How to Warn Job Applicants about Faking on Personality Tests

Topic(s): Faking, personality, selection
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2012)
Article: Testing the efficacy of a new procedure for reducing faking on personality tests within selection contexts
Authors: J. Fan, D. Gao., S.A. Carroll, F.J. Lopez, T.S. Tian, H. Meng
Reviewed by: Neil Morelli

Has your organization ever used, or ever considered using a personality test as part of their selection battery? Due to personality tests’ ability to predict job performance and low propensity to lead to adverse impact, you’re not alone. However, one controversial issue still plagues the use of personality tests in selecting applicants: applicant faking. Faking is defined as the intentional distortion of responses to portray a more positive image, and it can negatively affect the effectiveness of the selection device. Fortunately, researchers (Fan et al., 2012) have recently tested a new method for identifying and reducing faking on personality tests that uses a computer-based warning system.


The researchers of this study admit that there is nothing new about warning applicants about faking, but the novel component of their system is how the warning is provided. Instead of a reactive system for reducing faking via statistical controls, the new method proactively mitigates faking by first testing for the likelihood of faking on an “initial item block.” This block of questions consists of impression management items, a bogus scale, and a subset of items from the actual personality test. After comparing the scores from this block to a cutoff level for faking, the computer provides “a polite warning” to respondents flagged as potential fakers while non-flagged applicants are given a neutral message. All respondents are then given the “main item block,” consisting of a second testing of the faking items followed by the full personality measure.


This method’s utility rests in combining best practices from the faking literature: using a proactive mitigation strategy, only providing a warning to potential fakers, and allowing an opportunity for retest. In an organizational quasi-experiment, and a student-based true experiment, the researchers demonstrated that flagged applicants lowered their scores after the warning was provided. Another benefit was that the perception of the test was not significantly affected. As selection methods become more technologically advanced, new opportunities for reducing faking, such as this new method, will provide organizations with an opportunity to reap the benefits of personality testing while reducing exposure to its drawbacks.

Fan, J. Gao., D., Carroll, S.A., Lopez, F.J., Tian, T.S., & Meng, H. (2012). Testing the efficacy of a new procedure for reducing faking on personality tests within selection contexts. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(4), 866-880.

Image credit: istockphoto/ElenaMist