Gaming Personality Tests
Recently, I have made presentations to a number of managerial and professional networking groups on the topic of test taking. I have often been asked by those having to undergo an individual assessment process, how to prepare for these tests. In today’s job market people are not necessarily interested in getting the right job for them, but any job. Thus, they view pre employment tests as not instruments that can let them shine in front of a prospective employer, but as a barrier to getting a job.
The fundamental question being asked is “can these test be faked?” If a test is a self-report of one’s personality, then the answer is a qualified “yes”. Yes, you can fake portions of these tests, but you may run the risk of having your results invalidated.
Test publishers are well aware of test taker motivations. The best tests guard against faking by creating what are called “lie”, or “social desirability”, or “unlikely virtue” scales. Interspersed within the test are items that can show a pattern of overly positive self-reporting. Examples are when test takers report that they have never done anything wrong, or improper. In short, they look too perfect of a human being. Receiving a high score on such a scale can result in the test publisher marking the tests results as “in-valid”, or “not interpretable”. Recruiters seeing this will automatically reject the candidate.
Another way test publishers identify test gamers is to conduct extensive research on how test gamers profile themselves compared with those that take these test more honestly. If a test taker’s personality profile mirrors that of gamers the results are flagged as potentially invalid.
Test publishers have other ways of preventing faking a good personality profile. Sometimes, test items are constructed in ways that force test takers to choose one of four descriptions that is “most like me” and one that is “least like me”. Over the series of dozens of questions like this, it is very difficult to rate oneself high on all the personality characteristics. One may be able to do so on one or two characteristics and may actually result in much less favorable results on other characteristics.
Advice to Employers
Many personality tests that are used for pre employment hiring were not created with that intent. Those made to provide insight into one’s personality and interpersonal and work styles were designed under the assumption that test takers are only fooling themselves if they try and fake a better personality profile. So, there was little reason to build in protections against faking. Thus, employers should be cautious about purchasing tests that were built for individual development and wanting to use them for employee selection.
Carefully constructing structured interviews that measure critical personality characteristics is another way employers can minimize faking. Using questions that get at specific past behaviors that are indicative of personality characteristics is a way to verify personality test results. Asking multiple questions that can triangulate on specific dimensions can help to provide multiple data points to make a more accurate measure of important personal qualities. Such interviews should be used to drill down on suspected overly positive personality test results.
Advice to Job Candidates
My simple advice to these people is:
1. Get a good night’s sleep,
2. Answer the questions honestly, and
3. Don’t overthink the question
I hope you find this informative. Please contact me to
learn more about any of the ideas presented.
Carl Greenberg, Ph.D.