Reading people: Signs border guards look for to spot deception
Ex-policewoman Donna Brown’s daytime job is teaching border guards and
investigators how to determine whether someone is using deception while trying
to enter the country or explaining what just happened in a tentative situation.
If it works for government officials then it must work for HR professionals and
hiring managers who interview as well, which is where you come in.
Body language accounts for upwards of 55% of your communicated message. By
learning to read an interviewee’s body language you could save your company a
lot of grief, or shine by choosing the most brilliant candidates for advertised
In ascertaining whether a candidate might be using deception in an interview
or during a confrontational meeting, start by consciously paying strict
attention to whether they are stuttering, hesitating, how they sit, how they
hold or use their hands and how they dress.
Most interviewees are going to arrive looking pretty good, and polished
candidates know to drop the appropriate buzz words that make them sound like
they know their business. That being said, how people dress is often not the
best indicator of their intentions, values or expertise for the job, but it is
something to consider.
As a Body Language expert, Donna says that the body will ‘leak unconfidence’
if only you take the time to read it correctly. “You’ve got to watch their face,
you can’t be writing and interviewing at the same time,” she says. Take the time
to build rapport with your candidate. Find out about the person and establish
their base-line behavior by asking about their commute in, their travel
interests, etc. Note their body language during this stage as it is their norm
against which all ensuing body language will be compared.
Donna purports that hand movements are “illustrators” and are to be taken
seriously when “reading someone.” Ask the question, “Tell me about dealing with
a difficult boss.” If the hands slow down from how active they were before the
question was asked, this could indicate that the question is a concern.
You may have heard that if you ever witness a crime, memorize the criminal’s
shoes. In an interview, people leak information with their feet. Who would have
thought the lower appendages were so telling. If your candidate’s feet are
pointing towards the door, they’re feeling uncomfortable and if the feet are
turned upwards or a knee is shaking, they are ready to exit.
You are probably aware of the Belly Button Rule, facing the candidate belly
button to belly button to allow for effective bonding. When the body turns away
from this position it indicates disinterest, as does the defensive move of
sitting on one hip or the other.
Aside from observing behavior you need to listen as well. Listen to the tone,
pitch and rate of speech. When someone’s voice drops down at the end of a
sentence it shows a lack of confidence or a deceptive answer.
“Tell me about a problematic situation you had trouble righting,” you might
ask. If the candidate takes a deep breath or a quick sigh or releases air from
their mouth chances are this is a difficult question for them, it probably hits
home and they are preparing how they are going to answer, pay attention.
Did you ever wonder why Lady Di always had her head tilted to the side,
experts would say she was listening and was interested in what you had to say.
Then there are the micro expressions on your face. Because human beings use
their faces to express themselves, watch for facial movements around the mouth
Clearing of a throat could indicate a cold, allergy or a feeling of
discomfort. It is important to know that one deception indicator does not
necessarily mean a candidate is deceptive. Donna reminds us that for someone to
be deemed deceptive, they must display a cluster of signs, not just one.
Nervousness can easily be construed as deception, so be careful how you
interpret body language indicators. Touching his or her face a lot may indicate
that the candidate does not work well under pressure, as an interview is deemed
to be a pressure situation by most interviewees.
It’s not easy to ask embarrassing or hard questions, but strong pointed
questions can disclose sensitive, potentially red flag issues. Go after the red
flags. If you see something, follow up on it; use your intuition to “read” the
If you would like to learn body language for interviewing purposes join Donna
Brown at King-Reed Investigation Service’s one day conference on Reading People, Thursday,
May 12, 2011.
Career Specialist and Trainer
Author of Networking: How to
Build Relationships That Count and How to Get a Job and Keep It