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Creating And Interpreting Behavior During An Employment Interview

   By: L Scott Harrell

Before conducting an interview, the interviewer must understand the fundamentals of behavior as it relates to the act of lying. During the interview, the interviewer must be concerned with whether or not a potential employee is telling the truth and accurately describing his or her background. A candidate may be able to lie successfully because the interviewer is not in tune with the prospective employee's non-verbal clues that indicate deception. Becoming aware of the manifestations of dishonesty is a vital skill in becoming a great interviewer.

Interpreting non-verbal behavior is the least understood element of communication. Between 55% and 65% of all communication between two people is conveyed through body language, while 30% to 40% of this same communication is carried in the tone of voice. This leaves less than 10% to the spoken word. Therefore, it should be absolutely clear that an interviewer must be concerned with a candidate's non-verbal responses. These silent clues may provide more information than the applicant's own answers.

The subconscious and conscious mind act separately. Lying and simultaneously attempting to control the many different signals, emotions and other physical behaviors indicative of dishonesty is almost impossible for the unpracticed conscious mind. (Most people have a hard enough time keeping their stories straight!) A candidate will experience some level of stress during an interview, which will create minor amounts of incongruent non-verbal behaviors. The signals we are concerned with tend to manifest themselves when the candidate subconsciously feels the highest levels of stress, stemming from the fear that their lies may be detected. This increased stress induces telltale behaviors. The candidate's behaviors are the result of an unconscious attempt to protect or distance themselves from the source of stress, which in most cases is the interviewer and his or her questions.

Non-verbal behavior reveals itself in body positioning, gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions. Evaluating verbal responses involves awareness of tone, volume, and speed of speech. Other tactics include evaluating a candidate's attitude, use of various delay techniques (abnormal pauses between a question and the applicant's answer) and listening for verbal slips. While these clues can be indicative of a candidate's dishonesty, they cannot be used individually and separately in making a good appraisal of a candidate's responses. First, suspected behavior must be compared to a “norm” for the candidate. And secondly, the suspected behavior must be evaluated in context with the discussion.

Establishing a candidate's “norm” simply means determining how this person responds to questions that he or she does not find threatening. For example, answering questions regarding one's name, date of birth, or social security number should not be stressful, assuming the candidate is not attempting to conceal their identity. Other questions regarding their drive to the interview, the weather and other current events will help an interviewer begin to establish how the candidate uses verbal and non-verbal behavior in non-threatening communication. During these neutral questions the interviewer, concerned with establishing a “norm,” should be evaluating the following:

• The amount of eye contact with the interviewer

• Body position, in relation to the interviewer

• How a candidate uses his hands or gestures while speaking

• Other body movements

• Facial expression

• How quickly the candidate responds to the interviewer's questions

• The candidate's tone and volume of their voice

After spending time relaxing the candidate, building rapport, and establishing a “norm,” the interviewer should then make the transition into asking well-crafted "integrity questions" regarding information contained in the employment application and resume and monitoring the applicant for subtle deviations in behavior which may indicate stress related to a specific question and the corresponding answer.

L. Scott Harrell is the author of Truth or Consequences: Hiring for Integrity, a manual which completely and accurately describes proven pre-employment hiring strategies and interviewing skills developed from 14 years of experience as a private investigator and principal of CompassPoint Investigations.

More information regarding Hiring for Integrity and other effective hiring practices can be found via his website:

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