How Can You Tell if a Job Candidate is Lying?

There are things you can look for to help determine whether job applicants are misrepresenting themselves. Use these techniques when hiring.

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How Can You Tell if a Job Candidate is Lying?

Here's what you need to know:

  • Watch for a job candidate’s body language and microexpressions during job interviews
  • Asking candidates to clarify vague answers can reveal lies
  • Pay attention to job candidates who only bring up group experience
  • Don't be afraid to press candidates about their technical skills, but ask questions in a kind, gentle, and curious manner
  • It's unwise to accuse an applicant of lying without getting the full picture or without having any insight into the person or their behavior

Dishonest job applicants are not as uncommon as you want them to be. A 2018 HireRight Employment Screening Benchmark Report found that 84% of employers found lies or exaggerations on a resume. That number has almost certainly risen since then.

Remember that there are degrees of dishonesty, too. Straight-up lying is the most egregious of the bunch but other forms of fibbing factor in, too. Light embellishment or exaggeration are forms of lying, as they distort the truth and make a person’s experience seem more impressive than it is.

Thankfully, there are a number of things you can look for to help you determine whether or not a candidate is embellishing, exaggerating, or misrepresenting themselves and their abilities. Some people are better at this game than others.

Others aren’t good at it at all (despite what they may tell themselves). As a hiring manager, it’s in your best interests to learn how these misrepresentations can come up and what they can look like.

What are the consequences of not catching a candidate in a lie?

The ramifications of not catching a candidate in a lie are potentially costly, especially if you don’t figure out that they were exaggerating until after you send them the job offer. Rescinding a job offer is never comfortable. Hiring an inexperienced candidate can also cost you 1 of your most precious resources: time.

Uncovering a lie can get tricky, though. There’s always the possibility that the potential hire just doesn’t interview well.

There’s also the possibility that you’re getting too caught up on 1 or 2 details and are wary for no reason. It requires care, tact, and an openness to being wrong.

It’s unwise to accuse an applicant of lying without getting the full picture or without having any insight into this person or their behavior. It’s also important to remember that these lies often aren’t malicious.

Most of the time, candidates lie because they have aspects of their job history they aren’t proud of. It isn’t anything personal. More often than not, it stems from insecurity or perceived necessity.

We’ve put together some tips and tricks to help you determine if a job candidate is lying to you.

A job candidate’s body language can tell you a lot

According to many experts, only 7% of human communication is verbal. That means a whopping 93% of how we communicate with each other has nothing to do with what we verbally express. As a result, we rely far more heavily on body language.

During job interviews, candidates do their best to keep themselves and their emotions in check. They want to put their best foot forward, so to speak. This means that even if you were to catch them in a lie, they may not show any kind of noticeable fear or anxiety.

That’s why keeping an eye out for microexpressions is important. A microexpression is an expression that lasts for a fraction of a second. They’re tough to catch but can give you some insight into how someone is truly feeling. This takes some time to learn but it’s worth looking into.

Asking job candidates to clarify vague answers can reveal lies

Look out for vagueness. Candidates who aren’t telling you the truth may leave out key details with the hope that you won’t notice.

To be clear: That doesn’t mean vague answers automatically indicate that someone is lying. Vagueness by itself could just be a result of nervousness or inexperience. But if you notice a pattern, it just means you need to pay attention to where and how this vagueness comes up.

Candidates who aren’t telling you the truth may leave out key details with the hope that you won’t notice.

If you do end up noticing a pattern, ask them more specific questions about their work history. If they provide an answer that’s too broad, ask them to expand on it. Then, if they can’t, it’s somewhat safe to assume there is a reason they’re withholding details.

Pay attention to job candidates who only bring up group experience

This may seem weirdly specific but stick with us here. It’s important and it comes up far more often than you think.

If you’ve conducted interviews with lots of potential hires, you may have noticed that some candidates lean heavily on their experience working in a group. This can indicate that they are piggybacking off of others’ success.

On 1 hand, you want someone who works well with others. You want a person with a collaborative spirit and a willingness to learn from their peers. That is a highly valued quality and every person you hire should have it.

But if a candidate describes group project after group project without mentioning what their contributions were, it may be worth asking them directly.

If they can’t specify what their role was within the group, then they may not be the best fit for the job. Bringing up group experience is great, but they should be able to tell you how their involvement benefited or elevated the project.

Don’t be afraid to press job candidates about their technical skills

It’s very common for candidates to exaggerate their proficiency or experience in certain areas. We see this a lot when it comes to how applicants present or frame their technical skills. For example, they may put in their cover letter that they’re proficient with spreadsheets, or that they are seasoned coders.

You won’t be able to gauge their actual experience until it’s time to sit down and interview them. When you do meet them for the interview, ask them about their experience as a coder.

Ask them specific questions about their work with spreadsheets or software such as Excel. Get into the nitty-gritty and ask questions that will both give you clarity on their experience and reveal whether or not they are fibbing.

Obviously, you don’t want to be aggressive or pushy. Again, there is also the possibility that you are reading into something that isn’t there. Be kind, gentle, and curious. Come from a place of genuine curiosity rather than veiled suspicion.

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The rise of skills-first hiring and job candidate dishonesty

Hopefully, this brief guide helps you weed out dishonest candidates and hire people who are upfront and real with you about what they can and can’t do. Sure, there are people who will do whatever it takes to get ahead. There are others who are too ashamed of their work history to tell you the full truth.

But there are also plenty of candidates who will apply honestly and enthusiastically.

The rise of skills-first hiring has resulted in candidates lying about different things. Where traditional hiring valued degrees and certifications, skills-first hiring puts more stock in what you can actually do. But that also means it’s easier for candidates to lie about what they know.

Regarding the pros and cons of traditional hiring vs. skills-first hiring, a degree is much easier to verify than the scope of someone’s professional experience. We understand that this kind of thing can be tough to navigate. We’ve encountered it ourselves.

But with the right approach and the right knowledge, you can educate yourself and your team on how to catch subtle clues and involuntary expressions (see microexpressions above). It’s often the subtle things that can tell you the most.

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