Organizations don’t just want people with talent; they want employees whom will fit in with the overall culture of their organization, including mission, vision, and values.
Research on person-organization fit has long suggested that organizations experience positive outcomes when their employees experience a high level of personality synchronicity with the existing organizational culture. Some of these positive outcomes include higher organizational commitment, better job performance, and lower turnover.
However, job applicants often fake answers to job interview questions, or answer in socially-desirable ways. How can organizations know if applicants actually fit in with the organizational culture, or whether the applicants are just making it seem that way?
PERSONALITY TRAITS THAT COULD BE EASY TO FAKE
Researchers (Roulin & Krings, 2019) decided to test how and when applicants falsified job-interview answers, by investigating how they responded to pre-hire personality assessments. First, they looked at the traits of honesty-humility and agreeableness. These traits were chosen due to their relationship with competitiveness.
In this study, researchers expected that applicants would decrease their honesty-humility scores to match a competitive culture and increase them to match a non-competitive culture. When it came to innovation, researchers expected applicants to increase their scores on openness to match a more innovative culture and decrease these scores to match less innovative cultures.
FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT
In the first study, researchers had 200 participants take two personality tests—one that appeared in a job selection scenario and another in which they were asked to reply honestly. This allowed researchers to determine if perceived organizational culture actually causes applicant faking. Their hypotheses was supported when participants showed tendencies to fake being more or less competitive in order to match how competitive they perceived the organization to be.
The researchers conducted a second study using similar methodology to the first study. They used 125 participants and found similar evidence of faking to match perceived innovation culture.
The researchers conducted a third study that was designed to catch applicants faking person-organization fit. Here, researchers tried to control for self-selection; that is, applicants might be drawn to interview in a culture that already seems to meet their values. If that was the case, there might not be a point in faking answers on an assessment. Results indicated that employees still faked their answers, as was seen in the first two studies.
The fourth study attempted to show that faking would still occur when the applicants chose the organization they applied to, as opposed to the previous studies in which participants were told the organization they were applying to. Strategic faking was still present, although researchers acknowledge there could still be other influences on this relationship.
In the fifth and final study, researchers attempted to rule out anything that might have impacted the fourth study. They still found that participants faked to increase their cultural fit, whether or not they chose the organization to which they applied.
In sum, the researchers determined that job applicants fake answers on personality assessments in order to appear appealing to an organization. Still, this faking may happen less often when applicants can choose where to apply—as real-life applicants obviously can. The bad news for organizations is that current methods of catching fakers are not as useful when the assessment is attempting to measure cultural fit. After all, personality tests are self-reported, and it is fairly easy to ascertain when a question is looking for an answer related to a competitive or innovative trait.
All organizations can do is fly their cultural flag high to attract the right candidates. Ideally, these candidates truly want to be part of the organization and naturally have the right person-organization fit. However, organizations should still be aware that applicants can use their perceptions of the organizational culture to fake their answers on an assessment.
Roulin, N. & Krings, F. (2019). Faking to Fit In: Applicants’ Response Strategies to Match Organizational Culture. Journal of Applied Psychology, online first.