We’re Bad at Detecting Lies
US psychologist Roulin and colleagues examined how well recruiters can detect when candidates are lying in interviews. In a series of five different experiments, they found that even experienced job interviewers were only able to correctly detect when a job candidate is lying about 13-22% of the time.
So if we’re so bad at detecting lies, what can we do to spot lying in interviews? Here’s two pro tips:
1. Don’t Study Verbal Cues and Body Language
Pop psychology tells us that things like eye contact avoidance are generally considered telltale signs of a liar. That’s not true. Years of research has found that things like eye contact, fidgeting and hand movement all have absolutely no correlation with act of telling a lie. After all, in high stakes situations, like job interviews, everyone acts nervously – even the truth tellers.
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2. Do Use the Cognitive Load Method
Instead, you may be better off using the cognitive load method to catch liars in interviews. This method is based on a simple idea: lying requires more cognitive effort than telling the truth. Liars have to constantly monitor themselves and ensure that their story doesn’t contradict itself. So, researchers argue, if you increase the cognitive load on a person you can get to a point where the liar can’t handle the extra stress – but the truth teller can. One way of doing this is asking candidates to narrate their stories – for example a recent sales deal they closed – in reverse.
With a Grain of Salt
Compared to the behavioural method, current research suggests that the cognitive load method can increase an interviewer’s liar detection accuracy anywhere from 20% (this study) to 80% (this study).
But while research right now appears to be positive, it’s important to note that this area of research is still very young and research on the cognitive load method isn’t conclusive. So, interviewers should use the method with a grain of salt: instead of treating it as the ‘break-or-make’ method that can without a fail catch out the liars from truth tellers in an interview, the cognitive load method may be better used as a complementary tool that recruiters can use in the interview process.
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