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The Truth Bias And Its Impact On Hiring

This week I am reading an interesting book by Pamela Meyer, “Liespotting, Proven Techniques to Detect Deception”. The key concept of this book is the psychological construct, the Truth Bias. So, what is the Truth Bias?

Psychologists define this bias as, unless we’re given a reason to believe otherwise, human beings are generally hardwired to assume that what we are told is the truth and what we see is real.

People tend to want to believe what others tell them, despite evidence to the contrary. This is a normal reaction because, in general, people tend to believe others.

When you think of it, the absence of the Truth Bias would have people spending a huge amount of time checking information provided by others. In fact, relationships with friends and business colleagues would be pretty strained if their trust was constantly in question.

We have heard the comment before, that to be a good liar you have to have a photographic memory. But usually if there are a few minor discrepancies in a story, people tend to excuse these away because they want to believe the person is telling the truth. This of course plays into the hands of liars, because people want to believe what they hear, see, or read. This is even more powerful if the story is coming from a close friend, spouse, or a child.

Whilst reading this book, I started thinking how much the Truth Bias impacts on the hiring process. When giving verbal feedback on an assessment outcome to clients, I am often accused of being a pessimist. I am far from that. However, my job is to be the devil’s advocate. I am constantly trying to get hiring managers to take a step back and not accept what they hear or see in a CV, from referees or at interview as the truth.

All too often, I hear hiring managers commenting that the candidate told them (insert story), or the referee said (insert glowing feedback), and they believed it (the Truth Bias). I see my job as trying to instil some judicious scepticism. Pamela Meyer recommends this as the accepted strategy to uncover lies and deception.

Science tells us there are many cues that can alert us of possible deception. There are hundreds of studies on this subject, both biological (blood pressure, heart rate, pupil dilation etc.), and physical (body language, like head and leg movement, blinking and voice cues etc.). The scope of this article is not to review these cues, there are numerous books for the interested. Or just Google “Truth Bias”.

The purpose of this article is not to turn you into a pessimist or “doubting Thomas,” but to alert you of how easy it is make hiring decisions that are based on the Truth Bias. You may find this uncomfortable, but during your next hiring process, I really want you to add some judicious scepticism. This will pay off handsomely by making you question what the applicants are showing, or telling you – because it may not be truthful.

Try to seek out additional input and verification. As an example, I am constantly amazed at how many hiring managers accept CV items, like qualifications, as a given. Watch out for broad statements like, “After my BA, I went on to do my MA” – yes, but did they complete it?

Think about yourself, your last job application, was it entirely truthful, did you inadvertently “lie” by leaving information out on purpose. Or even had a professional “construct” the CV?

And what about the interview, yes, you were given behavioural based questions, but did you make up the situation or embellishes the outcome?

The hiring process is time consuming and therefore expensive. It is fraught with so much bias, because we tend to accept individuals as basically truthful beings. Many candidates are honest, but when one is desperately in need of something as critical as a job, there is a tendency to embellish or lie. In summary, the Truth Bias serves us well with family and friends, but when it comes to hiring, don’t get trapped by the Truth Bias

Contributing Editor Rob McKay is Managing Director of AssessSystems Aust/NZ Ltd., specializing in the scientific approach to hiring and developing high performing employees. Mr. McKay gained a BA in Business Psychology and a MA (Hons) in Industrial & Organisational Psychology from Massey University – specialising in workplace personality. His interests lie in assessment for employee selection, development and performance management (especially sales people) and the psychology of influence and persuasion. He is an accomplished seminar and conference speaker and author of the hard covered book, No More Square Pegs: How to Hire Winner for your Business (also available on Kindle).

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