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HIRING

How to find out if a job candidate is lying

Estimates are that as many as 50% of job applicants lie on their resumes. It may not be possible to pinpoint the lies, but it is possible to identify the liars, says one professional sleuth.

He is Jamie Richardson of Mission Possible Investigations in Albany, NY, which provides investigative services to law enforcement and businesses. Here he lays out a list of tip-offs to watch for on resumes and during interviews.

Any one by itself “isn’t enough to say there’s something amiss,” he notes. But when there’s “a handful of these red flags,” chances are that applicant is a liar.

Voice signs, eye signs, word signs

People come into interviews prepared with a lot of stock answers, Richardson says. But what they can’t prepare for is the body language and voice patterns they exhibit subconsciously. What to watch for:

• A change in the voice. Listen not just to what’s said but how it sounds. If all the other questions have been answered in one tone and now a new question gets answered in another tone, “something is off.” When people lie, there’s usually a change in the voice. It may turn flat or come out in a monotone. Or it may become less deep or even climb to a high pitch. Any sudden change is a lie detector.

• Unusual eye contact. Somebody who doesn’t make eye contact or constantly looks away is probably hiding something. The reverse can also indicate problems. Too much eye contact is a sign the candidate is trying too hard to look confident. A steady unwavering stare “is part of a liar’s over-compensation.”

• Touching the face. Another sign of deception is touching the face, especially the nose. That’s an unconscious attempt to cover the mouth and thereby conceal the fact that a lie is coming out of it.

• A wrapped-up body. Leaning away from the interviewer, crossing the arms, and crossing the legs are clues that the individual “is closed off and isn’t sharing information.”

• The wrong words. Anybody applying for a job should know the terms commonly used in the profession. Ask a question about the job in general and see if the candidate stutters or trips over the buzz words or “doesn’t know how to use them in a sentence.”

• Too much detail. When asked a question, a truthful person will answer it and then stop talking, Richard-son says. But liars often keep going.

“Liars have trouble with pauses and silence.” They want to fill up silence, and to do so, they start giving out far more detail than is necessary. “They will ramble on and start making things up.”

His advice is to ask a question, listen to the answer, and then sit quietly.

Suppose the question is about a six-month gap in employment. Let the candidate explain it, but don’t comment. Wait and see what happens. If what ensues is a long-winded explanation about what went on during that time and why, probably there’s a lie in the background.

• Too little detail. Anybody should be able to give a good answer to “what was your role at this job?” But a liar will be vague about it with “I did some of the billing and also some of the marketing.”

People who can’t provide details about jobs probably didn’t do those jobs. “They’re just dressing up their resumes.”

• Too much qualifying. Watch out if somebody gives a fast answer to a question and then tries to qualify it. The question is “Have you ever been fired from a job?” The answer is a fast no. But then comes a qualifier: “I’ve never been fired from a job providing marketing services in the last five years.”

• Repeating the question. The question is “have you ever been fired from a job?” And the answer starts out with “Have I ever been fired from a job? Well …”

That’s nothing but an effort to buy time to fabricate an answer. A truthful person will answer immediately.

• The too-adamant response. Instead of a simple no, there’s overkill with “no, no no” or “not in a million years” or “never in my life.”

The candidate doth protest too much.

• Too much complimenting. Be wary too of somebody who is too polite and too complimentary.

Heavy compliments are a cover tactic. They divert the attention away from the candidate by flattering the interviewer into overlooking the lies.

• Putting religion into the answer. Calling on the Almighty with “as God as my witness” or “I swear on a stack of Bibles” is a good sign the speaker is trying to strengthen a lie. The same holds true with prefaces such as “to be honest” or “to tell the truth.” People who do that “are working too hard to convince everybody that what they are saying is true.”

Don’t take a resume at face value

Checking the validity of the references can reveal yet more truth stretching, Richardson says.

Who knows who those people are? Someone listed as a direct supervisor could be just a co-worker or even be somebody who no longer works there.

Ask for specific people: “What was the structure of the business? Who was your direct supervisor?”

Ask too for additional references: “Is there anybody else in the organization I can call?” A forthright candidate will list several other people.

Another point to verify is the dates of employment.

Anybody who puts a resume together knows exactly what those dates are. If the resume is vague, there’s an effort to cover up the work history.

Ask for explanations of gaps in the dates and listen for plausible answers. “It’s rare that somebody takes a sabbatical with a year off,” he says. “How did that person pay for it?”

A good way to verify the overall validity of the resume, he says, is to compare what’s written to what’s said.

Before the interview, research the company and job title the applicant has listed. Find out what services the company provides and what it means to be, say, a quality assurance coordinator.

Then during the interview, ask for a description of the job and see if it matches up with the research. If there’s nothing separating the two, chances are the resume is truthful. If not, watch out.


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