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Pathological Liars Needed

People Who Lie – Radiolab.org

A friend of mine who knows I’m into all aspects of lie detecting sent me the above podcast from Radiolab.org.  The first 20 minutes cover the story of a pathological liar and what becomes of her.  It’s predictable and I found myself responding to emails while I listened to it in the background.   Soon the story transitioned to Yaling Yang, a psychologist at the University of Southern California.  She was conducting research on the different parts of the brain that are activated during the course of telling a lie and she needed what all good researches need…lab rats.  In this case, she needed people who lie, but where to find them?  The obvious answer for her was to go interview people applying for jobs at a “Temp Agency”.  After all, they had to be the least savory, flawed pool in which they could dive.

Now I was hooked.  I’ve assisted “Temp Agencies” across the world and the fact that a respected member of the public feels like the natural choice for finding people with a damaged moral compass was a “Temp Agency” upset me.    Sure there are some agencies that are dubious, as is the case in any industry, but most of these agencies are out there trying to do the right thing for companies needing a flexible workforce.

Things then got worse because Yaling Yang struck pay dirt.  She interviewed 108 people and from staffing agencies (I can’t bring myself to say “Temp”) in the Los Angeles area and found that 12 were pathological liars, which was essentially saying on public radio / the internet that 11% of all temps are unscrupulous con-men or women.

I shared this with a staffing firm that we support.  We’ve been recording the interviews conducted by their Recruiters, helping them to control their interviews, ask better questions, and to understand when they get a good or poor response from a candidate.   They’ve committed their company to help companies hire the best people and I feel for them because the reality is that not all firms interview like they do and as a result they now face two problems:

1. Perception is reality.  The de facto one-stop shop for hiring bad people is a staffing agency.  That’s essentially what Yaling Yang said when chose to hunt for pathological liars with their help.

2. If you’re a staffing firm, keep challenging your people to conduct better interviews.   If you don’t the alternative is that 11% of your workforce, the face of your company at a client’s location, could be pathological liars or worse.

If you are a staffing agency or a high volume hiring institution (call center, manufacturing, labor, etc.), listen to the interviews your people are conducting.    What questions are they asking?  If you hear questions like:

  • Why did that last assignment end?  Are you eligible for rehire? 
  • What would your supervisor say about you?
  • Have you worked in a company like this before?
  • Talk to me about how I market you.

Then know that you’d better not trust 11% of the people working for your company or you can choose to do better.