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Job candidates more likely to lie online, studies say

Brian O'Connell

It’s no secret that entrepreneurs work hard.

The good news is that e-technology has made their lives a bit easier – but there may be a high cost for that help.

First, the relevant data. Here’s a snapshot of a startup owner’s average work hours, along with a look at how the Internet has cut into that work load for entrepreneurs:

  • On average, small business owners work 52 hours per week. (Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index).
  • Three-fourths of U.S. adults who go online say the Internet has made it easier to start a business. (Yahoo Small Business/Harris Interactive).

Why did we lump those two sets of data together? Simple: Startup business owners are relying on technology to run their businesses. In particular, entrepreneurs are relying on emails, texts and even social networking tools to communicate with employees, business partners, vendors and customers.

Okay, that’s all well and good. A startup owner would be crazy not to leverage the power of mobile and online communications, but if he or she isn’t careful, that “trust in technology” could come back to haunt him or her.

At least, that’s the opinion of a Mississippi State University researcher who says that, under the “right circumstances,” computer and smartphone generated missives could easily be loaded up with lies. Worse, the people behind those lies don’t have a big problem with the behavior.

Kent Marett, an assistant professor at the school, has generated a study (in collaboration with researchers at Florida State University) that set out to measure “deceptive” communications between workplace professionals.

The study showed how easily job candidates could shade the truth over their job qualifications, especially if asked about those qualifications via computer-mediated communication (which the study defines as e-mail, instant messaging, chat and text messaging).

"Much of today's communication, including job interviews, often takes place in an online setting," Marett noted, adding that students were assigned the role of interviewer or job applicant. But that’s pretty much the problem, he notes. "In an increasingly 'virtual' world, this research has more relevance than ever," Marett added. "With tight budgets, more companies are doing 'virtual' interviews with applicants they don't meet face to face, and we found deception is more difficult to detect online."

Marett’s not alone. Separate data from the UBC Okanogan (in Canada) by forensic psychologist Michael Woodworth says that employees or potential employees have a built-in mechanism that makes them feel more comfortable about curbing the truth with their employers.

“When people are interacting face to face, there is something called the ‘motivational impairment effect,’ where your body will give off some cues as you become more nervous and there’s more at stake with your lie,” says Woodworth. “In a computer-mediated environment, the exact opposite occurs.”

Woodworth says that employers may not even know they’re being lied to for a long period of time. His study says that people motivated to lie in a computer-mediated environment are not only less likely to be detected, they are also actually better at being deceptive than people who are less motivated.

The takeaway for entrepreneurs is this: When making big business decisions, like hiring personnel or trusting an employee with a big client or budget, vet that employee – and any claims he or she makes – face-to-face, and not online.

You’re more likely to get the real skinny that way.

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