Summary: Job candidates predictably distort the way they present their competencies and credentials out of concern for making a favorable impression and wanting to be liked by hiring professionals.
These distortions, called social desirability biases, can be unconscious behaviors or they can reflect deliberate deceit. Behavioral clues to assess lying are too generalized to be effectively applied by most people.
Rather, we outline a three-part strategy for due diligence on candidates that reduces bad hires resulting from erroneous information.
Each component of the three-part strategy can be useful separately, but the components are especially powerful when used in tandem as a system of checks and balances.
It takes more work to tell a lie than it does to tell the truth. You have to not only make up something, but also watch me to make sure I’m believing you.
~Maureen O’Sullivan, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, University of San Francisco
Love or hate his more controversial ideas, but the illustrious psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud had a keen understanding of people and their motivations. One of his heuristics is hard to improve upon even today – the principle that people gravitate towards what makes them feel good and move away from what makes them feel bad.
Experienced behavioral interviewers tend to know this principle well. Candidates typically, though often unwittingly, tell interviewers what is thought those interviewers want to hear. In the process, candidates can hype up characteristics that are thought to make a favorable impression and ignore or outright lie about characteristics that seemingly make an unfavorable one.
Actually, we all do this tosome degree; a classic principle in social psychology is that people behave in ways that they believe are socially acceptable and desirable when they know others are watching. This is generally known as “social desirability biases.”
According to Paulhus, individuals modify their behavior in two primary ways. First, people can give honest but inflated self-descriptions reflecting a lack of insight and an unconscious bias toward favorable self-portrayal (self-deception).
This is a variation of social desirability bias. While it is important to have an accurate assessment of candidates’ traits and abilities, professionals need to understand that virtually everyone exhibits social desirability biases to some extent. Candidates are simply acting naturally out of a healthy self-image and are expressing a need to be liked and accepted.
The second and more serious form of social desirability is what Paulhus refers to as impression management. This term applies when people consciously use inflated self- descriptions, faking, or lying due to a hypersensitivity to situational self-presentation demands.
Self-deception and impression management behaviors lead to tainted candidate evaluations. This makes it crucial for hiring professionals to be prepared to address these confounds. This article aims to arm you with such knowledge.
Cues to Possibly Deliberate Deception
Innovative research by Richard Wiseman, University of Hertfordshire, and Maureen O’Sullivan, University of San Francisco, suggests that people are terrible at telling when someone is lying. For instance, do you think that liars avoid eye contact and fidget a lot? Many people do, but they would be wrong. Good liars maintain more eye contact and do not fidget.
People naturally pick up on cues when trying to assess the sincerity of someone, but more often than not people focus on cues that indicate when someone is stressed, not necessarily when they are lying.
So what are some reliable signs that someone is trying to deceive you? Basically, the trick is to look for inconsistencies in the way people are talking. Experts like Wiseman and O’Sullivan note some examples from their research investigating lying in offline situations:
- Latency in Speech – there are long pauses between the questions you ask and the answers people give. When someone is lying they may have to think more about keeping details straight and slow their speech or become more hesitant.
- Poor Fluency – there is an increased use of short sentences and there may be frequent fluffs or errors in the person’s speech. Liars must work particularly hard to make lies flow smoothly and therefore they tend to speak more rapidly or become tongue-tied.
- Irregularities in Articulation – the increased use odd phrases.
- Rigid Body Language – lack of movement can also be a clue to untruthfulness.
The idea is that inconsistencies or the changes in delivery are clues that something peculiar or “out of sync” is going on. The clue to the deception is the mismatch between what is being said and what the person seems to be feeling. Of course, none of these signals absolutely guarantee that someone is lying.
For instance, latency in speech can be accounted for in other ways, such as candidate nervousness. Furthermore, irregularities in speech and poor fluency may actually indicate that the person possesses heightened levels of creativity. Indeed, articulation and memory can become muddled from the mental interference caused by a creative mind “racing with new ideas.”
However, the four clues above – especially when they occur in tandem – can alert one to the distinct possibility of deception.
Read the full article here.
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