Faking and It’s Implication for the Use of Personality Tests

Faking in personality tests exists. Anyone who tries to deny this is either a liar or deluded. The question is what this means for the application of personality tests for selection. At one end of the spectrum, there are those that would argue that this completely invalidates the use of test. This is despite the fact that we have a wealth of evidence to indicate that there is a relationship between personality testing and job performance.

On the other end, there is the view that it simply does not matter. A personality tool is nothing more than a reputational tool anyway and therefore what matters is how someone wishes to project themselves. This projection of reputation is what is predictive, not personality.

This latter view is not surprisingly the argument put forth by the test publisher Bob Hogan, who’s article in the 2005 Human Performance Journal reports some surprising validities for personality tests and ability tests.  For those that have not read his thinking on the topic:

Hogan, R. (2005) In defense of personality measurement: new wine for old whiners. Human Performance, 18, 4, 331-341.

Faking for Hogan and others is not a problem. For Hogan, if people know how to fake a personality questionnaire then they have understood what is expected of them and they can chose to behave in this desired way. If people do not know what is expected of them and cannot ‘fake’ it, then they are not able to perform that way. Faking for me is not really an issue.

This is only half the story. What is ignored is that personality tests can indeed screen out but due to faking they cannot screen in. If someone was to fail to project themselves in a positive light for a job, then this logic is sound in that they are unlikely to be right for the job. However, the opposite is not true in that all those who are seen as positive will not be high performers.

Due to faking, personality tools are far better at identifying true negatives than true positives (i.e. screening out). In practice, we are far more likely to accurately screen out ‘lemons’ using personality measures than we will ever be able to predict future stars.

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