Ep 221 – How to Build Trust Like a Spy But For Work

If you’ve ever wished you could improve your interviewing and screening skills by becoming a human lie detector, you’re going to love today’s guest.

Episode 221: How to Build Trust Like a Spy But For Work with Robin Dreeke (@rdreeke)

Robin Dreeke is a professional interrogator, Founder of People Formula, Former Head of the FBI Behavioral Analysis Program. HIs book, Sizing People Up: A Veteran FBI Agent’s User Manual for Behavior Prediction, came out in January. I was so excited to interview a spy because there are so many things we can learn from Robin and his experience including building relationships, communication strategies, and identifying deception especially during the hiring process. 

What Being a Spy Has to Do with Leadership and HR

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have a spy on my podcast, but working in HR so much of what we do involves similar characteristics and strategies that Robin did as a spy in his day to day. I guess in a way HR leaders are the spies of the workplace. Robin shares how he became a spy and the kind of work he did which I found fascinating. He says he was asked to go to Quantico, Virginia, where he began training people on interviewing skills for counterintelligence, as well as recruitment strategies for recruiting spies. During his career he worked on a behavioral team for a number of years where he put his spy training into action. As far as his transition from spy to communications consultant, Robin saw an opportunity after his friend, Joe Navarro, a retired special agent on his behavioral team started his consulting business as an international non-verbal expert and best selling author. Robin saw this as a real opportunity to share with others outside the agency what he knows. 

The best thing that I did in my career is creating an under a desire to be extremely curious about other people. - @rdreeke #podcast #hiring #hr Click To Tweet

How to Tell If People are Lying During a Job Interview

One thing I’d like to do better for myself is being able to detect when someone is being untruthful or lying to me so I decided to ask Robin what I needed to do to help improve my skillset in this area. He says eception is a really tough thing. He says unfortunately, you cannot detect deception. The best people the world, if they looked at non-verbals alone, are 50 percent accurate at best. He says what you can detect, though, is stress and stress can be deception, but stress can also be bad memories.

Robin share that if you’re asking some normal baseline questions to establish with their normal non-verbals patterns of speech or like, you get a feel for what their normal non-verbals looks like. And then when you start asking questions, you’ll get a little bit more precise about these skill sets, types of strategies the candidate has in different situations that they have dealt with at work.

He says when you start to seen deviations from the person’s normal, and you’re seeing stress induced nonverbally it’s a sign that there is some deception happening. As far as what to look for, Robin says lip compressions, eyebrow compressions, and basic face scrunching is a sign that your candidate is experiencing stress during the job interview.

Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Recruiters in Hiring?

As Robin and I talked more during this podcast interview, I wondered how he felt about the growing reliance on artificial intelligence, and if he thinks that AI will replace recruiters. So many “experts” and HR technologies in our industry are talking about this eventuality. I wondered if Robin was worried about being replaced by algorithms to detect lies and mistruths. Robin thinks we are a long way off from this. He doesn’t see it happening any time soon. In Robin’s book he talks about how to assess others and says that this process is very individual which makes it almost impossible to be replaced by AI. Relationships and communications are so nuanced that especially in organizations and person to person communications, algorithms won’t be taking over in the short or long term. 


We have a tendency to want to dive in when we have new technology to help us hire better, but learning how to make better decisions using human to human techniques serves us well while we’re waiting for legal challenges about using AI video technology to screen candidates. I’m so glad to have Robin as our guest today. This has been an informative and fascinating discussion and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Connect with Robin Dreeke on LinkedIn



– Sizing People Up: A Veteran FBI Agent’s User Manual for Behavior Prediction

– People Formula

– HireView lawsuit

– The Illinois Job Interview Video Protection Act

– List of 30+ TA Technologies Using Artificial Intelligence

– The STAR Job Interview Technique 


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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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