Every entrepreneur and hiring manager goes into a job interview looking to hire the best person for the job. The problem is research shows they generally fail spectacularly. One Yale professor has even called job interviews as they're usually conducted "useless."
The problem isn't bad intentions. It's human fallibility. Study after study confirms most bosses just can't seem to stop themselves from being taken in by overconfident blowhards.
Is there a way to get better at sniffing out BS or even flat-out lying in job interviews (or any other context)? A new study has uncovered a simple, research-validated technique, and funnily enough, it's exactly how Tesla and SpaceX boss has been interviewing job candidates for years.
No polygraph required.
As psychologist Cody Porter explained in a recent piece for The Conversation, the method was developed for law enforcement and designed as an alternative to the notoriously unreliable lie detector tests you've seen on TV cop shows. Instead of hooking up suspects to a stress-measuring machine, Porter and her collaborators suggest a particular interview technique to sniff out liars.
That's handy for bosses, as you probably don't have a polygraph laying around the office. Given that the new approach just boils down to a different way of asking questions, there is no reason it couldn't be adapted easily to a professional context.
Porter's method is based on a simple observation about liars -- they don't like to get into specifics because they know they are more likely to get caught out if they do. True tellers, on the other hand, are happy to get into the nitty gritty with you. You can leverage this truth to your advantage with the new technique, which goes by the fancy name of asymmetric information management (AIM).
"Essentially, the AIM method involves informing suspects of these facts," Porter explains. "Specifically, interviewers make it clear to interviewees that if they provide longer, more detailed statements about the event of interest, then the investigator will be better able to detect if they are telling the truth or lying. For truth-tellers, this is good news. For liars, this is less good news."
Research shows that when you tell a suspect that more details are better, truth tellers rush to discuss the minutiae of the case. Liars try to stick to generalities, offering as few specifics as they can get away with. And the difference is easy to spot. In one experiment, interviewers' ability to spot a liar jumped from 48 percent (the same as blind chance) to 81 percent of the time when they started using the AIM technique.
Elon Musk already knew that.
That huge jump in BS-detection rates might come as a happy surprise to many cops, but one person it likely wouldn't shock is Elon Musk. He told the World Government Summit back in 2017 that he always uses the same approach to interviewing, asking every candidate, "Tell me about some of the most difficult problems you worked on and how you solved them."
Musk goes on to explain that "the people who really solved the problem, they know exactly how they solved it, they know the little details." In other words, Musk long ago intuitively grasped the truth behind Porter's research -- genuinely skilled (if sometimes socially awkward) truth tellers will be thrilled to get into the weeds with you. Those who skate by on charisma can't do the same.
So if you want your next job interview to be significantly better than useless, follow Musk's lead and borrow this trick to cut through the BS. Research shows it works for the police. Musk's endorsement suggests it's equally useful for hiring.