In the process of employee selection, applicants are often asked to answer questions about themselves. Such questions are often assessing biodata, or biographical data about the applicant. Biodata items ask about various life experiences, such as past interactions with others, experience demonstrating initiative, or leadership experience. A potential problem with these types of questions is that applicants may fake their responses to appear better than they are, which could affect who is hired for the position. In a recent study, researchers (Levashina, Morgeson, & Campion, 2012) investigated the effect that “required elaboration” would have on response inflation for biodata items.
RESPONSE ELABORATION TECHNIQUE
A biodata item that does not require elaboration might ask how many times in the past two years the applicant has found a novel solution to a problem at work. A biodata item using the response elaboration technique (RET) might ask the applicant to not only describe how many times she found a novel solution to a problem, but also to give examples of what exactly she did. Biodata items that require elaboration could potentially reduce both intentional response distortion (by making it more difficult to lie) and unintentional response distortion (by forcing applicants to reflect on their responses).
Using a large sample of actual job applicants, the authors found that average responses were lower when items required elaboration than when they did not. They also found that average responses were lower for items that were verifiable than for items that were not verifiable, indicating that applicants were less likely to inflate their responses when someone could actually check to see if their responses were truthful. In addition, required elaboration had a greater effect on nonverifiable items than verifiable items, which the authors suggested was a result of increased accountability.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR SELECTION
Based on these findings, it appears that requiring elaboration for biodata items can reduce response inflation. In other words, organizations may be more likely to get truthful and accurate responses if applicants must descriptively reflect on their experiences. Due to the time and cost involved in requiring elaboration, it would be more beneficial to use the RET technique for nonverifiable items, as elaboration has a greater effect when responses cannot be verified.
Levashina, J., Morgeson, F. P., & Campion, M. A. (2012). Tell me some more: Exploring how verbal ability and item verifiability influence responses to biodata questions in a high-stakes selection context. Personnel Psychology, 65, 359-383.