Are You A Deceiver?

UK organisations are flooded with applications from willing candidates, leaving employers to separate the wheat from the chaff (the CIPD’s recent Labour Market Outlook reported an average of 45 applications for each vacancy). Experienced recruiters therefore become the coveted custodians of one of the most important talent management strategies.

Worryingly, a study from the Journal of Applied Social Psychology shows that HR professionals who had conducted hundreds of interviews in their career were no better at spotting deception in employment interviews than those with zero interviewing experience.

German student volunteers were asked to record testimonies of their previous job experiences in a position they had had before, and in one that they had never worked in – as if they were in a situation of a job interview. Both truthful and deceptive accounts were then judged by more than 350 experienced and inexperienced interviewers, sampled from people working in personnel management and users of social networking websites without necessary interviewing skills. Interview experience – measured as the number of interviews a participant conducted in the course of their professional life – did not predict accuracy of lie detection. At the same time those in the HR profession were more sceptical of the ‘candidates’ than naive recruiters.

This may be one of the results of lying becoming an increasingly popular theme in people management discourse – after all, ‘padding out’ a CV is common advice for less confident applicants. Earlier this year People Management magazine’s survey found that 92% of HR professionals think they are lied to every week. Could they act on it, though, and face the risk of a false accusation? HR professionals are still human, and humans make mistakes – as the study above shows.

Last month The Economist (2013) reported on software that replaces human recruiters by crunching Big Data to identify the best job candidates. Reliability of its judgment is still tenuous, however. For example, one criterion used by the robot recruiter was that people with deliberately installed internet browsers (e.g. Chrome) would be better at ‘informed decisions’ compared to those filling out applications from default browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer).

For now, being human is an advantage. In the Reinhard et al. (2013) study those best at identifying deception were the ones with more knowledge about what lying looks like (which could be obtained in non-recruitment settings), although their advantage was marginal. But technology is catching up fast.


Reinhard, M-A., Scharmach, M. & Muller, P. (2013) It’s Not What You Are, It’s What You Know: Experience, Beliefs, and the Detection of Deception in Employment Interviews. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 43(3), pp.467-479.

The Economist (2013) Robot Recruiters: How Software Helps Firms Hire Workers more Efficiently. The Economist. 6 April 2013, pp.71.


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