responding to that, because a lot of times on this program we talk about how to be a good employer and just what you said, how to win the war on talent and yet it strikes me that there are a lot of companies out there who say “ye well we know what we’re doing, we don’t need to be told about that namby-pamby stuff.”

Do you find a lot of resistance in the market?

Anthony Hughes:

If I’m honest, with some companies, yes.

They say pretty much exactly what you’ve just said there.

But nowadays key benefits like work-life balance are the key.

People want to enjoy their lives inside and outside of work – that’s one of the things that a lot of employees are looking out for.

A lot of employers recognise that, especially the bigger companies, and that’s how they attract the best people.

Nick Peters:

And if you were going to pass on advice to someone who’s actually going to go to an interview next week, what would you say to them?

Anthony Hughes:

I think the most important thing, if you’re going to an interview, is to be yourself.

Don’t be overly assertive or relaxed or sales-y, if that’s not you. Just be yourself.

Also be prepared before you go to any interview… think about the sort of questions that the employer is almost certainly going to ask – for example, all employers want to know why you want to join them and why you would be a good fit for the job, in other words what skills and experience you’ve got.

So, put yourself in the position of the interviewer and again, be yourself.

Nick Peters:

And probably – don’t tell too many lies!

Anthony Hughes:

Well, any!

The advice I would always give is don’t lie at all. You do get caught out – we’ve all seen programs like the Apprentice, where they get through to the interviews and people get caught out on their lies.

It’s really awkward when you do get caught out because you start out on a negative, if the company do employ you – they’ll wonder whether they can trust you.

Join the conversation!

Have you ever been lied to in an interview? Can you honestly say you’ve never lied? Would you sack off a candidate you discovered had been dishonest?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter – please feel free to pop a comment in the section below this post!

Recruiter Pro Tip

As Anthony mentioned in his interview, recruiting is all about making balanced decisions.

Some candidates will tell little fibs out of politeness and/or diplomacy, some may exaggerate their good qualities and some might even completely fabricate things (like qualifications) to make sure they get the job.

  • Click here to check out the ten most common lies you might hear in an interview.
  • Or click here to read our full blog post on how to spot a liar.
  • Or here if you’d like to read more about body language in general.

Once you think you’ve spotted a lie you’ll need to ask probing questions to find out for sure and ultimately decide whether there’s been any harm done and/or whether you can (or want to) trust that candidate to join your business.

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Good luck interviewing.

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