Job interview exaggerations: how to spot them

White lies, embellishment, bending the truth, exaggeration - call it what you like, the fact is when it comes to job interviews, people's desire to get the role can lead them to portray their work history in lets say, 'favourable terms'. This is hardly news. Many might even consider it accepted practice.

The job of a good interviewer is therefore to drill down past the boastful claims to evaluate whether someone's experience does actually make them suitable for a specific role. Failure to spot someone who doesn't have the relevant skill-set can result in disastrous, not to mention expensive, consequences.

Below are some helpful tips on how to spot the tell-tale signs that an applicant is being a bit flexible with the truth:

Body Language

Every moment of the day our body language is says something about how we are feeling. It can be both blatantly obvious, such as when we furrow our brow, or more subtle such as the way we position our hands; either way, our body language speaks volumes about how we are feeling at a particular moment.

Catriona McCallum, a Recruitment Consultant with Dun and Bradstreet, states that body language during a job interview is often a good indicator of whether someone is being entirely truthful.

"Eye contact is a key aspect of positive body language. If someone is struggling to make eye contact with you, especially when they are elaborating on their experience, it suggests they are not entirely confident with what they are saying and are mindful of appearing insincere," says McCallum.

"While looking away from you and fidgeting might simply be an indication that a candidate is nervous, it is definitely a key sign to look for in an interview."

Speaking in generalities

Like body language, our speech patterns and choice of words often reveal things about ourselves that we do not notice or intend. According to McCallum the use of the word 'we' instead of 'I' when recounting past work experiences is something candidates use when they are playing with the truth.

"You might ask an applicant some questions regarding a specific role they carried out on a certain project and they start saying 'we did this and we accomplished that'. This use of the more general 'we' instead of the more specific 'I' often signals that they played a more minor role in the project than what they've stated in their resume and they are subconsciously admitting as such."

McCallum also adds that the switching of tenses by an interviewee when recounting their experiences also raises suspicions about the truthfulness of the information they are giving.

Failure to give examples

A person's inability give relevant examples of tasks performed is never a good sign, according to McCallum. Therefore, the best way for an interviewer to establish the suitability of a candidate is to pose behavioural based interview questions, that is questions that ask about specific behaviours and situations.

We've all been asked these types of questions at some stage: 'Tell me about a time when you overcame a significant obstacle?'; 'Give me an example of when you had to carry out a task that you did not enjoy - how did you react to this situation?'

The purpose of this technique is to stop candidates from speaking in generalities and force them to provide detailed answers.

For McCallum a candidate's ability to not only provide detail but relevant detail is a good indicator that they are providing a genuine answer.

"Some of the worst responses to interview questions are when someone waffles on, talking about everything but the specific issue they have been asked about. Avoidance of detail in response to behavioural based interview questions is also a sign that a person lacks experience and claims to the contrary may be exaggerations."


A person that has embellished their work experience is often prone to unintentionally revealing inconsistencies. This might be in the form of contradicting themselves or getting muddled about certain aspects of previous roles.

Employment dates are also prone to manipulation. People might speak about the completion of a three month contract like they were there for a full year. This can be checked by ringing previous employers. Again, behavioural based questions are also a great tool for washing out details that don't add up.

The risk to you as an employer of hiring someone who does not possess the skills they say they do can be enormous. If it is unfeasible that a person can remain in a position to which they have been hired, the best case scenario is that you will have to start the employment process again and endure all the time and costs this entails. At the other end of the scale, a poor hiring decision may risk the health and safety of other employees. 

Despite the number of tricks that applicants can use to make themselves look more employable, McCallum stresses the point that employers should not approach interviews in a cynical frame of mind. "At the end of the day you are looking for the best candidate. You want to concentrate on reasons to employ someone rather than reasons not to employ someone."

To learn more about successfully adding new employees to your business see, 'Hiring new staff: 10 tips for recruitment success' >>

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