Tipultech logo

Preventing dishonesty

Author: Dr Simon Moss


In many settings, employees and managers need to restrict dishonesty. For example, recruiters would like job applicants to answer honestly during job interviews or psychological tests.

Subtle instructions before tests and interviews

Criticising rational decisions

Step 1. Before individuals complete a test that assesses their personality, they should be asked to reach some complex decision first, such as in which of two departments they would like to work. They should be informed that perhaps they should trust their intuition, rather than reflect upon the issue carefully. That is, they should be told that intuition tends to generate better decisions--decisions they are less likely to regret.

In particular, if individuals are encouraged to trust their intuition, they express attitudes that align with their core beliefs and opinions (Jordan, Whitfield, & Zeigler-Hill, 2007). For example, after reading an article about the benefits of trusting intuition to reach decisions, the subtle, almost unconscious attitudes of individuals towards themselves is more likely to shape their explicit depiction of themselves. If they feel unconfident and uncertain, they become less likely to admit these concerns on a questionnaire that assesses personality.

Alleviating anxiety and diminishing dejection

Some evidence indicates that individuals will respond to questions more honestly when they feel composed or enthusiastic rather than anxious or rejected. For example, when individuals feel anxious or distressed, they experience the need to comply with the norms and expectations of someone else (e.g., Baumann & Kuhl, 2005). They will, therefore, become more inclined to distort their responses to impress recruiters, for example. Likewise, when individuals disregard their intuition--a tendency that is prevalent when they feel anxious or dejected (Baumann & Kuhl, 2002)--their depictions of themselves seem biased& these depictions reflect their desired, not actual, traits (Jordan, Whitfield, & Zeigler-Hill, 2007).

Step 2. Hence,recruiters need to ask questions that curb anxiety and agitation. Examples include questions such as "Can you name someone in your life who always respects you, regardless of your behavior" or "Can you specify an aspiration you would like to achieve in a few years--and one act you have undertaken to pursue this goal" (e.g., Koole, Smeets, van Knippenberg, & Dijksterhuis, 2006. For more recommendations, proceed to Alleviating anxiety or Diminishing dejection and depression).

Explicit instructions before tests and interviews

Personality assessments

Step 1. Often, job applicants are asked to complete tests that assess both their personality and intelligence. In these instances, applicants should not be instructed to respond honestly or forewarned that perhaps their referees might be consulted to verify their answers.

Step 2. Sometimes, however, applicants apply for jobs in which intelligence is essential but not assessed during the recruitment process. In these instances, if applicants are requested to complete a personality test, they should be forewarned they must respond honestly because their referees might be consulted to verify their answers.

When job applicants or employees complete personality tests, and forewarned they must respond honestly because their referees might be consulted to verify their answers, these inventories are less likely to reveal valid information. That is, before job applicants or employees complete personality tests, they are sometimes informed their referees might be consulted to ensure their responses to this inventory are accurate. To impress recruiters, they must first identify which responses on the personality test are most desirable. Second, they must consider the perceptions and opinions of their referees. Finally, they must provide responses on this personality test that resemble both the most desirable answers as well as the likely perceptions of their referees. Only intelligent individuals can fulfill both of these goals. Hence, only intelligent individuals can readily portray themselves favorably when forewarned they must respond honestly (Vasilopolous, Cucina, & McElreath, 2005).

Choice of tests

Assess capacity to distort their answers

Step 1. Managers often want to administer a personality test to employees. To ensure this test is effective, 30 or so employees should be asked to be dishonest. That is, these employees should attempt to portray themselves as exceedingly productive, efficient, and ethical. Tests that indicate these employees are appreciably more desirable than everyone else should be discarded. These tests are clearly susceptible to dishonesty.

Personality tests, many of which are utilized by recruiters, psychologists, and consultants, are less effective than generally claimed (Griffin, Hesketh, & Grayson, 2004). Many experts claim these tests are effective. For example, according to some experts, individuals whose responses indicate they are undisciplined or rigid tend to be less effective at work. To illustrate, individuals who agree with statements such as "I often embark on activities, such as holidays, unprepared" or "I do not like science or philosophy" are more likely than colleagues to be perceived as unproductive by supervisors.

Unfortunately, university students or current employees--rather than job applicants--are typically utilized to complete this research. Job applicants, however, are more likely to conceal their deficiencies. That is, they overestimate the extent to which they are disciplined, organized, responsible, motivated, and receptive to novel ideas but underestimate their enjoyment of art. Findings that suggest that personality tests are informative, therefore, do not always apply to job applicants.

Integrity tests

Biases towards norms

Step 1. When job applicants complete tests that assess their personality, they often distort their responses. In particular, applicants will tend to portray themselves--either deliberately or inadvertently--as similar to their perception of a typical employee in the job to which they are applying (Mahar, 2006). If, for example, they apply for a leadership position, they will bias their answers to reflect a typical leader. They might, for example, admit they are "Able to assert their opinion when necessary". If, in contrast, they apply for an accounting role, they might answer this question very differently.

To assess this tendency, applicants should receive a standard personality test, except they should receive information that distorts their perception of a typical incumbent. They could, for example, be informed "Most accountants in this organization tend to be very assertive" and then asked to depict the extent to which they are assertive. Later, they should receive a similar question, but after the statement "Many accountants in this organization are also very obliging". Job applicants whose answers significantly depend on the depiction of a typical incumbent might be distorting their responses.

Strategic discussions

Debate about values

Step 1. Managers should convene meetings in which employees discuss the benefits and drawbacks of honesty in the workplace. They should first highlight some of the benefits, such as trust in colleagues, before considering the complications

Soon after individuals are instructed to identify and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of honesty, or indeed any value, they are indeed more likely to fulfill this value (Maio, Olson, Allen, & Bernard, 2001). Under stress, employees do not always fulfill their values. Instead, they engage in behaviors that are optimal from the perspective of logical or rational arguments. Discussions about values, however, demonstrate that such ideals stem from rational and logical arguments. After these discussions, therefore, individuals are less likely to discard their values during stressful conditions.

Implications of dishonesty

Socially desirable responding and personnel selection.

During the recruitment process, individuals might distort their responses to questions, such as items in personality inventories, to portray themselves more positively, called socially desirable responding (Paulhus, 2002 & see Socially desirable responding)

A meta-analysis conducted by Viswesvaran and Ones (1999) implied that respondents can readily distort their responses, depicting themselves as erroneously desirable, when they complete personality tests that assess extraversion, emotional stability, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Specifically, as this meta-analysis shows, when individuals are asked to depict themselves positively, called faking good, extraversion, emotional stability, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness all rise. Increases approximate .5 of the standard deviation.

Nevertheless, Hogan, Barrett, and Hogan (2007), suggested that individuals, although able to distort their answers, might nevertheless chose to respond accurately during recruitment processes. For example, they conducted a study in which the personality of applicants was tested twice. First, they completed a questionnaire before applying for a specific position. Second, they completed the same questionnaire again before applying for an identical position six months later, because they had been rejected previously. Hogan, Barrett, and Hogan (2007) argued these applicants might be more motivated to distort their responses the second time, because they had not been successful previously. However, personality did not vary across time.

Birkeland, Manson, Kisamore, Brannick, and Smith (2006), however, showed that applicants do indeed, on average, distort their responses to ensure they are perceived favorably. However, the precise distortions are likely to vary across roles. For example, Birkeland, Manson, Kisamore, Brannick, and Smith (2006) showed that sales applicants were more likely to inflate their level of extraversion but underestimate their level of agreeableness. That is, job applicants might distort their responses to align more closely with a typical incumbent.


Baumann, N., & Kuhl, J. (2002). Intuition, affect, and personality: Unconscious coherence judgments and self-regulation of negative affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1213-1223.

Baumann, N., & Kuhl, J. (2005). How to resist temptation: The effects of external control versus autonomy support on self-regulatory dynamics. Journal of Personality, 73, 443-470.

Birkeland, S. A., Manson, T. M., Kisamore, J. L., Brannick, M. T., & Smith, M. A. (2006). A meta-analytic investigation of job applicant faking on personality measures. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 14, 317-335.

Griffin, B., Hesketh, B., & Grayson, D. (2004). Applicants faking good: Evidence of item bias in the NEO PI-R. Personality and Individual Differences, 36, 1545-1558.

Hogan, J., Barrett, P. & Hogan, R. (2007). Personality measurement, faking, and employment selection. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 1270-1285.

Jordan, C. H., Whitfield, M., & Zeigler-Hill, V. (2007). Intuition and the correspondence between implicit and explicit self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 1067-1079.

Koole, S. L., Smeets, K., van Knippenberg, A., & Dijksterhuis, A. (2006). The cessation of rumination through self-affirmation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 111-125.

Mahar, D. (2006). Stereotyping as a response strategy when faking personality questionnaires. Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 1375-1386.

Maio, G. R., Olson, J. M., Allen, L., & Bernard, M. (2001). Addressing discrepancies between values and behavior: The motivating effect of reasons. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 37, 104-117.

Paulhus, D. L. (2002). Socially desirable responding: the evolution of a construct. In H. I Braun, D. N. Jackson, & D. E. Wiley (Eds.), The role of constructs in psychological and educational measurement (pp.46-69). Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Vasilopolous, N. L., Cucina, J. M., & McElreath, J. M. (2005). Do warnings of response verification moderate the relationship between personality and cognitive ability. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 306-322.

Viswesvaran, C., & Ones, D. (1999). Meta-analysis of fakability estimates: Implications for personality measurement. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 59, 197-210.

Academic Scholar?
Join our team of writers.
Write a new opinion article,
a new Psyhclopedia article review
or update a current article.
Get recognition for it.

Last Update: 5/15/2016