“Advances are made by answering questions
Discoveries are made by questioning answers.”
— Bernard Haisch
Bernard Haisch is a German-born American astrophysicist. A recruiter he was not, but he certainly offered up a bit of insight that could be helpful to people conducting interviews. I ran across this little gem of wisdom in the 2012 work of some former CIA sleuths in their interesting book Spy the Lie.
Here is why I think it is an important read for people who interview job candidates: Candidates lie. Not all of them, but enough that their deceptions have caused a lot of damage to organizations over the years.
There are two types of lies — lies of omission and lies of commission. The former occurs when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception. Lying by omission includes the failure to correct pre-existing misconceptions, according to an Internet definition. Candidates forget to disclose things all the time. Sometimes on purpose and sometimes just as an innocent oversight. Lies of commission, well, that is a horse of a different color. Lies of commission are just straight out misrepresentations, facts the liar knows not to be true.
People in the job market lie for different reasons, to conceal an epic mistake or to fudge on their scope of experience. Most people have gotten the memo that a lie about an academic credential(s) they never attained is an easy one to spot and we rarely see that sort of silliness any more. It has been replaced by the lie of commission regarding prior achievements. Here the candidates use a technique I call “accomplishment creep” — they pump up the numbers or, in some cases, create elaborate explanations for a radical success that never happened.
This is where I think Mr. Haisch’s quote comes into play.
At the start of recruitment, especially for the top jobs, there are always a ton of candidates vying for that one position. The odds are out of sight, sometimes 30, 40 or 60 to one. Candidates with baggage — failures with one of the key selection criteria, or a lack of experience — will sometimes cross the line and enhance the truth, or brazenly create it from whole cloth. Recruiters who are anxious to close the deal will sometimes ignore their nagging suspicions, especially if the candidate has been particularly charming, complimenting their neckwear or the brilliance of their questions. And therein is just one way someone can use deception to land their choice position. As Malcom Muggeridge, the British journalist and satirist once said, “People do not believe lies because they have to, but because they want to.”
Here is a big hint for candidates who might be tempted to use compliments for gain: don’t. First, the obvious compliments are a fool’s errand and second, the good recruiters, especially those who are careful listeners, will either figure out the deception or be so troubled by the statements that they will balk. Either way, the job applicant loses.
“The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished,” or so said researcher David W. Davenport.
Spy the Lie is an excellent book. Phillip Houston, Michael Floyd and Susan Carnicero, share their CIA experiences to help you detect the deception.
If you are in the people hiring business, it is worth the investment. If you are a candidate with an unsettling past, this might help convince you not to go down the liar’s path. It is always the little things that give people away.
© 2019 John Gregory Self