When Candidates Lie – Stay or Run?

Corey Burns candidate experience, Corey Burns, Digital Interviewing, Employment Law, Good HR, Interviewing, Sourcing

“Every candidate lies.”

This is exactly what one recruiter told me when I was first getting into the talent industry. Naturally, this was an over-generalization and was meant to be funny. However, there is some truth to that statement (though it’s certainly not fair to say that every candidate lies). After gaining years of experience and racking up thousands of interviews under my belt, I’ve definitely experienced my fair share of interesting candidates. I have had the liar, crier, Mr. Angry, and the random person who tried recruiting me during the interview.

For the purpose of this article, I’m focusing on the liar. When I first began to experience untruthfulness during interviews, I would immediately shut down and, at times, take it personally. I always tell my team members that honesty is my number one core value, and in turn, I have come to expect honesty as an essential characteristic.

When it comes to interviewing, I’ve learned to really think about the intentions of that individual and whether it’s worth continuing the conversation. Simply put, this isn’t a black and white subject. There’s a lot of gray on how to handle an untruthful candidate.

There are three categories of truthfulness when it comes to candidates – the flat-out lie, stretching the truth, and the Honest Abe. Here are a few ways to identify which category your candidates fall into and whether or not to proceed.

Three Categories of Truthfulness Explained
  1.  The flat-out lie: The flat-out lie is no bueno and a deal breaker. Most candidates attempt to answer questions in a way they believe the interviewer wants to hear. However, there’s a difference between over exaggerating and telling a flat-out lie. For example, if an applicant tells you they were the department manager, but in reality, they were an individual contributor, this is a misrepresentation of their people management experience. If they are comfortable lying with ease during an interview, there’s a good chance they will be comfortable lying in other situations.Move on to the next candidate!
  2. Stretching the truth: One of the most common fibs we have all heard is salary inflation. Many of us are experiencing the effects of regulation on what we can and can’t ask regarding pay. However, if a candidate provides this information and has a variable compensation plan, ask for the details of their pay structure. Cross-referencing their achieved targets with their specific pay plan is a great way to determine a ballpark range of their overall compensation.When you believe a candidate may be stretching the truth, you need to consider the severity of the act and whether or not this individual is just telling you what you want to hear.
  3. The Honest Abe: This candidate is always a breath of fresh air. But when a candidate is brutally honest, good or bad, it can catch you off guard. Often I am surprised at how self-aware and candid some people are with their own faults. Being self-aware is important, but are they willing to change or improve their weaknesses? If the applicant is too comfortable accepting their faults, it may be a sign that they refuse to change.When this occurs, ask how they learned about their shortcomings and what they have done to overcome those weaknesses. And, of course, ask for details on how they have already worked to improve them.
Quick Tips on How to Identify the Lie

Identifying the lie can be tricky, especially with a conversationalist. The fact is that some candidates can carry conversations better than others, and have the ability to WOO (Win Others Over). The success of determining truthfulness starts with the minute details of how candidates answer questions.

  1. Dive below the surface: When interviewing a candidate, the details of how that candidate responds can be a first indicator of truthfulness. If a candidate gives vivid details regarding their role and how it applies to your questions, it’s a good sign this individual is being honest. When candidates remain vague and only share the end results of a project or accomplishment, this is one of the telltale signs that they aren’t being entirely truthful.Another thing to consider is whether the candidate speaks in terms of responsibility for a specific task.
  2. Listen for past or present tense: This is one of the most common things I pick up on when a candidate is no longer in a specific role or company. It never looks good to have a gap in work history, and it’s even more concerning if the candidate has been let go from a job. When you listen to the candidate speak, are they talking in past or present tense? If the candidate slips and begins to use past tense phrases or terms (I worked, I was, I used to, etc.) it tells the interviewer that this individual is no longer employed or in that role.To validate your concerns, ask past tense questions back to the applicant. For example: When you were at ABC company, how many employees did you oversee? Or take the direct approach and simply ask them if they are still employed!
  3. Compare and contrast work history: There’s no reason to spend a lot of time explaining this one! If the candidate is telling you about their work history and it’s different than what is on the resume, address the discrepancy ASAP.
  4. Request supporting evidence: When asking about demonstrable experience, request supporting evidence. If the candidate does not have supporting evidence available at the interview, you should still ask for it and put a short deadline on when you expect to receive it.

While the examples above only cover specific situations, go into all interviews with the intent of learning the fine details of your applicant. As you begin to experience more and more “misrepresentations” or untruthfulness during interviews, do your best to give people the benefit of the doubt rather than assume every candidate is trying to sneak one past you. Don’t get jaded!