By Beth Rosengren
"Don't hire until you check the whites of their eyes." OK, so it's not quite the way Colonel William Prescott said it, and this isn't the Battle at Bunker Hill, but you get the idea. Direct your energy to where it will do some good. The men on Bunker Hill were short on ammunition and every shot had to count; likewise in the hiring arena, since legislation has eliminated numerous techniques for learning about job candidates.
Because former employers have "clammed up" for fear of lawsuits, and resume writers are able to transform the smallest achievements into Nobel Prize worthiness, employment checks and resumes have lost their punch. Employers are utilizing other methods for making hiring decisions. Two of these are pre-employment testing and the knowledge gleaned from the interview. Combined with interpretation of physiological signals such as eye movement, using testing before speaking to a job candidate offers key topics to discuss and, at the same time, creates a powerful interview.
Because of his strong belief in testing and purposeful interviews, industrial psychologist Gregory M. Lousig-Nont, Ph.D., created the Phase II Profile, an honesty and integrity profile that has been used for the past 20 years to evaluate job candidates. Lousig-Nont, a former law-enforcement officer with a master's degree in criminology, developed the profile based on observation while interviewing job applicants. He discovered that individuals involved in theft have attitudes in common. The pencil-and-paper employment integrity test asks questions that determine the levels of honesty and integrity a person may possess.
Honesty and integrity tests are written psychological instruments that claim to identify people who have a tendency toward dishonesty or irresponsibility in the work place. There are several types, but studies have shown that tests based on open admissions of attitudes and behavior are more reliable than personality-based tests.
Why would applicants even admit to dishonest behavior? The reason for an applicant's truthfulness on written tests is that they think if they try to fake their way through, they will appear too honest. They're correct. Reliable and valid honesty tests have control questions that act as built-in safeguards to tip off whether test takers are answering honestly. Without validity scales, tests can be faked. Another reason for being truthful is that people who are dishonest rationalize their actions.
"They feel their conduct is justified, and see themselves as ordinary people in a dishonest world where everyone else is stealing too," says Lousig-Nont, president of the Las Vegas-based, human-resource consulting firm Lousig-Nont & Associates. "Honest people do not have the intrinsic ability to rationalize as do dishonest people."
Wouldn't you like to know why your job candidate felt there was a time when they might have had a good reason to steal from a place where they worked, even though they didn't? Many people answer "true" to this question on the Phase II Profile, and they also admit to actual dollar amounts they have stolen from their previous employers.
In his study of employment screening methods, Lousig-Nont writes about some techniques on interviewing:
The major problem with most interviews is similar to the problem with most application forms--the areas that are really important to know about in order to make an informed hiring decision (i.e., what a person is really like) are usually never addressed. A more comprehensive profile of a person is needed to make this kind of determination.
Profiling applicants involves learning to interpret the outward manifestations of the inner physiology that takes place when a person lies. Proxemics (how each of us handles personal space), nuero linguistics (the study of eye movements with relation to which side of the brain is being assessed in order to formulate an answer to a question) and kinetics (the study of body movements) are the three areas of knowledge that give an interviewer an edge. The fear of being detected in a lie sets off these physiological activities. Truthful answers are generally very direct with no accompanying body movements.
Eye movement in response to a direct question should send up a red flag to the interviewer. If you ask applicants if they have ever been fired from a job, they should be able to answer this question immediately without hesitation. If they say no, but look to the left, they may be remembering the time when the boss called them into the office and fired them. If they look to the right, they may be constructing a plausible "but" (i.e., "No, I wasn't fired, but I was laid off.").
However, only if the questions are phrased by the interviewer in a straightforward, simple, direct manner can eye movement be questioned as an instrument of deception. If the question is direct and to-the-point, one that shouldn't require too much thought, such as, "Did you ever murder anyone in cold blood?", no significant eye movement should be noted. Every person should have his information readily available in their conscious minds for immediate retrieval. If a direct question such as this elicits an answer such as, "Not that I can remember," an interviewer should be concerned.
The astute interviewer listens to make sure that the interviewee's answers are given directly and are not evasive. An evasive answer could be characterized as follows: You ask if the person has ever been fired from a job, and instead of the applicant answering yes or no, they reply, "I have always had a good work history." This answer is given in the hopes that you will move on to the next inquiry. They really didn't lie because they didn't deny your question. They gave you an answer they hoped would be interpreted as meaning that they had never been fired from a job.
The interviewer should be aware of delayed answers. Remember, the truth is made readily available. Only a lie takes time to concoct. Repeating the question, answering a question with a question, too-quick, broken or incomplete answers, as well as swearing to God, on a stack of Bibles or on a dead mother's grave, should all be viewed with caution.
It is always advisable to shake the applicant's hand prior to the interview to establish a norm, and after the interview for comparison. If, before the interview, the applicant's hand is warm and dry, and after is cold and wet, then the individual has gone through some intense sympathetic-nervous-system arousal during your interview. Sympathetic-nervous-system arousal causes increased perspiration and decrease warmth because of a lack of blood in the extremities and the capillaries close to the skin.
The professional interviewer must realize certain factors that can taint the reliability of such behavior. If the room is cold, the person may sit with arms and legs crossed. If the interviewer mumbles when asking a question, the interviewee may repeat the questions for clarity. If the interviewer asks questions that are vague and ambiguous, the interviewee may hesitate. You must also be aware that there are cultural and emotional exceptions to these general rules.
One single variance in behavior may be meaningless; however, if the examinee continues to exhibit the same behavior each time an area is discussed, it is a strong indicator of problems with that area. I suggest that if deceptive behavior is noticed when discussing a person's last place of employment, for example, that the interviewer proceed with other areas of the inquiry. After the interviewer has proceeded for about two or three minutes, go back to discussing that last job again. If, in discussing the previous job, the behavior once again appears, then the interviewer must conclude that there is a serious problem associated with this previous employment.
Unlike Bunker Hill, it's not necessary to see the whites of your future employees eyes, but you can gain insight on what a person is like. You can do this through testing candidates, then paying attention to eye movements and body gestures during the interview. You are not on the battlefield (although sometimes if feels as though you are), and your prospective employees are not your enemies--but they can be if you hire the wrong one.
Lousig-Nont & Associates has compiled a report entitled "Honesty in America," which is available at no charge by calling (800) 477-3211, or by writing to: Lousig-Nont & Associates, 3740 S. Royal Crest St., Las Vegas NV 89119.