The Hidden Script: Signs of Lying during Job Interviews

Symbolic Interactionism: “The world is a stage!”


The symbolic interaction theory assumes that social life is like a drama or theater. People are actors who prepare their scripts for any public performance whether in front of a big audience or crowd or in a one-on-one or face-to-face encounter such as job interviews. Scripts can be of 2 kinds: the overt or public script or what they deliver or speak publicly and the “hidden” or what they project covertly during public performance. The latter can refer to their body language such as involuntary and symbolic gestures or signs during social interactions.

Job Interviews as Dramatic Encounters

Job interviews are dramatic encounters that require scripts. The interviewers and the interviewees have their own public scripts. And the entire interview encounter can be a theatrical performance with the applicant trying to act his/her best performance based on his/her mentally-prepared script in order to impress the recruiter. The interviewer has his/her own script or set of questions for the applicant, and the applicant also has his/her own prepared answers in anticipation of the questions during the interview, especially those that relate to his/her resume and personal attitudes.The applicant who can convey consistency, confidence and the best overall impression to the interviewer in terms of appearance, speech and body movement wins the contest; thus, s/he has a higher chance to be recommended for the job than those who are “trying hard” to pass the interview. Shrewd applicants are usually well-prepared ahead of others in terms of preparation for the interview, rehearsing their answers and demeanor for the occasion. But if the interviewer is a keen observer and knowledgeable about body language, the applicant’s hidden script and tactics can be discovered through his/her symbolic gestures and actions.

Looking for Clues of the Applicant’s Hidden Transcript

If the interviewer is holistic in his/her observation techniques, s/he would not only be contented with what s/he sees or hears during the interview but would also look for clues or inconsistencies in order to ascertain whether or not the interviewee is hiding something or lying. In this case, s/he must know how to interpret signs of inconsistencies between what the applicant’s say and what his/her body language indicate during the interview. The interviewer therefore must go beyond public scripts and start discovering the applicant’s “hidden” transcript or the unspoken lies and inconsistencies during the job interview through body language.

Signs of Lying

Below are some common behavioral indicators or signs observed by experts which indicate that a person may be lying. These can also be applied to job interviews. Of course, the Interviewers must not make these indicators absolutes. Prudence must be exercised in applying them to concrete situations, especially outside the American cultural setting. The interviewee’s’ responses to the interviewer must be seen in their totality before the recruiting team can judge whether the applicant pass the interview or not. Moreover, foreign applicants may also manifest these symbolic gestures but with different cultural meanings. When in doubt, interviewer must suspend his/her judgment and does some cross-cultural research after the interview to check the interviewee’s foreign culture and its common cultural expressions of lying. The use of other techniques to validate their initial assessment during the interview is highly recommended in order to avoid misjudgment:

Here are some common signs or body language of lying during job interviews:

1. Avoiding Eye Contact

The applicant may assert that s/he is telling the truth but s/he avoids eye contact. This can indicate that s/he be may hiding something. Avoiding eye contact usually arouses suspicion that the person is hiding something. Moreover, lack of eye contact can also indicate the applicant’s lack of confidence and interest which may not be good for the hiring company.

2. Changing Head Position Quickly*

The applicant may be lying or hiding something to the interviewer if s/he suddenly makes a head movement when asked with a direct question. If s/he retracts, jerks back, bows down, cocks, or tilts his/her head to the side before responding to a question can indicate lying or mentally reserving something untruthful.

3. Changing Breathing Pattern Heavily*

The interviewer can easily feel if the applicant in front of him/her changes breathing pattern fast. This change of breathing pattern is said to be a reflex action for someone who is hiding something. When the applicant’s breathing changes, his/her shoulders will rise and his/her voice can get shallow. S/he is out of breath because his/her heart rate and blood flow change. These types of changes are usually attributed to someone who is nervous and feeling tense because of lying.

4. Standing still*

It’s common to see people to fidget when they get nervous. But it is also possible that they do not move at all when they are nervous because of lying. “This may be a sign of the primitive neurological ‘fight,’ rather than the ‘flight,’ response, as the body positions and readies itself for possible confrontation. “When you speak and engage in normal conversation, it is natural to move your body around in subtle, relaxed, and, for the most part, unconscious movements. So if you observe a rigid, catatonic stance devoid of movement, it is often a huge warning sign that something is off.”

5. Repeating words or phrases*

The applicant is trying to convince the interviewer and himself/herself of something. S/he is trying to validate the lie in his/her mind. S/he may say: “I didn’t…I didn’t…” over and over again. The repetition is also a way to buy themselves time as they attempt to gather their thoughts.

6. Providing too much information*

When someone goes on and on and gives you too much information — information that is not requested and especially an excess of details — there is a very high probability that applicant may not be telling the truth. “Liars often talk a lot because they are hoping that, with all their talking and seeming openness, others will believe them.”

7. Touching or covering the mouth*

It is also a sign of lying if the interviewee will automatically put his/her hands over his/her mouth when s/he doesn’t want to deal with an issue or answer a question. This can mean that s/he is not revealing everything or s/he just don’t want to tell the truth.

8. Instinctively cover vulnerable body parts*

Instinctively covering vulnerable parts such as the throat, chest, head, or abdomen when asked a question can also be a sign that the interviewee is caught off-guarded and thus a sign that s/he is hiding something.

9. Shuffling their feet*

Shuffling one’s feet during job interviews can indicate that the person is uneasy and nervous of something and thus hides something negative. It can also indicate that s/he wants to leave the situation or want to walk away. One way to detect whether the applicant is lying during the interview is to observe the movement of the feet. His/her body would show if s/he is comfortable of telling the truth or nervous of hiding something during the interview.

10. Becoming difficult to speak*

Liars can run out of words or show difficulty in speaking to defend his/her lies.This is caused by the decrease of salivary flow in the nervous system during times of stress which can dry out the mucous membranes of the mouth. But the interviewer should also be alert to sudden lip biting or pursed lips by the applicant as a potential sign of lying..

11. Staring Without Blinking Much or Too Much Blinking*

People who lie usually break their eye contract with others. But it is also possible that they go the extra mile to maintain eye contact in attempt to control and manipulate others. Unusual staring without blinking at regular intervals by the interviewee can indicate lying. Honest people will occasionally shift their eyes around and may even look away from time to time when explaining something. Liars, on the other hand, will use a cold, steady gaze to intimidate and control others. But interviewers should watch out for rapid blinking which can also indicate that the applicant is lying.

12. Pointing a lot*

When a liar becomes hostile or defensive, s/he is attempting to turn the tables on the other person. The liar can get hostile during the interview if the interviewer has discovered his/her lies, which may result in a lot of pointing. In this case, the applicant has already blown his/her chance to be selected for the job.

13. Rubbing or Touching the Nose

When the applicant touches or rubs his/her nose before answering a direct question, the interviewer must be alert of lying. Rubbing or touching one’s nose in an interrogation is generally considered a sign that the person is hiding something.

Final Reminder: Differentiate Lying from Falsehood

The interviewer must distinguish lying from falsehood. Basically, lying is giving a wrong information to the person or group who has the right to know the truth, while falsehood is giving a wrong or untruthful information to a stranger or to a person or group who has no right to know truth. Falsehood involves personal information which has nothing to do with the hiring process.Thus, asking the applicant’s true employment history in the interview is legitimate and if the applicant gives a wrong information, s/he is lying. The recruiting team must know this information, for instance, to trace the applicant’s capacity to stay longer in his/her employment or learn more about his/her loyalty to his/her employers. But asking personal questions which are not related to the hiring process such as personal questions on love life, cultural taste, or asking about the trade secrets of the applicant’s previous employer, not require honest answers especially if they intrude into the applicant or other party’s right to privacy or intellectual property. In this case, the applicant is not lying even if s/he gives a wrong information and his/her body language shows it. Falsehood is different from lying and must not be used against the interviewee or job applicant.

The interviewer must always treat the applicant with respect but s/he must also keep in mind that “things are not what they seem.” Since life is a stage and people are actors with masks and prepared scripts, s/he must understand not just the stereotypes and external acts but also the unspoken and symbolic in order to discover the applicant’s real script!

*See Giang & Smith (2014) “11 Signs Someone Is Lying To You” at

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Dr. Vivencio “Ven” Ballano is a sociologist-professor, religious educator, research consultant and media piracy specialist at St. Paul University, Quezon City, Philippines. He is currently writing a book entitled” “Sociological Perspectives on Media Piracy in the Philippines and Vietnam” for the top scientific global publisher, Springer Science + Business Media.

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