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Lies, Damned Lies, and How They Prevent You from Hiring the Best Candidate— Part 2: The Interview

Interview Lies This is the second post in a two-part series about the lies job candidates tell. Part 1 of Lies, Damned Lies discussed the problems caused by padded résumés and outright résumé lies. Part 2 deals with lies during the interview process.

Applicants lie during interviews. No lie.

Lying in job interviews happens a lot. One study found that the majority of job applicants—81 percent—lied during job interviews! The problem is unchecked because, as research shows, managers are not good at detecting interview lies, no matter how much interviewing experience they have.

Managers rely heavily on the employment interview in hiring decisions—often, they weigh interview results more heavily than on-paper credentials. Applicants know that their interview performance alone may determine whether they get a job offer, so they do whatever they can to present themselves as the best choice, even if it means lying. They might fudge a little on their skill level so they look like a match for the job’s requirements, tweak a former job title to make it sound more like the job they are applying for, inflate their work on a successful team to demonstrate their ability to deliver results, or pander to company culture to make themselves seem like a good match.

Generally, these tactics work. Whether or not candidates’ statements are true, when they take credit for past achievements at work, discuss their admirable personal qualities, and describe their skills and abilities with words used in the job ad, managers see them as more qualified for the job and tend to rate them as top interview performers. Many candidates use impression management tactics to convince the interviewer that they are competent, likeable and have great potential.

Apart from moral and ethical concerns, applicant lies can have real business consequences. The biggest is that the best candidate (who might not be as skilled in managing others’ impressions) can be passed over in favor of a less qualified candidate. When that happens, the integrity of the entire hiring process is compromised, and an employer’s objectives to hire the best are scuttled.1

But the real problem may not be the lying itself but that too many managers can’t handle the truth: a candidate’s interview performance does not predict job success or future performance ratings.2 In fact most interviews provide very little useful decision data. Ever hired a candidate who was outstanding in the interview and looked great on paper, but didn’t produce after she was hired? When asked about hiring mistakes, managers tend to describe their interviews as “incomplete” and “not thorough.” Most often, they accept the blame for a hiring mistake, citing their own less-than-rigorous or rushed hiring process.

Though interview lies may be a systemic problem, better interview results are possible. Here are four tips for designing an interview that gets managers the information they need to make good hiring decisions.

  1. Create a purpose or goal for your hiring decision. Get clear on what knowledge and ability you need to hire. Then, make a list of the results that the new employee needs to deliver. Don’t focus on the job tasks—focus on the results.
  2. Remember that an interview is not a conversation. It is a way for the manager to collect job-relevant information from the candidate. (It is also a chance for the candidate to collect information so she can decide whether she wants to work for you.)
  3. Stop selecting interview candidates based on their résumés. Part 1 of this series explains why résumés are a terrible source of relevant information. Base your first-cut hiring decisions on real data. Use a pre-hire assessment to get objective, unfakeable information about the key job-related characteristics of each applicant.
  4. Structure the interview to get beyond surface impressions and elicit the data needed to make accurate hiring decisions. Ask about work that candidates have done in the past that demonstrates their ability to produce the results you expect. Ask, “What did you do when . . .” Don’t ask, “What would you do if . . .”

For more details on how to manage the interview process, check out the Guide to Hiring Success.

1For more detailed information about interview lies, see Weiss, B., and Feldman, R. S. 2006. Looking good and lying to do it: Deception as an impression management strategy in job interviews. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36(4): 1070–1086.

2 Schmidt, Frank L., and Hunter, John E. 1998. The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 12: 262–274.

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