A few years ago, I was at a backyard barbeque when someone asked me what I do for a living. I jokingly responded, “I sit in a chair while people lie to me.” See, as a human resources professional, I have interviewed thousands of job candidates over my career, many of whom have been car dealership employees. And, well, I am amazed at the elaborate lies people come up with in order to land a job.

Job applicants lie on their resumes and in their cover letters. They also ask references to lie on their behalf. They also have no problem lying to your face during the interview. And if you end up hiring a liar, you can expect the same behavior on the job.

According to hiring managers surveyed by CareerBuilder, the Top 5 lies they hear from job seekers relate to the following: embellished skill set at 57%; embellished responsibilities at 55%; dates of employment at 42%; false job title at 34%; and academic degree at 33%. The good news is spotting a liar is easier than you think, and you don’t need advanced CIA interrogation training to do so. It just requires some effort and practice.

Establish a Behavior Baseline  

Unfortunately, the idea that “liars won’t look you in the eye” doesn’t work when interviewing a candidate, because the good ones will. And forget what you saw on Law and Order, because you won’t spot every single liar right away. Hey, even polygraphs aren’t 100% accurate.

Spotting a liar requires a little more effort. Start by establishing a candidate’s baseline behavior. This is done by asking simple get-to-know-you questions. As they answer, watch and learn their normal speech patterns, behaviors, and movements. If you notice them fidgeting when answering your get-to-know-you questions, don’t assume they are lying when they fidget later in the interview. 

Once you have an understanding of their normal behaviors, look for sudden deviations throughout the interview. A poker player refers to these as “tells.” If an applicant is calm and relaxed during an interview, then suddenly adjusts his posture and begins picking at his nails when you ask how his previous manager would describe him, that individual may be lying. Here are five other traits to look for:

  1. Liars use words to sell their lie: Liars believe the more details they come up with to support their lie, the more believable their story will be. They often rehearse their lies before coming in for the interview, and they will use convincing language. The “tell” here is if a simple question results in a complex response.

For example, let’s say you ask an F&I candidate if she has ever signed paperwork for a customer. Instead of giving the simple “No” response, the individual responds with an emphatic, “No, 100%, definitely not, never!” or “Are you kidding me, my F&I director had so many controls in place that I couldn’t get away with it, even if I tried!” These effusive responses might be a sign you are being lied to.

  1. Liars focus on words, not behaviors: Liars are so focused on their words that they often forget to pay attention to their behaviors. If a liar is telling you a sad story, you may catch him or her cracking a smile. If you ask a simple “Yes” or “No” question, the candidate may instinctively nod her head in a “yes” motion when she answers “No.”
  2. Liars buy time to gather their thoughts: Liars will find ways to stall while they gather their thoughts if you catch them off guard. If you ask them if they were fired from their last job, they might respond, “Who, me?” They may even repeat the question instead of just giving you a straightforward “No.”
  3. Liars have a hard time remembering their lies: The most difficult part about lying is remembering the lies you told and who you told them to. For example, if an application states the candidate resigned from a dealership before having another job lined up, I might suspect they are lying. Instead of asking the applicant why he left that dealership, I might come right out and ask why he was fired. If he was fired, he will pause to try to remember what he has told me. Even if he gives a good verbal response, his initial reaction will tell me all I need to know.
  4. Liars hate silence: Liars don’t just hate silence, they really hate silence. They often fill the silence with long supporting details and trip themselves up with inconsistencies. Recently, I interviewed a candidate who said he was laid off from a local company. Suspecting this wasn’t the case, I told him I knew his previous manager. I then sat and stared at him without saying a word. After a long and uncomfortable silence, he started to blurt out his performance issues that led to his firing. He then blamed it all on his coworkers.

Those are the “tells” you need to look for. However, spotting one during an interview doesn’t necessarily mean the candidate is lying. It does mean you may want to do some follow-up research to be sure. For instance, have someone else interview the candidate, then compare notes to identify inconsistencies. Additionally, require that candidates provide real references from former employers. Current employees who have worked with an applicant in the past can also serve as great sources of information on that individual.

Can you expect to catch 100% of the fakers? No. But with practice, you will catch many of them and avoid the headaches that come with them.

Dave Druzynski is the human resources director at Auto/Mate Dealership Systems. Email him at [email protected].