Can Interviewers Tell if You’re Lying?


If you're like most job candidates, you believe you are also part magician. You can be truthful or not, and there is no way (humanly possible) that the interviewer will be able to tell.

This sense of confidence is helpful when dealing with the stress of a job interview, but it is naïve if you think you are that good at hiding deception.

Being seen as trustworthy is crucial to employers. As a hiring manager or recruiter interviews candidates, they focus on mitigating risk -- looking for candidates who will add value, grow in their role and seamlessly integrate into the company culture. To send messages of deception to an interviewer means you introduce doubt and risk, and will likely not get further consideration.

Why Job Candidates Lie

Assuming you aren't intentionally trying to deceive the interviewer, there are several reasons job seekers don't tell the "whole truth and nothing but the truth." Some reasons candidates lie include:

  • An attempt to hide the painful truth. Perhaps the interviewer is asking about a gap in your career, during a time you sought counseling after the loss of a friend. Talking about this time might bring up unpleasant thoughts or additional questions so you try to hide it. Instead of lying, practice giving a succinct and clear response that explains the gap without getting into the painful emotions surrounding that time.
  • If you are unsure or uncertain about the details. Sometimes, when faced with the fear of appearing uninformed, job seekers try to cover up by exaggerating or embellishing. If you feel tempted to lie about your experience or capabilities, remember that you are setting yourself up for failure: You will have to maintain that lie for a very, very long time.
  • Feeling ashamed or embarrassed. Is there something in your resume that you're not proud of? It's best to deal with it and come clean rather than lie about the situation. Assume that with all the technology available today, your secret will eventually be revealed.

Signs You're Lying

Police detectives watch for clues to detect whether a suspect is lying: They observe people who offer too many extraneous details, shift nervously in their chair, and make too much direct eye contact. You likely were also trained to evaluate suspicious behavior as part of your military training.

Hiring managers and recruiters interviewing candidates also look for signs of deception, such as:

  • Voice: Is your voice suddenly high-pitched because of nervousness, or are you trying too hard to control your voice so that it sounds unnatural? Are you speaking more quickly or slowly than you were previously?
  • Eye contact: People lying don't always avoid eye contact as previously thought. In fact, sometimes a liar will make direct eye contact that feels too long or unnaturally focused. This can be an indicator of deception.
  • Body language: Someone who is not telling the truth will often fidget nervously as they struggle to remember how the story goes, or may over-exaggerate their hand gestures as if to distract from their mistruths. Similarly, when a candidate covers their mouth or nose while speaking, it could indicate they don't believe what they are saying (as if pushing the words back inside).

Avoid Giving Mixed Signals

Interestingly, as soon as we become conscious of signals that could indicate lying, we almost behave that way out of fear. It's like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Instead of worrying that you are coming across as deceitful, focus on:

  • Breathing. During your interview prep, hopefully you researched the company and the job, practiced responses to expected questions and gave yourself a pep talk to get your confidence up. Remind yourself of this if you feel yourself getting tense or stressed. If your chest tightens or you feel your heart rate accelerate from stress, take a deep breath to refocus.
  • Looking the interviewer in the eyes. Practice good eye contact by looking at someone when they speak to you, and when you speak to them. If there are multiple interviewers, make sure each person receives eye contact from you, not just the person who asked the question.
  • Relaxing your body. When we are stressed, we show it physically. Our shoulders seem to creep up under our ears, palms become sweaty, we hunch over and cross our arms. This posture is not inviting to an interviewer. While it can look like deception, it can also look like a lack of confidence and should be avoided. Hold a pen in your hand, take notes, drop your shoulders down and sit comfortably in your seat so as to relax your body.

It doesn't serve a job seeker to come across as deceptive. Follow these tips to ensure your body language, voice and message are received in the most trustworthy way when interviewing.

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