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Honesty is best for job-seekers

March 12 2011 - A recently published study indicates that honesty pays off for job applicants. Job-seekers in the study were warned that a pre-employment test could detect fake responses. Consequently, their answers were more honest than average - possibly improving their chances of being hired.

"The effect of warning against faking on noncognitive test outcomes: a field study of bus operator applicants" was published in the Winter 2010 issue of Applied HRM Research. The paper was co-authored by Chris Wright, associate professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, Joni Kuroyama, a former graduate student at SF State, Todd M. Manson of Indiana University Southeast and Chris J. Sablynski of University of the Pacific.

The study made use of a real recruitment exercise, including 200 applicants for bus operator jobs with a municipal transit agency. The participants had to complete a test to assess their attitudes and behaviors related to attendance, safety and customer service. Prior to the test, a half of the applicants were given written and oral warnings, telling them that if they misrepresented themselves it would be detected by the test and that information about honesty would be a factor in the hiring decision. The other candidates were not given the warnings.

Chris Wright said:

"People may be tempted to make themselves look as attractive as possible to employers, but honesty is always the best policy, since many pre-employment tests have ways to spot fakers. We found that applicants who were warned against faking achieved significantly lower test scores, suggesting that they gave more honest answers and hadn't exaggerated their responses in order to inflate their test results."

The research focused on tests designed to collect biographical data about job-seekers' education, employment experience, skills and attitudes. Such pre-employment assessment tools are increasingly used as part of the recruitment process - especially for retail and other service sector jobs.

Many such tests incorporate built-in faking scales relying on specially-designed questions to detect embellishments and fake responses. As an example, applicants could be asked to rate their agreement with unrealistic statements, such as "I have never lied." Alternatively, they might be asked the same question in different ways to check consistency. The researchers found that job-seekers who were warned against faking had a higher likelihood of being rated as "honest" by the test's lie detection feature, suggesting that simple warnings can reduce dishonest answerss

Chris Wright concluded:

"Our findings suggest that some people do embellish their answers on pre-employment tests. However, we also found that warning applicants can be a simple and cost-effective way for employers to influence people to provide honest responses, which will ultimately provide more accurate test results to inform hiring decisions."

Resume 'padding'

Almost a decade ago an intriguing survey conducted by the The New York Times Job Market research team indicated that 89% of job seekers and 49% of hiring managers in the New York metropolitan area believe that a significant number of candidates pad their resumes.

The researchers define resume padding as falsifying information on a resume to make a candidate look stronger. The hiring managers who believe that a significant number of resumes are padded consider that (on average) 52% of the resumes they receive are padded. But just 13% of job seekers surveyed admitted to ever having padded their resumes.

82% of responding job seekers say they think companies are aware of resume padding and believe that companies perform background checks on the following:

Some items on the resume
All items on the resume
None of the items on the resume

The survey identified the following techniques used by hiring managers to verify job candidates' claims made on their resumes:

Checking of references
47% Evaluating candidates during the interview process
Checking of past employers/schools listed on resumes
Asking questions of candidates to see how specific their answers are
Evaluating new employees once they are on the job
Requiring samples of candidates' work
Requiring candidates to complete tests during the hiring process

What happens if someone is hired and then found to have padded his/her resume? It seems that 68% of larger firms (100 or more employees) and 50% of smaller firms (less than 100 employees) have policies to address the situation. Most often the policy is to terminate the employment (79%). Disciplining the employee (7%) and an undetermined action depending upon what was padded (5%) are distant second and third choice actions.

29% of hiring managers and 21% of job seekers consider that any resume padding is a serious matter. Both groups believe the following to be the items most frequently padded on job seekers' resumes:

Job responsibilities
Length of employment
Education level
College attended/previous employment
Hiring Managers
Job Seekers

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