When you’re hiring a candidate for a potential role at your company, you hope they’re truthful in the interview. Unfortunately, the majority of people embellish their answers. While some of these overstatements may be harmless, others might cause you to make a hiring mistake.
“It’s very common and fairly regular that candidates will at the very least massage a story in a way to improve their perception,” says Michael Reddington, a certified forensic interviewer and the president of InQuasive, a company that trains leaders on truth-seeking methods and tools for business interactions. “They may not outright lie, but they may manufacture an answer to their benefit.”
To get at the truth, Reddington suggests starting every interview by asking the candidate this question: Will you confirm your contact information?
“Candidates should be comfortable sharing this because they want to be contacted,” he says. “This answer can provide you with a baseline. You can see what they look like and hear how they sound when they are comfortable providing an answer.”
How to use the baseline
When someone is comfortable communicating, you can learn their natural tone or speed. As you ask questions, you can watch for answers that deviate from this norm.
“Listening for clues is very important,” he says. “Someone may change how fast or slow they talk. Their tone of voice or even their word choice could change. Or the pauses in their speech could become longer or shorter than before.”
While these changes in speech pattern don’t necessarily mean someone is lying, they can give you an indication that you should stay with the question longer, says Reddington. “If the person normally talks quickly and slows down and becomes more methodical with an answer, choosing words carefully, it’s a good time for a follow-up question,” he says. “This is an area where you want to dig deeper.”
How to ask a question
How you structure a question will have a significant impact on the amount of information a candidate will share. Your phrasing is critical, says Reddington.
“One of the common mistakes interviewers make is to ask compound questions, such as ‘Please tell me a time you did this and what you learned from it?'” he says.
Instead, interviewers should ask one thought-provoking question and let the candidate answer in full before asking a follow-up question that helps fill in blanks. For example, “Please walk me through the most significant conflict you’ve had to navigate with your most recent supervisor.” Once a candidate provides their response, you can follow up with, “What did you learn about the experience that you will take into your next role?”
Choose the correct order
Phrasing is essential, but so is the order of your questions. Interviewers should also be intentional about when they ask a question. The structure should be designed to build upon each other and lead to the questions that will result in the most important information needed to make a decision.
If you’re looking to hire for resilience or an adaptability trait, for example, an interviewer may start out by asking how resilient or how adaptable the person may be or throw out the question at a random time, says Reddington.
“Resiliency and adaptability traits often surface in the face of problem-solving,” he says. “Instead of just coming out and asking them to determine their own level of resilience or capacity for adapting, ask them about the problems they’ve solved. Then transition into how it built their resilience and adaptability.”
While asking the right questions and listening for clues in responses can help you get at the truth, it should only be the start, says Reddington.
“We went from a war on talent with unemployment at 3% to having an overflowing number of candidates,” he says. “Sifting through a pile of applications may make a hiring manager feel better, but it’s equally challenging. It can be tempting to try to catch somebody in a lie to eliminate them. Instead, listen for indicators of comfort and discomfort and ask follow-up questions.”
The work doesn’t end there, however. “You need to conduct due diligence to substantiate or disprove the assumptions you make during interviews, by checking LinkedIn, doing Google searches, finding shared connections, and calling references,” he says. “A lot of managers don’t take that important step.”