Liar Liar: How to spot those interview fibs

11 August 2015 -


How much deception is there in the traditional selection process?

How much impression management is there?

And who is more likely to tell “white” and perhaps "not-so-white” lies: interviewer or interviewee?

Adrian Furnham & Max Eggert

Max Eggert, an expert on selection, has argued that there are many different types of lies, and they make a good checklist for the potential interviewer.

Here, guest bloggers Adrian Furnham and Max Eggert take you through this list of common interview lies, and tell you how you can make sure you don't fall victim to them in the interview room.

1. White lies

These are found in the “puff” statement some people are encouraged to write on their CV; “I am a totally committed team player” / “I have excellent social skills and the ability to read people” / “I am utterly trustworthy and loyal”. The obvious question here is: “says who?” Where is the evidence? The best solution is to ignore all this flim-flam and say “I will be the judge of that, thank you”.

2. Altruistic lies

These are lies that attempt a cover-up, but look as if they are helping others. So rather than say they left their last job because their manager was a bully, or the company was patently dodgy, they say they resigned to look for new challenges.

3. Lies of omission

For many, these are the most frequent and easiest of lies. People might omit details of school or university grades because they had poor marks. Whole periods of their life are obfuscated. The most common lie concerns dates, often to disguise the fact that the candidate seemed to spend a surprisingly short amount of time in a succession of jobs. This is blatant concealment.

4. Defensive lies

The defensive lie is one that conceals by generalisations or vagaries. Ask a person about their previous boss’s management style or their reason for leaving - and you are often faced with a string of vague expressions such as “like others in the company”; “much the same as my co-workers”; “at that time”. Ask vague questions and you get defensive lies.

5. Impersonation lies

This is also called the transfer lie and occurs mostly where people take credit for the work of others; statements such as “I doubled sales over the year” or “I was responsible for a budget of over three million”. All others in the hierarchy are forgotten in these lies and it is often difficult to establish the facts as to who exactly was responsible for particular successes (and disasters which are, of course, omitted).

6. Embedded lies

This is a clever subterfuge to confuse the interviewer. “I really enjoyed my time in Oxford” could refer to a first job in the city of “dreaming spires”, where the candidate was a mere underling. The idea is to suggest an experience, qualification or achievement was very different from reality. “It was good fun being with the BBC/CNN” could mean practically anything from “I once went to a show there” to “they filmed at my school”.

7. Errors of commission or fact

This is lying 101. They are explicit and verifiably false claims. It is about claiming qualifications you don’t have, starting up or working for companies that never existed or creating skills that don’t exist. It is the most blatant form of lying.

8. Definition lies

This is the sport of lawyers and of presidents. What precisely does it mean “to have sex with” someone? What is a company turnaround? What does it mean to be in the latest group? This approach involves working with a very specific and obscure definition, so that for all intents and purposes you are telling the truth.

9. Proxy lies

This is where the candidates get others to lie for them. It is usually referees but could be former teachers. They may skillfully work on their previous employers’ poor memory, vanity or other bribes to persuade them to obfuscate.

Be vigilant at your next interview. Try to work out the particular ‘impression management” preferences of every candidate in this cat-and-mouse game, but don’t assume that it is only the interviewee who is prone to a few lies.

If you are interested in the psychology of dissimilation, impression management and lying, the selection interview may be the best place to collect some really interesting data.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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