There is something about the job interview process that encourages candidates to stretch the truth about their skills and work experience. A research team led by Jordan Ho, a Ph.D. candidate at Guelph University, found that 100% of respondents are willing to stretch the truth in job interviews. Moreover, Ho gained insight into the conditions that inspire people to embellish and mislead during job interviews.
"It's essentially a social interaction, while also being a test. In our study,100 percent of people said they would lie or use deception in one way or another. It seems to be a fairly common thing.” — Jordan Ho
The research team presented 775 people with interview scenarios. Participants were asked to imagine that the interview was with an organization for which they would want to work. The situations varied, including the ratio of candidates who would eventually be hired and the number of competitors.
Mislead During Job Interviews
In responding to questions presented to them online, all respondents agreed that — in certain circumstances — they would be compelled to engage in some level of deception or exaggeration.
Ho explored how people act during job interviews, as everyone experienced a potentially anxiety-provoking experience. They were trying to win over a potential boss during an unnatural question-and-answer session. Applicants engage in so many different behaviours during interviews, which include,
- embellishing and exaggerating experience and accomplishments
- stretching the truth about their skills and qualifications
So, you might think that being honest might not be the best strategy to stand out. In these situations, you might want to lie. You always have another option. Tell the truth.
With Less Competition, There Will Be More Faking
Interestingly the respondents reported a higher likelihood of deception in scenarios where they knew that fewer people were competing for the job. This is counterintuitive. When there are fewer people, it is objectively less competitive.
However, our brains play a little trick on us. It thinks with fewer competitors; we have a better chance of winning. You might be afraid that you are not as impressive as the other people in the interview. People embellish or say things that are not true from not knowing what to say or how to say it. So, if a puzzling question stumps you, you think it might make sense for you to lie rather than say nothing at all. I recommend an honest response.
Earlier research has been proven this phenomenon. Visualize yourself running in a race. Picturing the faces of 100 different competitors would be difficult. However, if it were you and a few others are vying to cross the finish line, you will be acutely aware of the position of those people. You do everything possible to beat them.
I took the photo above as the lead pack ran by my home in the 2018 Ottawa Marathon. The group finished as the top five. Yemen Tsegay (inside with the orange top), his marathon debut, dropped about 100 metres behind John Korir (the other orange jersey) in the span between the 37- and 39-kilometre marks. He reeled in the competitors making before they reached 40 and ended up with a 22-second margin of victory. Interestingly, pacesetter Amos Mitei (blue top) sized up his competition at the 30 km mark, stayed in the lead group for the rest race, and finished fourth.
Improve Your Interview Process
The recruitment process works best when hiring managers engage authentically with candidates. When you are forthright about what the organization, what it offers, and what precisely it is seeking takes the focus off of competition.
I encourage organizations to prepare outcome focus job postings. These notices list the five or six essential things that the new hire is expected to complete in the first year. Base your selection matrix on these same outcomes.
When your job posting or other communication states that only a small number of applicants will get an interview, or that the vetting process is strict, you create the conditions for candidates who are selected for an interview to overthink their competitors. Instead, it is better if your communications to candidates focus on the organization, and that you are seeking the right fit.
It is recruiting — not a competition
So, it is best that you do not emphasize that the hiring process is a competition. Hiring is a process to find the mutual best-fit between your future employee and your organization. Take other actions to set candidates more at ease and encourage honest dialogue in interviews.
Effective interviewing is hard work
"Selection decisions are often about as accurate as a coin flip." — The Recruiting Roundtable
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Organizations typically hire the best candidate. However, the best candidates are rarely the best hires. Most people end up hiring people like themselves. Moreover, most hiring processes are designed to ensure this occurs. Some of this happens during the filtering phase and the balance during the interview.
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Treat Recruitment Like Investments
When coaching people, I encourage them to think of their talent stack as career capital. Organizations should do the same. Look at candidates as potential investors in their organizations. Instead of emphasizing competition, offer your potential employee the kind of transparency an investor demands.
It would be best if you were open and honest in setting the tone. Start interviews by saying something like, “We are here today to see if there is a mutually beneficial relationship for us. Our discussion today is as much for you to explore what we have to offer as it is for us to get to know you.”
Next, follow with your five-minute “pitch deck.” It should include,
- who you are
- what you are about
- your mission, vision, and values
- the current challenges your organization and the industry are facing
- your past successes and achievements
- your culture and environment
- what you are looking for — this must align with the outcomes listed in your job posting
Use WHEN, not IF: For an organization lacking confidence, this is a telltale sign. When you do not have faith yourself, how can you expect a prospective employee to get excited and get onboard?
Focus your interview process on getting to know the candidates. To make the job seem more prestigious, telling people that it is a fierce competition will likely backfire.
Same goes for inviting candidates to come in around the same time. Having those people in the waiting room with them is not a great strategy.
People are looking for fulfillment. Organizations are seeking top talent, who will fit with their organization and the role. Great hires achieve both.
Given that people leave managers, not organizations. Highlight how you recruit and develop future leaders. The number one reason people leave their current job is the lack of a realistic opportunity for advancement. Offering them training and development increases their career capital. So, think about what needs to be true for that to happen.
So, your best brand to attract and keep top talent is creating an environment where you employee can find fulfillment, learn, and grow while contributing to your mission.
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