Lies, damned lies, and recruitment lies

As the UK job market cools off, there’s still an awful lot of recruitment activity going on. And now it seems that even the ‘time-honoured’ tactic of padding your CV carries a new warning.

A recent Supreme court ruling means that anyone who gets a job by lying on their CV or at interview may financial penalties. Admittedly, in this case, we’re talking about a CEO role, and a candidate with a Higher Education Certificate claiming to have an MBA and a doctorate, so perhaps it’s a scale thing.

Those that engage in such exaggeration would say, everyone does it. And a YouGov study from a few years ago found that 10% of British job hunters admitted to having lied on their CV at some point in their careers. But usually with these stories, “everyone” means the applicant, the candidate, the interviewee. And yet, that’s not the only side of the table that exaggerates, enhances or just plain fibs…

The reality is that interviewers can be just as prone to ‘presenting themselves and the company in a rosy light’. But just like the too-good-to-be-true jobseeker, the interviewer (hiring manager, HR, etc.) should be wary of being seen to mislead.

What do interviewers say?

First, there are these classic ways to describe the job on offer:

  1. The job has a lot of opportunity for advancement.
  2. The total benefits package (+/or bonus) will double your salary.
  3. We provide full training and plenty of development opportunities.
  4. The role is very flexible and you’ll be able to work from home regularly.
  5. When things get busy, we’ll hire extra help.

Sound reasonable?

Then there are the rote phrases you hear at the end of the interview:

  1. The salary for the position depends on experience (or is non-negotiable).
  2. We’ll keep you in mind for future positions.
  3. You seem like a great fit, we just have a few more candidates to speak with still.
  4. We’ll make a final decision once we’ve spoken with your references.
  5. We’ll be in touch shortly.

When are the above lines untrue?

Let’s face it, none of the above are guaranteed to be fibs. With the possible exception of #6 (salary is never based on experience, it’s based on how much they want the candidate) any of these might be sincere statements, unthinking platitudes, or blatant lies. How to tell the difference…

First of all, body language can be a giveaway:

  • Sudden movements of the head in response to a question.
  • Repetition of words and phrases which may be ‘learned lines’, buying time, or just trying to convince the candidate.
  • Covering the mouth with the hand (symbolizing they aren’t saying everything).
  • Touching or rubbing the nose, ear, neck or mouth (protecting vulnerable areas).
  • Shuffling their feet (indicating they want to be somewhere else).

Secondly, the candidate might challenge or dig deeper by using the interviewers’ techniques against them. For example, behavioural interviewing uses questions that ask for examples of real-life situations. A smart candidate can use their opportunity for questions at the end of the interview to probe some of the above throwaway lines. For example:

  1. Can you give me an example of someone hired in the last two years for a similar role who has already advanced in their career here?
  2. Can you outline the usual formal training program for a role of this type? And can I speak to someone who has been through it?
  3. Can you tell me the set procedures for supporting team members who work from home on a regular basis?

All it takes is a savvy, prepared candidate (surely, the kind of person an interviewer is looking for, no?) to make the interview look like a bit of a fibber.

Of course, just like an applicant who ‘boosts’ their CV, an interviewer who trots out a disingenuous statement or two is probably just trying to attract a good candidate. But if that candidate feels they’ve caught you out in a lie, the motivation won’t matter. The damage is done.

It can be a very thin line between a positive presentation and a barefaced fib. But the impact on the reputation and brand of the hiring company means it really isn’t worthwhile. There’s always a temptation to exaggerate, reassure to the point of dishonesty, tell a white lie… on both sides. But recruitment is no place for it.


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Categories: HR

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