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Can Pro Interviewers Spot a Liar?

Most job candidates will tell you what you want to hear.

They ‘re qualified. They’re motivated. This job would be a dream come true!! Not every candidate will be telling the truth. But what are the chances that an interviewer can tell the difference? Are experienced interviewers more accurate than beginners? And perhaps most importantly, how does this affect hiring decisions? A recent series of experiments shows us some valuable insights. The results might actually surprise you.

Impression management

People often try to influence how they’re perceived by others.

It’s called “impression management.” How you look, what you say, what you do—almost any behavior can be an attempt to influence how other people see you. You can pretty much always expect some impression management behaviors in a job interview. After all, the candidate is trying to make a good impression. They want to convince the interviewer that they’re the right person to hire. The key isn’t just that candidates are acting differently during an interview than they might in a different context—it’s that some candidates are being more honest than others.

Interviewers often miss these cues

Overall, the research suggests that interviewers aren’t very good at picking up on impression management behaviors.

Interviewers sometimes do notice when a candidate is really trying to influence them…but also don’t pick up on it much of the time. This is consistent with decades of previous research suggesting that people are only somewhat accurate at detecting impression management (and even less accurate at detecting deceptions).

Honest impression management is more noticeable

Interviewers are much more likely to notice an honest effort to make a positive impression.

Some of these things are pretty obvious. For example, when a candidate dresses professionally, smiles more than usual, makes eye contact with the interviewer to show interest. Interviewers are more likely to notice these types of extra efforts. On the other hand, deceptions are much harder to notice, and often don’t raise any concerns. Interviewers are less likely to notice that a deceptive candidate is even acting any differently.

Interviewers give worse ratings to candidates that they think are deceptive

(Even though interviewers aren’t very accurate at telling which candidates are deceptive.)

When interviewers think a candidate is being dishonest with them, they also don’t like the candidate as much and don’t want to hire them. Unfortunately, many of these bad evaluations go to honest candidates who don’t deserve them!!  

Experienced interviewers aren’t more accurate

Experienced interviewers are more confident that they can detect deceptions from candidates.

Unfortunately, experience doesn’t actually improve accuracy. It just leads to overconfidence.
Image credits: Ana Fernanda Ortiz, Neon Tommy