Features | From Pivot Magazine

Can lying help you land a job? 

Surprising new research reveals that some bosses value candidates’ ability to stretch the truth

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Illustration of a woman holding her resume in her arms, while a bird sits on her Pinocchio extended nose Participants in a study admitted they were more likely to hire the liars than those who tell the truth in fields such as sales, advertising and investment banking. (Illustration by Leeandra Cianci)

If a manager tells you they’d never hire a liar, chances are they’re lying—though they might not even know it. A new study published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes suggests that, in some cases, managers perceive deceptive behaviour as a positive attribute in a job candidate. 

A couple of years ago, the authors of the study—Brian Gunia, a professor at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, and Emma E. Levine, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business—noticed an anomaly in their data. When study participants read through specious scenarios (e.g., inflating a number on an expense report, claiming to have a personal interest just for show), they often saw liars as more competent than their truthful counterparts. Shockingly, the participants admitted they were more likely to hire the liars than those who tell the truth in fields such as sales, advertising and investment banking. They believed deceivers would be able to persuade people to buy products, and that they’d be comfortable doing whatever might be necessary to clinch a sale. 

“Our work suggests that individuals in high-selling occupations may set aside ethical concerns about a prospective employee if they believe that person is competent at their job,” Gunia says. 

Here’s the catch: the same thinking doesn’t hold in fields that aren’t sales-oriented, including accounting. The authors categorize these positions as customer-oriented: they are supposed to satisfy customer needs, rather than make sales, so honesty is paramount. The main takeaway for customer-oriented managers: fight the unconscious bias to view liars as more competent. “It’s important to make sure that when you hire people from high-selling occupations that customer service takes precedence,” Gunia says. Accounting, at least, is a matter of trust.