This week we have seen two highly anticipated interviews broadcast on our TV’s.
Bo Jo and Corbyn went head to head in the first election debate and Prince Andrew took to the hot spot in a BBC interview (but didn’t sweat when he came under fire of course).
Since the infamous interviews aired, the media has been awash with speculation, fact checking and public doubts.
But in real life, it’s not as easy as digging up voting statistics, government pledges, paparazzi pictures or Pizza Express reservation records. Every now and then candidates have been known to stretch the truth and it’s up to you as the interviewer to uncover the truth.
We’ve all been fooled at some point, even the US government had the wool pulled over their eyes this week when a senior US state department official resigned amid accusations that in her application she claimed she had a non-existent university degree and had created a fake Time magazine cover with her face on it.
Perhaps if a Commercial Director candidate presented you with a photoshopped Time magazine cover lauding their global impact, that might be a bit of a red flag, but often it is tricky determining who’s embellishing the facts.
So what are the most common things people lie about and how can you spot them?
1. Reasons for leaving a company
This is the number one interview question that candidates prepare themselves for. They know the question is coming and have rehearsed the answer.
However, they have often only prepared to be asked once and their first answer is often a watered down, palatable version of the truth.
To catch out a lie, ask follow-up questions like;
“What were the other reasons?” or “if answer no.1 hadn’t of been the case would you have stayed?”
If you have doubts you should also revisit the question at several stages throughout the process. This could be at the start of the interview and again at the end, or from your executive search firm who should have commented on this in their shortlist report. Then compare the answers and make sure they line up.
Back this up with referencing to make sure the answers make sense from the company’s perspective.
2. Taking more credit than they should
In this instance, candidates may inflate their position in a company or on a project. We once recruited a Chief Engineer for a significant infrastructure project and received three CV’s from people claiming to have the same role leading engineering on another project.
The reality was; one was true, one had exaggerated as they had actually been the deputy for engineering, and one had only been the engineering lead for a month or so at the very end of the project.
Obviously referencing will come in handy again here to clarify where they sat in the business. But in the interview, there are a few tricks you can use to gauge how truthful they are being.
Asking them what their reporting line is (up and down) gives you a more reliable answer than job title alone as it provides some context. You can then compare this to your own knowledge of the company, or network someone who has some insight to clarify.
Another good question to determine seniority is to ask, “what does your business expect you to deliver in your role over the course of the year?”
If the answer is strategic, then they are most likely operating at senior level. If it is a tactical response, then chances are they hold a more junior position than they may be claiming.
Finally, make sure to confirm what role they actually joined the company as and the dates they were in that role for. Their CV may say Project Director for 2012-2017, but they may have joined as a Projects Manager in 2012 and been promoted up to PD in 2016.
3. Salary package
Something we come up against time and time again is when asked what salary they are on, candidates will give an optimistic view of their total compensation package.
Make sure you ask this question specifically, break everything down to avoid confusion. Get them to tell you basic salary, bonus (max and realistic), car allowance, pension etc. individually.
Equally make sure they understand that you appreciate there is a difference between what they are currently being paid and what they may want to move.
Firstly, it is important that you don’t ask for qualifications that the job doesn’t necessarily need. A common reason people lie about education is because they know they can do the job without the PhD or MBA being asked for.
Then clearly communicate what is required for the role, if you are open to candidates without a degree, don’t ask for one in the job spec.
Some years ago we had a preferred candidate for an Operations Director role with a large transport operator who we suspected of fabricating his MSc in Transport & Logistics, when pushed he admitted to lying because he thought he wouldn’t get interviewed without it. In reality, the client would have offered him regardless, but he was ultimately rejected for lying on his CV.
If the role does require certain qualifications, let candidates know at the outset that it is likely they will be asked for certificates pre-offer stage as this acts as a deterrent.
5. Gaps in employment
Many people have legitimate reasons for gaps in employment history. Some don’t. Even those that are genuine often feel like they need to cover up periods of unemployment.
One of the biggest warning signs is when candidates just list the years of employment on their CV rather than the month. Someone could have left one role in January 2017 and not started another role until December 2017, you aren’t to know if they just list 2017 as end or start dates.
Make sure you qualify the months with them for recent career history. This can also be confirmed with references after, all HR departments will provide you with dates of employment as a minimum for references.
Asking the candidate to give you a quick overview of their career moves to date will also give you a chance to pick up on any inconsistencies compared with the CV. More often than not, people won’t remember exactly what they wrote in their CV so if they have fudged the numbers then you will likely spot some variation.
I wouldn’t recommend going in to interviews assuming all candidates are trying to deceive you. But it does happen so it’s important to know what to look out for and how to push back considerately if you have doubts.
Have you got any tricks to spot tall tales in interviews? Drop me a line with your experiences.