Stop Faking Before It Happens

Topic(s): assessment

Topic: AssessmentPersonality Assessment

Publication:  International Journal of Selection and Assessment

ArticleComparing personality test formats and warnings: Effects on criterion-related validity and test-taker reactions

Authors:  P.D. Converse

Reviewed by: Benjamin Granger

Although personality testing in employee selection settings is a common practice, it hasn’t gone without critique.  The reason for this is simple: personality tests can be faked.  (Let’s see, I really want this job so, yea I’m conscientious and agreeable).  A quick glance at many of the commonly used personality test items will corroborate this concern (e.g., “I am always prepared”, “I make friends easily”).  Seriously, why would a job applicant even consider disagreeing with such statements in a high stakes situation? Despite the obvious problem of faking, personality tests have been shown to predict employee job performance.  Thus, there is a major dilemma over what to do about personality testing in employee selection settings.

In general, most personality measures allow job applicants to read a series of items and indicate the extent to which they agree/disagree with each statement.

Due to the transparency of such items, several methods are currently being investigated which aim to ameliorate the faking issue.  Two of the most promising methods include using (1) forced choice (FC) items (i.e., force applicants to choose a personality trait characteristic of themselves over another) and  (2) warnings to test takers about faking (i.e., inform applicants of the consequences of faking).  Importantly, these two options effect faking in different ways. FC methods reduce an applicant’s ability to misrepresent him or herself while warnings effect an applicant’s motivation to fake his or her personality.

And although both have been shown to reduce faking, relatively little work has looked at these two methods simultaneously. Until now!

In an article published in the International Journal of Selection and Assessment, Converse et al. (2008) were interested in the combined effects of FC and warnings on two important outcomes:

(1) criterion-related validity (how well personality measures predict job performance) and

(2) test-taker reactions.

Converse and colleagues found that FC personality tests not only predicted important work-related criteria (e.g., leadership, perseverance), but they did so above and beyond cognitive ability. However,
their findings suggest that in some situations, job applicants may have more negative reactions toward FC formats compared to more traditional formats (e.g., Likert scale). On the other hand, it was not completely clear whether warning applicants of the consequences of faking showed acceptable criterion-related validity.  Thus the authors warned against drawing firm conclusions.  Moreover, when warnings were used and were framed negatively, applicants reported high levels of test anxiety. But, positively framed warnings did not have such an effect on applicants.

So what do organizations need to know about these methods?

Firstly, both FC and warnings reduce the occurrence of faking. Second, FC methods, although more time-consuming than traditional personality tests, predict workplace criteria over and above cognitive ability.  Thirdly, if organizations choose to use warnings against faking, they may consider wording the warnings in a positive way (e.g., If you respond honestly, it is more likely that you will be placed in a job that suits you well) since negatively worded warnings (e.g., we’re going to catch you and you’ll no longer be considered for the job!) may cause test-taker anxiety.

Converse, P, D., Oswald, F. L., Imus, A., Hedricks, C., Roy, R., & Butera, H. (2008).  Comparing personality test formats and warnings: Effects on criterion-related validity and test-taker reactions. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 16(2), 155-169.