Good interviewing techniques can help you learn the most about a candidate and whether they are a good match for you company. You already know all the best questions to ask and you hope that they will have the right answers. You also rightfully expect that they will be open and honest in their answers. But will you know if they are not?

When you’re in the business of screening applicants, as we are, you learn that what looks good on paper can quickly crumble under closer scrutiny. What at first glance might seem like the ideal candidate with the perfect resume and all the right answers, might easily turn out to be someone else entirely once we start digging below the surface. We see this over and over  again when running background checks on job applicants. Applicants lie, a lot. Good interview techniques, like body language reading, might shed some light on whether your candidate is not being honest.

Sure, we all tell little white lies on occasion but to employers, dishonest employees are more than just an annoyance, they could end up being a costly liability or a danger to your other employees, customers and associates. A bad hire could damage your reputation, and even cause you to lose your business. The interview process, like the background check, is a screening tool to help you avoid making a bad hiring decision. Use it wisely. Good interview questions will help you get to know your candidate better when combined with some simple people reading skills.

Below are 5 techniques to reading body language that can help you spot dishonesty during an interview.

Establish a baseline

Before you officially start the interview, you should build a picture of the candidate’s baseline behavior. This is the reference point you will use to assess them. Keep in mind that nervousness is quite common during interviews and pay close attention to what else is normal for this person.

  • Is sweating profusely normal for him? Is he a generally quiet or talkative person? Get a feel for their personalities and mannerisms and establish that as their normal behavior.
  • Begin with simple questions like, “how is the weather out there today?” and “where do you live?” watch how their posture, facial expressions and eyes react and how their voices sound when giving truthful answers.
  • Next ask a question that requires some thinking. For example, you can pretend to be annotating their file and ask “what was the address at your last job, do you happen to remember it?”
    Pay attention here as they answer. It is normal for people to look off to one side, or scrunch up their forehead when they are thinking. As before, take notice of how their eyes, posture, face muscles, limbs and voice react as they think, answer, and then relax.

This is the applicant’s baseline. The behavior they express when being truthful.

Watch the Eyes

The eyes can tell a lot about a person. Although you should take care not to come off as a creepy starer, covertly watch the candidate’s eyes for any changes inconsistent with their baseline behavior as these might reveal signs of lying. Do they usually look to the left while thinking but now they’re staring unblinking at you when faced a specific question? Do their eyes frantically dance in the head? If any of these are deviations from their baseline, it could mean they are coming up with a lie.

Posture and Movement

Studying a person’s body language can tell you a lot about their personality and emotional state. Look out for the following sudden changes in body language in response to your questioning.

  • Squirming too much
    Although a common sign of anxiety, sudden restlessness in response to a certain question could mean you’ve hit a nerve, so be aware of a possible dishonest answer to the question. If the matter is an important one for you, you will want to bring it up again later for a second reaction or any red flags that could be signs of lying.
  • Freezing up
    If the squirming candidate suddenly goes stiff, it might be an attempt to control their shiftiness and appear more convincing.
  • Shuffling feet
    The feet seem to have a mind of their own. Feet that don’t stop moving are feet that are urgent to flee.
  • Covering up
    When people lie they unconsciously feel the need to protect certain parts of their body. Most commonly the stomach, mouth and neck. Crossing the arms over the trunk or touching the mouth or neck, and even biting or chewing on the lips may be a sign the applicant is hiding something from you.

Voice and speech

  • Being untruthful may cause changes in a person’s tone of voice and speech pattern. Specially watch out for:
  • Tone that changes suddenly
    If the candidate’s voice suddenly gets higher and shrill, you can be sure their heart rate has suddenly spiked. Your question has made them nervous. Make a point to pursue it further if you have reason to suspect dishonest behavior, but only after giving them some time and a chance to get back to normal.
  • Pauses in speech
    Lies often come out slower than truths due to the time it takes for the brain to manufacture a lie. Liars often try to buy time to formulate an answer by repeating your question back to you, or with “That’s a great question!”. Depending on the offending question, this could either mean harmless nervousness or deceitful behavior.
  • Throat clearing
    When faced with a difficult question the candidate’s throat and mouth may become very dry and they may be unable to continue speaking without some swallowing and throat clearing. Again, common with text anxiety, but a worrisome reaction to an easy question.
  • Too much information
    Liars will often use an excess of information to come across as open while at the same time distracting you from your line of questioning.
  • Separating themselves
    If an interviewee begins dropping “me”, “my” and “I” right out of their sentences, or starts talking about themselves in the third person, they are probably lying. Liars may also disassociate themselves from their lies by bringing up other people into their tall tales.
  • Repetition
    Repeating sentences can be an attempt to convince you and even themselves of their made up story.

Trust your instincts

Have you noticed how sometimes you just have a funny feeling that someone isn’t trustworthy? That is your built in defense mechanism speaking. If something doesn’t seem right, listen to your gut feeling and try to get some clarity. Don’t let it go if it’s an important factor in your hiring decision until you have cleared your doubts. Be honest about your uneasiness and speak plainly, then give the other person a chance speak freely until you’re either convinced of their truthfulness or more sure of your suspicions

Human beings are complicated and complex creatures, and an hour long interview is not nearly enough to pass judgement on another’s character. Some people are so good at deceit that they would fool even the most experienced interrogator. On the other hand, the most honest person might behave suspiciously even while being completely truthful. Nervousness is a common personality trait, and a main symptom in many medical conditions, so don’t rely on your assessment of their body language alone in making your hiring decision.

Verify

Ultimately, any insights you gain from the candidate’s body language and the interview techniques above will need to be verified with a thorough background check for a reliable, fact based measure of your candidate’s character.

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