How Does Human Nature Affect Your Ability to Assess Honesty in Candidates?

Have you ever met someone and instantly liked and trusted them, only to find out later that you had been misled? Have you ever trusted your gut and later discovered that you did not assess someone correctly?

When we lack a well-defined evaluation process for candidates, we can be swayed and not sort out fact from fiction in the interview. Also, our training can put us at a disadvantage and lead us to bias. For example, you assume everyone from a certain company has the same attributes, values and performance record because you know that the company did very well, or very poorly, or has a reputation for having a certain “Culture”. As search consultants, we know each person has strengths and weaknesses relative to every role and every company environment. Also, the company a candidate previously worked with can influence and shape their behaviors and preferences but not necessarily tell the entire story of their abilities and capacity to perform or what culture they naturally fit.

You need awareness of how your instinct (or intuition) plays to your ability to sort fact from fiction and how to navigate around that bias. Once you work to acknowledge your human tendency to trust people first and create awareness of how you form your opinions and decisions, you can better spot “untruths” in the interview process.

I recently heard Phil Maltin, an employment litigator and author, discuss how you can recognize dishonesty in a single conversation – which is sometimes all you have in the interview process.

Here’s an overview of what I learned:

1. Liars are language-based – they use specific words and language to explain. Often, their stories do not make sense, they don’t use logic when explaining, and their conversations are less structured.

2. Liars will distance themselves from involvement in the event. They will use less verbal intimacy (i.e. they don’t want to be directly involved) and may even refer to themselves in the 3rd party.

3. Liars typically use fewer examples or illustrations to describe an event. They may also appear less cooperative and negative. Their actions and behaviors may not be consistent with the stories they are giving you.

4. People who are close to you know you have an advantage because you are comfortable with them. These are the sneaky liars and can blindside you with their dishonesty, and you will have naturally let your guard down.

What can you do to avoid hiring a liar?

1. Prepare: Know your questioning strategy and that the information you seek is hidden in plain sight.

2. Know that body language may not always be the tell. Some people will be nervous interviewing and honest, so don’t hold that against them; others are practiced liars and are both calm and confident.

3. Make a connection with the candidate. Stay open-minded, irresistible, and unintimidating. Explain why you are asking a question. Get their guard down, and they will open up more

4. Ask follow on questions to understand the details of what they are telling you, you want their story so you can verify it later, after the interview.

5. Be humble and play detective – you want to understand their thinking – do not expect to hear the truth right away, but know it will surface in the course of the conversation.

6. Check references thoroughly.

References from people who have hired, worked with, and reported to this person are the best sources of information. I prefer to hear from people who provide balanced views, both what the person excels at and what they struggle with, as we are all works in progress and have strengths and weaknesses we are working on.

Great recruiters follow this process when we interview candidates. It balances building relationships and evaluating the strengths and credibility of the person we are interviewing. Also, recruiters can interview and evaluate a large pool of people with similar skill sets.

We can verify performance and strengths against a large pool of similar candidates before our clients even speak with them. We like to be the seekers of truth and capability.