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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

It is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to hire employees who are capable of performing their specified job requirements. When we asked Canadian employers how satisfied they were with their staff, we found that 58 per cent of newly hired employees fail to meet their original job specifications. This is a huge issue since the cost of hiring a new employee is 30-50 per cent of their annual salary for entry level roles, and as high as 400 per cent for senior level jobs.

Part of the reason that people get hired even though they don't have the right skills to do the job is that candidates tend to exaggerate or lie on their resumes. In a survey of hiring managers, "58 per cent said they had spotted exaggerations or outright fabrications on resumes, and one in three (33 per cent) said the problem has grown worse since the recession." Given this staggering statistic, any dishonestly is crucial to identify right from the start. The issue may be more prevalent in Canada; an internal case study from The Search Party recently found Canadian employees actually lied more than those in Britain and the United States.

An interview is one of the best ways to find out whether a candidate's resume matches up against what they are saying. If you get this wrong, you often see warning signs within a short time of the candidate taking the role. It can manifest itself in many ways: not being able to use a skill they said they have, inability to meet client or internal deadlines, and a change in behaviour compared to how they presented themselves during the interview.

Luckily, there are five steps an interviewer can take to remedy this and ensure a candidate is given several opportunities to tell the truth.

Create a welcoming environment

Building the optimum environment for a candidate interview is crucial. There still seems to be an "understanding" that putting a candidate under unnecessary pressure is the right way to conduct an interview. However, this is counterproductive to getting the candidate to open up and feel comfortable telling the whole truth. I often start an interview by saying, "I want to keep this very relaxed and informal to get a good gage of your personality and fit." You will see the candidate instantly relax, and give a sigh of relief. This doesn't mean that you can't turn up the pressure if needed, but it completely re-frames the interview.

Watch for "We"

There are a couple of linguistic clues that you can pick up on to see if the candidate is telling the truth. The classic is "We vs. I." When you ask them to talk about a specific achievement or scenario in their career, listen for the first-person singular tense. If they say "we did this" and "what we did next," I often ask them to tell me exactly what they did in the example, not what the team or company did. I would typically say, "I noticed you are saying 'we' a lot, what exactly did you do in this process?" If they are unable to speak confidently about their responsibilities, they probably aren't true.

The nose knows

Body language needs to be congruent with all of the other behaviour in the interview. There is no known way of telling conclusively if someone is lying, full stop. However, we can look at body language as another piece of evidence. An example of this is something called the "Pinocchio effect." When we lie, we tend to put ourselves under a lot of temporary stress and pressure and this causes the blood vessels in the nose to expand making the nose itchy. Nose touching has been a sign of lying amongst body language experts for some time. Bill Clinton famously touched his nose 24 times during the Monica Lewinsky testimony. I often find that negative and closed body language during an innocuous question is a sure sign of discomfort. Some examples are crossing of the arms, lack of eye contact and even shaking the head when they answer the question with a "yes" (this genuinely does happen).

Ask open-ended questions

Although this is now considered to be an obvious process, people conducting interviews still get questioning wrong. Keep your questions open in order to get the candidate to give up as much information as possible. Make sure you are asking for examples and test those examples. "You mentioned that you increased revenue year over year by 15 per cent, walk me through the process you went through to do this." These types of questions will give you an understanding of how the candidate thinks and acts as well as their true involvement in an achievement.

Be sure to clarify inconsistencies

As soon as I spot an inconsistency from the candidate, I ask deeper questions to find out the truth. This can be uncomfortable so it also gives you a gauge to how the candidate can work under pressure. Probing questions like "Go into more detail for me on that answer; explain that in more detail, I didn't quite understand; what do you mean by that?" will help you get more information out of the candidate when you aren't satisfied with the answer.

If you have created the right setting and opportunity for a candidate to tell the truth, yet you continue to spot tell-tale signs that they may be untrustworthy, and the information doesn't match up, then go with your gut. Particularly if you have given them a platform to explain themselves. Gut feeling is always interesting as it is often based on experience, so it shouldn't be discounted as evidence. The trick is to make sure you have investigated it. By using the tips above you will put yourself in a strong position during the interview process to test and trial a candidate's integrity. If you feel that a candidate is still hiding something or not being honest, walk away.

Ben Hutt is CEO of The Search Party.

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