Can You Tell When Your Candidates Are Lying?

According to a study* carried out by the University of Massachusetts, the majority of people cannot hold a ten minute conversation with a stranger without fibbing at least once. Therefore, realistically speaking you’ll hear (and will have heard) a few porkies during your time in recruitment while interviewing candidates.

would_i_lie_to_you_blogBut fear not - it’s not all doom and gloom. You can become savvier to dishonesty from your candidates, and it’s not as difficult as you may think. The ball’s in your court on the severity of the lie and how you proceed thereafter. Is it a small fib where the candidate is enhancing their responsibilities in a previous role when interviewing for a more senior position? Or is it a big one like covering up a dismissal or a record in their criminal history? Arm yourself with the knowledge to spot a liar- here are some simple pointers to expose untruths:

Body language

You don’t need to be a body language expert to notice changes - however subtle - in a person when they’re not being entirely honest. You may literally notice them squirm with discomfort as they try to construct an answer or even shuffling their feet could be a sign that they want to walk away from the situation. Any notable change of or unnatural movements can signify that the candidate is preparing to lie to you such as, wringing their hands, gripping the arms of a chair, picking at skin or moving their head as they search the room for an answer. Liars will often try to ‘cover up’ that they’re being dishonest and will move their hands near their mouth, across their chest, throat or shoulders.

Eye contact

ID-100235787It’s said that the eyes are the windows to the soul and they’re also great indicators of how honest a candidate is being. Classic signs would be staring at the floor when asked a ‘tricky’ question while in a 180° turn, an accomplished liar will uncomfortably hold your gaze as if meeting the challenge head on. The best thing to do is establish what you think is normal eye movements for the candidate. Before you get down to their work history and role specific questions; ask something that doesn’t require lots of thought to answer. It could be something as simple as “how long did it take you to get here?” “what did you do at the weekend?” or “do you have any plans for the rest of the day?”. Unaccomplished liars will panic and their eyes may move wildly across the room as they seek out what they think is a satisfactory response.


Most people incorrectly assume a high pitched voice is a sure fire way to identify when someone isn’t being truthful. Yes, your voice can become raised or high pitched due to the stress of lying increasing the heart rate. But it could also be the stress of an interview! However, suddenly dropping an octave, pausing or a change in speed can signal that the answer isn’t coming naturally.

Too much info!

ID-100235779Occasionally, if someone is lying they will trip themselves up by leaving you utterly confused by what you’ve just heard. A seasoned liar will have answers prepared for particular topics and will think he/she is covering their back well and creating false trust by going into great detail and volunteering information you haven’t asked for. This is a distraction method - attempting to take your mind off a topic they don’t want to discuss in the hopes of avoiding difficult questions. If you think this is happening; listen to your candidate’s answer then go back and ask for the original information you wanted. Less experienced liars will be more likely to babble – they won’t be able to confidently direct the conversation and there will be lots of opportunity to interject and ask questions.

Remember, candidates will be nervous about being in an interview where they’re essentially being judged and analysed by strangers so some allowances should be made for the situation. However, if you notice a candidate behaving unnaturally, it should raise a flag. Do you want your client to hire someone and second guess their every word? Your gut should help you.


Images: Image 1, Image 2 and Image 3

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Megan McBurnie

Megan worked as a recruitment consultant, recruiting in the Office Services, General Insurance and Legal markets.

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