University of Guelph research shows most people lie during job interviews.
Prof. Deborah Powell, left, and PhD student Leann Schneider.

If you’ve ever been interviewed for a job, chances are you probably lied at least once, using what researchers call “deceptive impression management.”

That was the finding of a study by Leann Schneider, a PhD student in psychology; Prof. Deborah Powell, Department of Psychology; and Prof. Nicolas Roulin, Human Resource Management at the University of Manitoba. The study was published in the International Journal of Selection and Assessment.

Those who lie in interviews do so to get ahead in a competitive job market, says Powell, but if they get hired for the job, they may not be the best candidate.

The researchers videotaped more than 100 participants in a mock job interview and then asked them whether they had been dishonest. Ninety-four per cent admitted to lying.

Despite the prevalence of lying in job interviews, employers are often unable to detect it.

“A big finding in the research literature on interviews is that interviewers are pretty bad at being able to detect when people are lying during the interview,” says Schneider. “Maybe there are certain cues that people give off during the interview that is indicative of them lying.”

The researchers aimed to identify what employers should look for in a candidate’s behaviour and speech patterns but discovered that these cues are not easy to spot.

The study revealed that those who smiled less and talked more were more likely to be lying. The researchers were surprised to find that those who appeared less anxious tended to be more dishonest. “That’s really different from what you would expect,” says Schneider.

She advises employers to look beyond an applicant’s nervousness because it may actually indicate honesty. “Don’t write someone off if they’re looking anxious during the interview,” she says. “It may not necessarily mean that they’re a poor person for the job.” She also recommends paying more attention to what a person is saying rather than focusing on their facial expressions, gestures or body language, which can be misleading.

Don’t just use an interview as an evaluation tool, says Powell. Instead, ask the candidate to perform a skills-based test related to the position for which they’re applying. “If you use some kind of a work simulation or a work sample so people can actually demonstrate their skills — you can’t really lie when you’re demonstrating your skills.” Checking references can also help employers verify an interviewee’s background.

The lies participants told during the mock interviews tended to be exaggerations, adds Powell. “It’s a different kind of deception. It might be taking a little more credit for a team accomplishment.” The researchers did not find a strong correlation between those who lied during an interview and were then hired for the job.

Even if they get hired, dishonest applicants may end up being unhappy in the job in the long run.

“If you’re lying that much during the interview, are you really well suited to that job?” says Schneider. “Should you really be applying for it in the first place?”