This post was written by Christian Jarrett and originally found on the BPS Research Digest blog.
For the penultimate round of the TV show The Apprentice, the competing entrepreneurs must face a series of interviews with a crack team of hardened executives. The implicit, believable message is that these veterans have seen all the interview tricks in the book and will spot any blaggers a mile off. However, a new study provides the reality TV show with a reality check. A team led by Marc-André Reinhard report that experienced job interviewers are in fact no better than novice interviewers at spotting when a candidate is lying.
The researchers filmed 14 volunteers telling the truth about a job they'd really had in the past and then spinning a yarn about time in a job they'd never really had. The volunteers were offered a small monetary reward to boost their motivation. These clips were then played online to 46 highly experienced interviewers (they'd conducted between 21 and 1000 real-life job interviews), 92 interviewers with some experience (they'd interviewed at least once), and 214 students who'd never before acted as a job interviewer. The participants' task was to identify the clips in which the interviewee was speaking truthfully about their work experience, and the clips in which the interviewee was fabricating.
Overall the participants achieved an accuracy rate of 52 per cent - barely above chance performance, which is consistent with a huge literature showing how poor most of us are at spotting deception. But the headline finding is that the more experienced interviewers were no better than the novice interviewers at spotting lying job candidates - the first time that this topic has been researched. Greater work seniority, having more work experience and having more subordinates at work were also unrelated to the ability to spot lying job candidates.
There was a glimmer of hope that interview lie-detection skills could be taught. Participants who reported more correct beliefs about non-verbal cues to lying (e.g. liars don't in fact fidget more) were slightly more successful at recognising which job candidates were lying (each correct belief about a non-verbal cue added 1.2 per cent more accuracy on average). Experienced and novice interviewers in the current study didn't differ in their knowledge about lying cues, which helps explain why the veterans were no better at the task. The more experienced interviewers were however more skeptical overall, tending to rate more of the clips as featuring lying.
"Our results provide the first evidence that employment interviewers may not be better at detecting deception in job interviews than lay persons," the researchers said, "although it is a judgmental context that they are very experienced with."
Although the main gist of the results is consistent with related research in other contexts - for example, studies have found police detectives are no better at spotting lies, despite their interrogation experience - this study has some serious limitations, which undermine the applicability of the findings to the real world. Above all, the study did not involve real interviews, which meant the participants were unable to interact with the interviewees in a dynamic manner.
Reinhard, M., Scharmach, M., and Müller, P. (2013). It's not what you are, it's what you know: experience, beliefs, and the detection of deception in employment interviews Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43 (3), 467-479 DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2013.01011.x