Who can blame candidates for trying to make a good impression in an interview? This means to embellish a little now and then, or to not be so accurate with certain facts. However, the line between a little gloss and an exaggeration isn’t always so clear cut. If a recruiter asks a question that isn’t any of their business, such as one in regards to family planning, lying can be desirable. Cheating in an interview happens more often than you would think. But can you tell when a candidate is trying to fool you?

Putting morals aside…

We won’t discuss here the moral-philosophical question of when each degree of embellishment is reasonable, justifiable or indispensable. In recruiting, it is clear that the suitability of a candidate can be distorted by not quite accurate statements, which can lead to hiring the wrong person. But do recruiters have any chance of discovering this? Since the line between making a good impression through a little exaggeration and fraud is not so simple, a generally accepted term regarding recruitment interviews is ‘impression management’. This comprises of behaviours intended to portray or control a certain impression.

The tactics of the candidates

Several research teams (eg Levashina & Campion, 2007) studied various tactics. Here is the result.

1.) The “soft” tactics: This is the most harmless kind, and involves making yourself look a bit better.. one percent more revenue growth, ‘Head of..’, actually in the last company I did the same things and therefore am the perfect fit, etc ….

2.) The “harder” tactics: This means ‘making oneself more qualified’, and takes a little more creativity. Constructing and inventing: What was your biggest achievement? Replacing the printer paper with eco-paper? Sounds kinda stupid. So they declare themselves as the salvation of the world, or at least the sales department or project itself. This also includes taking the success of a friend or colleague and claiming it as their own.

3.) On the defensive: Inquiring questions can cause a candidate to quickly become defensive. Here there are several proven tactics: omitting / overriding / masking / distancing: What was my role was in this project? It did not fall into my responsibilities! I was the only one who saw that the project would go down like a lead balloon.

4.) Flattery: Using flattery to make a good impression. Agreeing with the interviewer’s opinion or talking up the company: Yes I completely agree, totally, absolutely, but of course, we fully agree … and why I am applying? You’ve got three awards as an employer of the year …

Does it help candidates?

Definitely. Several studies have shown that an effective impression management has a positive effect on the recruiter’s judgement. However, not all tactics and not when applicants overdo things.

Do recruiters know when a candidate is “cheating”?

Interviewers naturally say “yes”. A study with five experiments, published in Personnel Psychology, tested this to find out whether it was true.

Both experienced and junior recruiters participated. Their opponents were trained “candidates” who randomly incorporated various small and large lies in interviews. The task was to see whether the recruiters could recognise these lies. In order to keep conditions constant, the rating was performed by means of recorded video sequences, where the recruiter could even rewind if they felt they had missed something.

  • ‘Cheating’ was discovered only above chance level, which is why interviewers do not have great proficiency in detecting cheating.
  • There are large differences in how well different interviewers discover deceptions: Some were well above chance level, others significantly less.
  • The ‘softer’ tactics were easier to detect than ‘hard’ deceptions.
  • Biographical questions are less susceptible to attempts at deception. It is harder for applicants to invent something if you follow up on the topic.
  • Experienced interviewers were not superior to their junior counterparts. The explanation is that interviewers never get feedback from which they could learn. After all, applicants must then admit their lies.
  • The various tactics influenced the opinions of recruiters in different ways. The ‘soft’ offensive tactics (glossing over, inventing, etc …) had a positive impact on the judgement. Defensive tactics (omission, distancing, etc …) had a negative influence and the worst impressions were made by the ‘hard’ tactics.
Don’t allow a point of attack!

Small or larger cheating exists in almost every interview and it isn’t easy to recognise them. However, recruiters need to take care of the questions they ask. Suggestive questions and the ‘weakness question’ tempt candidates into providing not so honest answers. Also, it has been shown that certain types of questions are more robust than others. Applicants should be aware that certain tactics may help them, but others may be to their disadvantage.


Ellis A. P. J, West B. J., Ryan A. M., & DeShon R. P. (2002). The use of impression management tactics in structured interviews: A function of question type? Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 1200–1208. doi: 10.1037/0021–9010.87.6.1200

Levashina J., & Campion M. A. (2007). Measuring faking in the employment interview: Development and validation of an interview faking behavior scale. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 1638–1656. doi: 10.1037/0021–9010.92.6.1638