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Hiring managers fail to detect deceptive tactics

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The Globe's roundup of research from business schools.

When it comes to job interviews, it seems that honesty may not necessarily be the best policy.

A study by University of Manitoba professor Nicolas Roulin found that hiring managers and recruiters can seldom detect when an applicant is using deceptive tactics in an interview. These can range from outright lying to more subtle attempts by candidates to make themselves look good, such as embellishing credentials or overstating past accomplishments.

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In five separate experiments, Dr. Roulin and his research partners videotaped mock job interviews in which applicants were instructed to use deceptive tactics. The videos were then shown to human resources professionals in various organizations. The HR managers were asked to identify when they believed the applicant was lying.

Their ability to do so correctly was low, ranging from 13 per cent in one experiment to 23 per cent in another. What's more, the interviewer's experience had little impact on the results. Seasoned professionals fared no better against business and psychology students who were recruited to take part in the experiment.

The results should give companies and HR professionals pause. Dr. Roulin, who is an assistant professor of human resources management, says hiring managers often tell him they have no trouble spotting liars and cheats. "They say they have some kind of gut feeling or instinct that they think they can use to detect when the applicant is being deceptive," he says.

In reality, however, "it's really likely that organizations are hiring people who are not the best possible choice" and overlooking more qualified but honest candidates, he adds.

To improve the selection process, Dr. Roulin advises interviewers to be aware that deceptive tactics are often used by prospective candidates and that they are difficult to detect. Managers should also put less stock in applicants' body language and non-verbal tics, such as crossing their arms, avoiding eye contact or hesitating when speaking, because these actions are not good indicators of whether a person is lying, he says. Rather, interviewers should focus on the content of an applicant's responses.

Interviewers should also ask questions that focus on the competencies and skills required of the job and avoid stock questions about an applicant's strength and weaknesses and where they see themselves in five years. Applicants have come to expect these types of questions and can prepare for them in advance, which increases the opportunity for using deception. Managers should also avoid using hypothetical or situational questions for the same reason, he advises.

The paper is available online and is to be published in a coming issue of the journal Personnel Psychology.

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How to increase support for employment equity policies

Employment equity policies that aim to reduce discrimination in the workplace and promote the hiring of women and other disadvantaged groups tend to generate controversy among employees – men and women alike.

To find out why, Ivona Hideg, assistant professor of organizational behaviour and human resources management at Wilfrid Laurier University, and her research partner conducted four experiments. The participants were business students at Canadian universities who were asked to complete online surveys about a proposed employment-equity policy they were told was under development at their institution that would apply to students applying for co-op jobs.

The study found that both male and female participants had negative reactions to the proposed policy because it threatened their self-worth and self-image.

Men opposed the measure not only because it threatened their chances of getting a job but also because the policy inherently implied that their past workplace successes were due to unfair privilege rather than their own competence, Dr. Hideg explains.

Women also felt threatened but for different reasons. They feared that a failure to get the job in spite of having a competitive advantage would mean that it was because of their own incompetence. Women who felt the most confident in their abilities were most likely to support employment equity policies while those who felt the least confident were less likely to do so.

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These findings present a problem for organizations and governments that mandate employment equity policies, the researchers conclude.

In Canada, groups protected under employment equity policies include women, racial minorities, aboriginal people and individuals with disabilities. Past research has shown that these policies have been effective in increasing diversity in the workplace and broadening the pool of qualified candidates. Yet, because they remain controversial and lack widespread support among employees, the policies are not as effective as they could be, Dr. Hideg says.

To increase support for employment equity policies and their effectiveness, employers should promote them differently, she suggests. The study showed that when employment equity policies were promoted as a means of enhancing diversity in the workplace and broadening the pool of qualified candidates, rather than aimed at righting past wrongs, they were likely to garner more support among both male and female employees.

"Our research suggests that perhaps a different approach to promoting these policies should be taken into account," Dr. Hideg says. Even men, who would be disadvantaged by such a policy, "are willing to sacrifice their own self interests" for the greater good of the company, she said.

The paper was published in the January issue of the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Seeing deadlines in a new light

Deadlines are a fact of life, yet many of us struggle to meet them. A study co-authored by Dilip Soman, marketing professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, shows that how we think about deadlines can influence how quickly we start and complete a task. Dr. Soman and his co-author categorized future events into two categories, which they called "like-the-present" and "unlike-the-present."

"If the deadline for a task is categorized as being similar to the present, [consumers] are more likely to initiate the task," they write.

In one experiment, 295 farmers in India were given the opportunity to open a savings account and were offered an incentive if they did so within six months. They could either do it immediately or at some future date by going to their closest bank branch. One group was approached in June and had a deadline of December of the same year. A second group was approached in July and given a deadline of January of the following year.

Those in the first group were more likely to open the account immediately.

"By merely prompting consumers to categorize task deadlines in a like-the-present category rather than in an unlike-the-present category, we were able to increase consumers' propensity to initiate their tasks," they write. The findings shed light on how consumers perceive time and offer important considerations that could help consumers in getting things done, they conclude.

Rosanna Tamburri can reached at tamburrirosanna@gmail.com

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