Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,
We’ll call her “Lindsay.” She was a young woman, about 25 years of age, and she was sitting in my office for a job interview. Her résumé was solid. She looked like the perfect candidate for the opening I had at my company.
But in a matter of moments — after asking her two simple questions that I use to determine the quality of a potential employee — Lindsay flunked out.
Now, I understand you might not be an employer, but this method of questioning can be used anytime you need help determining if someone is being honest with you or not.
Establishing a Base Line
When Lindsay first came in, we were chatting about less serious topics: the weather, where she was from, where she heard about the job and so on.
In addition to getting to know her better, the purpose of these first few questions was to establish her “base line.” I was watching her verbal and nonverbal reactions to see how she responded to questions she had no reason to lie about.
After several of these questions, I was able to determine Lindsay’s base line and how she reacted when she was in her comfort zone. Then it was time to move on to more serious questions to find out if she really was the right person for the job.
My Two Favorite Questions
The first question I asked was, “When is the last time you stole something?”
She sat in her chair for a second, got an uncomfortable look on her face and was clearly taking as much time as she could before she answered.
Finally, after several seconds, she informed me that she used to work for a bookkeeper a few years ago when she was right out of school. She had stolen several office supplies so she could quit that job and start a competing business.
Clearly, when I heard this answer, I knew I would not be hiring her for the position. But I proceeded to my next question since I treat all interviews the same and ask everyone the same set of questions.
The next question was, “When’s the last time you did drugs?”
Again, Lindsay got that awkward look on her face and was stalling for time before she answered. She ended up admitting that she still does drugs, smoking marijuana almost on a daily basis. At that point, I asked her a few other questions and then thanked her for her time and concluded the job interview.
Nothing but the Truth
Why are these my two favorite questions to ask potential employees?
Well, I ask the first question about stealing because almost all of us have stolen something in our lives. When many of us were in elementary school, we would steal candy from the supermarket.
Obviously, I realize we were all kids once. I don’t care if someone stole a Snickers when they were in fifth grade. However, if someone is stealing from their employer as in the story above, that’s definitely not someone I’m going to hire.
I ask the second question about doing drugs for the same reason as the first. I know many people tried drugs in high school or college, and I don’t care about that. I just want to make sure they’re not doing drugs today.
Both of these questions are known as “presumptive questions,” meaning I am presuming that someone has done them. I am presuming they’ve stolen, and I am presuming they’ve done drugs.
When I ask these presumptive questions and a person has never done drugs before, they just immediately tell me no and their base line remains the same. I know they’re telling the truth. In other words, I don’t get a pause from them or an awkward look on their face. They don’t feel guilty about the question because they have nothing to hide.
To get the truth, all you have to do is ask a presumptive question about whatever it is you’d like to know.
Versatility of Presumptive Questions
Here’s another example: Let’s say someone knocks on your door trying to sell you a vacuum. This is a trick many criminals use. They’ll pose as salespeople so they can case your house and see if there’s any reason to come back and rob the place when you’re not home.
To find out if the salesperson is legit, you could ask them, “When’s the last time you sold a vacuum to someone?” An honest person will have an immediate answer because they have nothing to hide.
However, if the salesperson stutters or buys time, that could mean they’ve never sold a vacuum and they’re not really in sales. If that’s the case, you should write down their license plate and perhaps notify the police.
Or say you have kids, like I do. If you’ve got a teenager who comes home extra late one night, you could ask them, “You told me you were going to Rob’s house. How come you didn’t tell me where you were really going?”
If the kid is truthful, they’ll likely have an instant answer such as, “What are you talking about, Mom? I was at Rob’s house all night.”
But if the child hesitates and you see that guilty look on their face, you know you need to do more digging to find out where they really were.
The Bottom Line
It’s easier to detect deception than most people realize. By using a presumptive question, you can quickly ferret out honest people from dishonest people, saving you a lot of headaches in the future.
Remember to be creative. There are many situations in which you can use a presumptive question, including if you’re a single man or woman on the dating scene.
In fact, when I was single, I used to ask women (in a joking tone with a smile), “When’s the last time you slashed an ex-boyfriend’s tires?”
And yes, one time, a girl did tell me she vandalized an ex’s car, so I certainly didn’t go on a date with her!