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How to find the truth when everyone at work is lying

When 80% of people admit to lying in job interviews and as many cloaking the reason why they’re calling in sick, it’s helpful to know how to spot the untruths.

How to find the truth when everyone at work is lying
[Source photo: dane_mark/Getty Images]

Earlier this week, I spoke with someone close to me about their experiences hiring a new director. The job description went up on LinkedIn and carried two additional requirements that applicants had to meet in order to move further. As this is not a job that can be done remotely, the first requirement was that the candidate live within commuting distance. The other was that they have at least five years of very specialized experience in this industry.

The idea was that these two factors would narrow the pool to individuals who had the skills to do the job in person. Simple, right? Yet, the hiring manager told me that, conservatively, they received 150 applications and as many as 120 of them didn’t even live in the right state and had no related experience. At all.

Now, we’ve spilled a lot of ink about not being afraid to apply for jobs in different industries when you have transferable skills. And prevailing wisdom on job seeking encourages candidates to apply, even if they don’t meet all the requirements. But checking a box on geography when the hiring manager can clearly see your location and your past work (or volunteer) experience? That sounds like not telling the truth to me.


Unfortunately, this is pretty pervasive behavior in the job-interview processFast Company reporter Jennifer Alsever noted that a recent survey by ResumeLab revealed, “as many as 70% of workers said they have lied on their résumés, with 37% admitting that they lie frequently, according to ResumeLab’s Job Applicant Behavior Survey of 1,900 workers. Three-quarters lied on their cover letters and 80% lied during the job interview.” It’s not just the applicants telling falsehoods, Alsever wrote. “Four in 10 hiring managers admitted to lying to job candidates during the hiring process to get them to take the job.”


The people who traffic in untruths will surprise you. The above report indicates that those with higher education were more likely to lie about their experience and credentials.

Regular Fast Company contributor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic says those with one highly coveted skill are also guilty. “People with higher emotional intelligence—a trait that is usually associated with all things moral—are better liars, too. Why? Because their higher EQ enables them to stay calm under pressure, control and regulate their emotions, assess how others feel and think of them, and put up a strong poker face.”

Although the résumé is the most common receptacle of deception (think: George Santos and his outrageously falsified CV), workers lie about everything from being sick to stealing, and worse. It happens so often, an ethicist even broke down the reasons why someone might try to justify lying in a job interview (if they’re out of work and have a family to support, for instance), and whether or not it’s acceptable.

Of course, you don’t have to lie on your résumé. As veteran search consultant Donna Svei points out, there are five ways to sound more impressive, without needing to stretch the truth.


If you’re now sufficiently suspicious that everyone around you is not being honest, there are ways to detect deception. According to the authors of The Definitive Book of Body Language, there are some common physical mannerisms that can help you detect if someone is fibbing in the moment:

  • Hand-to-head and hand-to-face touching
  • Nose rubbing
  • Ear pulling
  • Eye scratching while gazing away from the other person
  • Looking down, usually to the left
  • Shaking your head “no” when you’re saying “yes”

“To detect a lie, look for a cluster of at least three signals. It’s possible to make a mistake when trying to understand someone’s motivations if you rely on a single gesture,” the authors advised.

“For example, if someone touches their nose, it may just mean they have an itchy nose, but if they touch their nose while shaking their head slowly, blinking, and looking at the ground, that is a cluster of at least three gestures that can indicate deceit.”

It’s also easy to tell if someone is lying in an interview when they clearly don’t have a grasp of a particular skill or type of project when they answer a question.

Ultimately though, Pamela Meyer, the TED speaker on “liespotting,” suggests that when confronting colleagues or applicants you suspect may not be telling the whole truth, it’s important to remember, “Honesty does not mean 100% transparency“—and some people may not be revealing everything (like a health issue) for a reason. A recent report found that only 20% of workers admitted they were taking time off for mental health because they’d rather say they have a physical illness than reveal a struggle with anxiety or depression.

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Lydia Dishman is a staff editor for Fast Company's Work-Life section. She has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others. More

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