How to spot job interview lies

by K B , updated on September 19, 2010

I have been to fascinating recruiting seminars over the years. One in particular was by a gentleman who called himself the “Human Lie Detector,” Steven van Aperen. A former policeman who has worked on high profile investigations, he now trains corporations and government agencies on how to spot whether someone is lying. He uses verbal and non verbal cues plus behavioural analysis questions.

In his seminar Van Aperen gave similar advice to Pamela Meyer, author of “Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception” who was interviewed in this post, on Smart Blogs on Workforce.

In the blog interview Meyer gives these signs as indications that an interviewee is lying:

  • Nonverbal tells. Liars don’t rehearse their gestures, just their words. The cognitive load is already huge, so when they tell their story, they freeze their upper body, look down, lower their voice, and slow their breathing and blink rate. And they will exhibit a recognizable moment of relief when the interview is over. Interrogators will often end an interview prematurely just to look for that shift in posture and relaxation.
  • Verbal tells. People who are overly determined in their denial resort to non-contracted rather than relaxed language. “Did not” rather than “didn’t.” They will use distancing language as in “ that woman” rather than someone’s name. They will often pepper their story with inappropriate detail as if to prove to you they are telling the truth. They will look you in the eye too much, as if to appear honest, when in fact most people telling the truth only look you in the eye a comfortable 60 % of the time.
  • Stories told in perfect chronological order. Try to get them to tell their story backwards. They can’t do it. Honest people remember stories in the order of emotional prominence. Liars tend to concoct a time-stamped story but they falter when asked to recount it differently.

These are excellent tips but it can be difficult to judge whether someone is lying in interview.

It’s hard to be truly objective when, say, you desperately want to fill a position. Or as a recruitment consultant there’s your salary and client at stake. With that going through your mind, the signals never jump out at you. It’s also easy to overlook those uncomfortable niggly things that don’t quite add up, as you may not want to see them.

Using the pointers above you’d also need to know whether someone’s body language, eye contact, tone and the like, are different from what they are normally like. Nerves can make everyone behave in strange ways. A visible sigh of relief can also just be that, a visible sigh that the interrogation is over.

To make an un-biased judgment as an interviewer, some self awareness helps as well. As an interviewer, my basic premise is that I believe someone. I generally like people and want them to do well. But I know that can cloud my judgment, especially when someone is super nice and accommodating in interview, or if they’ve buttered me up.

So I never ever make a decision on the spot. I make copious interview notes, and when I have finished all the interviews for the day, I take a break and review what each interviewee actually said. That, for me, removes the impact of their personality and allows me to question the logic of the information they’ve presented. I can then judge the interviewee just as much on the content of their answers, not just on whether I think they’re a nice person and couldn’t possibly “stretch the truth.”

For my blog readers out there, I’d love to hear what other interviewers do…

– Watch out story tellers! This first tip comes from Donna Svei @avidcareerist on Twitter:

“@InterviewIQ: An interviewee who claims all credit for a significant accomplishment makes me wonder.”


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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jorgen Sundberg September 21, 2010 at 12:27 am

Aaah, that rings a bell: “That woman…. Miss Lewinsky” 🙂

Really interesting stuff Karalyn, I hate lying myself but sometimes you just have to… Read that Tony Blair admits to lying loads during his premiership in the new autobiography, thank god I’m not in politics.

Karalyn September 21, 2010 at 12:42 am

Thanks Jorgen,

It’s funny you mention that. In the seminar I went to, the “human lie detector” cited that very example. Both in the way that Bill Clinton referred to Ms Lewinsky and his definition of….
In Australia, one of our politicians in the not too distant past referred to “core” and “non core” promises when he broke a few!

All too clever for most people!

tekiebelu October 6, 2010 at 11:15 pm

RT @InterviewIQ: #interviews #interviewtips Recruiters! How to spot if your candidate is lying.

InterviewIQ October 6, 2010 at 10:20 pm

#interviews #interviewtips Recruiters! How to spot if your candidate is lying.

@foosle February 14, 2013 at 4:20 am

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