by George Nott

Would you hire a liar?

Jun 17, 2019
CareersCollaboration SoftwareDigital Transformation

Nobody likes a liar. Except if you are hiring for sales-orientated jobs, a pilot study by researchers at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Businesshas indicated.

The research – Deception as Competence: The Effect of Occupational Stereotypes on the Perception and Proliferation of Deception – found that for certain job roles, employers may tolerate people stretching the truth, and may even expect it.

Researchers asked participants to rate 32 occupations as high or low in ‘selling orientation’, in other words, how much of the role involved persuading others to make immediate purchases. From this survey, the researchers found the roles with a stereotypically high sales focus (which were sales, investment banking, advertising), and those with a low selling focus (consulting, nonprofit management and accounting).

Then participants observed individuals lying or acting honestly in a variety of circumstances, such as reporting their expenses after a business trip. The participants were then asked how successful and competent a liar or honest individual would be in sales focused and non-sales focused jobs, and if they would hire them.

Participants believed liars would be better at banking, advertising, and sales jobs and other high-selling orientation occupations. They were also more likely to hire deceivers for these tasks, even when their own money was on the line.

“We found that people don’t always disapprove of liars,” said Chicago Booth Professor of Behavioural Science and lead author Emma Levine.

“Instead, they think liars are likely to be successful in certain occupations–those that do a lot of high-pressure selling,” she added.

Given sales focused, high pressure occupations are among the best paid, employers should worry “if deception is a prerequisite for employees to get hired and rewarded,” Levine said.

The paper – published in the journalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes – goes on to say that those businesses attempting to reduce deception should align job requirements with a customer-oriented approach to selling, which emphasises how the employee can help fulfil a client’s long-term interests.

“Armed with the knowledge that deception is perceived to signal competence in high-pressure sales occupations,” the researchers write, “companies may want to explicitly deem deception as incompetent.”

Such a shift could reduce hiring managers’ tendency to see deceivers as competent and reduce the temptation to recruit deceivers into key roles.