Article

Who Is Faking on Assessments and Does It Matter?

As science practitioners, we push ourselves to deliver rich and meaningful insights into the ways our assessments help our clients. Equally important is using the data we gather to transform our understanding of assessments.

We are always seeking to understand how we can address the questions our clients want answers to. Working as external consultants means that the most important research inquiries for us are the questions our clients have—and sometimes the questions they do not even know they should have.

Fears we consistently hear are related to candidates faking, lying, or self-enhancing on an assessment and consequently invalidating their scores, such as:

  • What’s to stop a candidate from just lying about their work history?
  • What if a candidate exaggerates their abilities?
  • Won’t most candidates choose responses they think will cast them in the most favorable light?

These kinds of questions led us to study the impact faking might have on assessments. We already know a significant proportion of candidates are going to distort their responses on an assessment, so the main question we set out to answer was, “Does it matter?”. During our collective exploration, we uncovered an abundance of meaningful insights.

Who is faking

Our research investigated various components of faking using data sets ranging from over 100,000 to nearly 4 million candidates. By doing so, we were able to speak to the true impact of various forms of faking on assessments, resulting in several interesting findings.

We were excited to collaborate on a presentation with Walmart and Baruch College at SIOP 2018 to explore what happens when candidates try to fake their way through assessments.

Our research with Baruch College revealed that men are more likely to fake on assessments. More than half of the total applicant population engaged in some form of faking through self-enhancement, presenting an overly positive image of themselves that was untrue. Additionally, individuals belonging to a minority group are more likely to fake on the assessment, with Asians faking 10 percent more frequently than any other minority group.

Why? The hypothesis is that minorities are more motivated to fake since they are starting from a place of disadvantage. Individuals will do whatever it takes to get ahead in a high-stakes setting if it means they get the job. Interestingly, men are theorized to self-enhance more because they fear not appealing to traditional gender roles of success and being seen as inferior should they not perform well. However, regardless of the reasons, it is clear that faking is occurring to a substantial degree in assessment.

The next step was to move on from who is faking to where faking is occurring. Modern Hire compared performance on various assessment experiences in our Virtual Job Tryout alongside an objective measure of candidate faking to determine which candidates faked during the assessment.

We found that objective measures such as data verification and math could not be faked. In fact, candidates perform worse on these exercises when they are engaging in faking behaviors.

Situational judgment items also were highly resistant to faking as candidates may have an idea of what the correct answer is, but in many circumstances the most socially desirable response is not the best option.

Unsurprisingly, self-report measures such as work history and personality can be faked. If you can assume candidates are going to overstate their abilities, then building in decoy items to your assessment that can flag these individuals will help determine who may be exaggerating their responses.

The impact of faking

Once we determined what content can be faked we looked into the impact of faking.

Walmart demonstrated that people who lie about themselves are far more likely to exit the organization within 90 days, even up to within 6 months. These people are easily detectable during assessment. By removing them from consideration and factoring in the cost of turnover for an entry-level position, Walmart reported $28 million in savings.

The added bonus of this discovery is that these fakers are poor-quality candidates who are removed from employment consideration. They are people who are more likely to exit for “destructive” reasons such as misconduct, job abandonment, or excessive absences.

The bottom line

The cost to replace an employee ranges from 16 percent of their annual salary for lower-level jobs to 213 percent for a senior executive position (Boushey & Glynn, 2012). When candidates fake, they are lying about their abilities and demonstrating low integrity. These individuals are likely to be a poor fit within your organization.

While we know it is possible to develop assessment content that is resistant to faking, it is perhaps even more important to design content that can detect these fakers. Removing them from consideration early on will lead to meaningful savings from both a monetary and time perspective.