is probably the biggest apprehension employers have about using
personality tests during the hiring process. These concerns are
well founded. Job applicants are confronted by more tests all the
time. They are motivated to "pass the test" and come closer
to a job offer. This should be no surprise, especially in tight
economic times. To get the most from your investment in tests, you
need to become skilled in test administration and interpretation.
McFarland, Ph.D., an assistant professor at George Mason University's
industrial/organizational psychology program, studies the "faking"
phenomenon. She works primarily with self-reported measures, such
as personality tests and biodata. "Not just my research but
the literature in general indicates that applicant groups score
higher on 'social desirability' on tests than groups we can be fairly
certain are responding honestly," she says. "Job incumbents
or college students, for instance, have no consequence tied to the
test. Therefore, it seems that at least some applicants do try to
"fake" the test and are successful at doing so."
Big a Problem?
have forever advertised some clear preferences in personality traits
of candidates: Total honesty is a no-brainer, closely followed by
the ability to control one's own anger. Beyond this, conscientiousness,
ability to work in teams and persistence are three top examples
of universally desirable traits. Extraversion is also more attractive
than introversion for many jobs, particularly when direct client
contact is involved. If the "right" answers are an open
secret, is testing a valid tool in selection? To answer that, it's
important to look at some of the subtleties that experienced testers
come to know.
faking is devious and intentional. Let's say an applicant for a
retail position intends to shoplift. He or she does not want (lack
of) integrity to come out during the hiring process. The applicant
might try to "beat the test" by providing what he or she
believes to be the "correct" answers.
consider the example of an applicant who seeks to please the employer
with the "correct" answers so they can get past the test
phase and get to second or third interviews. They may feel that
testing doesn't show their real strengths, that it may exclude them
from consideration for the wrong reasons.
consider applicants whose self-awareness is very optimistic. He
or she believes they have many socially desirable characteristics.
Whether they really do or not is a question for the skilled interviewer
to ascertain. Careful review of educational and work history might
affirm the possibility that the optimism is well founded-or not.
testing to be useful as an adjunct to interviewing and other hiring
tools, each of the above situations need to be detectable by the
Tests Detect Faking
test publishers would not dispute that test profiles can be elevated
or falsified. So they strive to overcome the problem.
'What's the point? Anybody can fake them!' We hear people ask that
question," says test designer Robert Hogan, Ph.D., president
of Hogan Assessment Systems. He claims this can be overcome with
the "faking profile" that his company's tests generate.
"We're doing a whole personality profile," he says of
his company's tests. "They may be able to fake a whole scale
(a single aspect of the measurement), but they won't fake a whole
Mason University's Dr. McFarland affirms that faking often is reported
through special test scales: "I think the most common strategy
to detect faking is to use what's called a social desirability scale,
also called a lie scale. These scales ask the test-taker to indicate
the extent to which a number of statements are true of them. The
trick is that these statements refer to behaviors that are very
common, but undesirable."
instance, an example of such an item is "I have never been
untruthful, even to save someone's feelings."
test-taker who denies many of these undesirable behaviors that are
extremely common will receive a high socially desirable score,"
says McFarland. "The employer may use this to identify fakers."
She has some doubts about the effectiveness of this strategy, however.
For instance, some people may have unusually high scores on "social
desirability" scales, but may simply be trying to please, may
have poor reading skills, or may have overly optimistic beliefs
wording is one of the primary tools in the battle to thwart would-be
deceivers. People who give extreme answers to questions are often
- but not always -overcompensating to hide their true intent than
those who do not answer with the extreme choices.
separates the experienced, effective user of tests from the ineffective?
The dividing line is often defined by the test-givers ability to
read the subtleties. It is also determined by following some preventive
employers must cover the basics. They must choose a test that incorporates
a "lie scale." They must choose a test with proven reliability
and validity. They must become knowledgeable about the test or tests,
usually through the publisher's certification programs. If this
is not possible for a company staff member, then an outside consultant
who is certified and experienced should be considered. Some other
key measures include:
the requirements of the job. Jobs have "personality requirements."
For instance, the ability to work long hours without social interaction
is far more "natural" to an introvert than an extrovert
Likewise, the elevated confidence of an effective salesperson is
often exactly what's called for in that job. The personality requirements
of the job description can be examined through job analysis. This
can help you assess the real importance of elevated scores in terms
of your requirements.
the process. Though it may be convenient to have applicants take
on-line tests at home, this can invite outright cheating. For instance,
the applicant could have someone else take the test. (They could
also be recording the test questions for distribution to other applicants.)
All tests should probably be taken with adequate monitoring.
two tests. Let's say you are hiring for a job where anger-proneness
would immediately disqualify a candidate. Two tests may be advisable.
The chances of someone successfully deceiving two tests are considerably
slimmer than one. Hogan Assessments, for instance, offers companion
tests-one that deals with the applicant's visible, positive personality
characteristics -and a second test to look at the darker sides of
workplace behavior, such as tendencies to lose one's temper, to
become disruptive, or to be disrespectful of authority or coworkers.
participants they will be discussing their answers at a later date.
Dr. McFarland says this strategy shows some promise. It holds an
applicant responsible for consistent answers at a later date. "Applicants
can be told their answers will be discussed in an interview if they
are selected to go on," says McFarland.
those who pass the testing screen, conduct interviews that are at
least partially based on the test results. Some test publishers
provide interview recommendations with the test reports, which can
save you time. If someone has intentionally provided false or inflated
answers, you may spot discomfort or hesitation during the interview.
applicants are not informed consumers of tests. If tests become
more and more widely used, it is possible that some applicants will
become experienced at beating the tests. For the time being, though,
faking reports and other current strategies offer some assurance
to employers. They must be aware that not all results that look
like faking are actually untrue. Armed with these skills, you are
ready to gain the advantages of pre-employment personality testing.
Dr. McFarland summarizes, "I would use personality tests to
select applicants. They have been shown to be valid selection measures.
However, I would not base selection decisions solely on such tests."