It’s common practice for organizations to use at least one self-report tool to help evaluate job applicants, such as personality assessments, situational judgment tests, or other questionnaires. Self-report data is not only convenient to collect, but also has received research support for its accuracy and validity in differentiating candidates based on job-relevant characteristics.
However, with convenience comes a major catch: Applicants may fake or distort their qualifications to appear more desirable, undermining the validity of the assessment and leading to poor selection decisions. To remedy this, researchers have explored various techniques for catching these liars in the act. Researchers (Dunlop et al., 2020) lean into the “overclaiming technique” as a method of exposing fakers during the application process, identifying two necessary conditions for the technique to be a successful indicator of faking behavior.
THE OVERCLAIMING TECHNIQUE AND CURRENT LIMITATIONS
The overclaiming technique uses a self-report questionnaire (called an OCQ) that, to job applicants, appears to be a proficiency assessment. However, the questionnaire is actually assessing the behavioral tendency to exaggerate—or overclaim—knowledge levels. The OCQ does this by presenting applicants with a knowledge category, such as historical events, and then asking them to rate their familiarity with the listed sub-topics. While most subtopics are legitimate, such as the Vesuvius eruption, others are bogus or “trick” items, such as the fictional Troisdorf catastrophe.
This technique assumes that job applicants view high knowledge levels as a desirable characteristic, thus motivating some applicants to overclaim their knowledge—on both real and bogus knowledge topics—ultimately revealing themselves as fakers. But research has actually yielded mixed findings on the relationship between overclaiming and faking behavior, leading the research team to investigate further.
WHEN DO OVERCLAIMING QUESTIONNAIRES WORK BEST?
While the above explanation of the OCQ makes intuitive sense, it is unclear why only some research supports its use to identify faking. Across three studies, the research team investigated the context and content of OCQs using two tenets of a classic psychological theory called expectancy theory—valence and instrumentality—to reconcile the conflicting research findings.
Valence, in this case, refers to the level of satisfaction a person expects to experience from faking. To examine valence, the researchers conducted OCQs with some participants in a job selection scenario (high valence—receiving a job offer) and others in a research assessment scenario (low valence). As hypothesized, participants in the high valence job selection scenario were more likely to demonstrate overclaiming behavior on their OCQ, supporting the concept of using OCQs in personnel selection.
Instrumentality, in this case, is the extent that people believe faking will increase their chances of success. Here, the researchers compared OCQs containing job-relevant knowledge categories (high instrumentality) versus OCQs containing irrelevant knowledge categories (low instrumentality). They found that the high instrumentality OCQ yielded higher overclaiming scores and were positively related to other known measures of faking and social desirability. This shows applicants perceive the job-relevant OCQs as important in helping them receive job offers.
When examining the effects of valence and instrumentality together, the researchers found a highly practical interaction; when participants were in both a high valence (job application context) and high instrumentality (job-relevant content) scenario, they were more likely to overclaim on their OCQ and to engage in deviant behavior after being hired. Again this supports the validity of using job-relevant OCQs in personnel selection and further connects applicant scores to future job performance.
This study can help organizations better position themselves to identify faking using OCQs. The study confirms that job selection situations are a valid context to employ the technique, but questionnaire content is also critical; to maximize effectiveness, organizations should include only job-relevant questionnaire content. The researchers also recommend that organizations maintain a large content pool for their OCQs, so content can be changed and refreshed periodically. This can help combat the potential for OCQs to lose validity as more applicants become familiar with the underlying tactics. Following this advice, organizations can effectively weed out applicants who are more likely to engage in deviant behavior on the job.
Dunlop, P. D., Bourdage, J. S., de Vries, R. E., McNeill, I. M., Jorritsma, K., Orchard, M., Austen, T., Baines, T., & Choe, W.-K. (2020). Liar! Liar! (when stakes are higher): Understanding how the overclaiming technique can be used to measure faking in personnel selection. Journal of Applied Psychology, 105(8), 784–799.