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Purdue study helps employers uncover truth in job interviews

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — More than 90 percent of job candidates are less than truthful during a job interview, and they’re more likely to dig the hole deeper during follow-up questions, according to a study from Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management.

The report was published in November’s issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology by Michael Campion, professor of management, and Julia Levashina, who was a doctoral student at the time of the study and now is an assistant professor at Indiana University Kokomo School of Business.

“We developed a comprehensive categorization of the types of ways people fake in the employment interview,” Campion says. “For example, some unusual strategies that candidates may use to meet the requirements of the interview question include borrowing stories from someone else’s life experiences and portraying them as one’s own. We also were surprised to find that strategies commonly intended to reduce deceptive answers, such as the use of follow-up and clarification questions, actually increases the amount of false answers.”

This contradicts the conventional wisdom that follow-up questions and probing are a means of detecting and preventing untruthful answers.

“Our findings suggest that it may actually increase faking because it tells the candidate what the interviewer is interest in,” he says. “The candidates then exaggerate, embellish or conceal to tell the interviewer what he or she wants to hear.”

The researchers developed an “Interview Faking Behavior” scale that defines different ways candidates give answers that are designed to make a positive impression on the interviewer. They found that while a great number of undergraduate job candidates might exaggerate answers during employment interviews, a smaller percentage engage in behavior that includes completely untrue verbal statements, or lying.

“Many researchers suggest that people are surprisingly effective at convincingly faking their emotions, attitudes and personality characteristics,” Levashina says. “Interviewers need to dig deeper.”

Interview techniques may include asking specific questions about how the applicant handled situations in the past, which are less susceptible to false answers than situational interviews in which questions would be asked about hypothetical situations, Levashina says. Both types of interviews have a good record of measurement and job performance predictability, and situational interviews are often better with younger candidates who have less work experience.

“Hypothetical questions about situations are very versatile and can be used to measure a range of attributes,” Levashina says. “But they may be a little more prone to making up answers because the applicant doesn’t have to back up his or her answer with a specific past experience.”

Future research may help refine the scale. The researchers also would like to examine whether components of the interview structure encourage more or less faking and how much faking undermines the job-related validity of the interview.

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