Have you ever fibbed on an employment application to increase your chances of being hired? Though it’s tempting to lie in order to impress potential employers, a new study of job seekers shows that honesty actually pays off. When applicants were warned in advance that fake responses could be detected on a pre-employment test, they provided responses that were more truthful.
Chris Wright, associate professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, led the study. The 200 participants completed a pre-employment test as part of a real application process for bus operator positions at a municipal transit organization. In addition to collecting data on applicants’ education, job experience and skills, the test assessed attitudes and behaviors concerning attendance, safety and customer service.
Before the test, half of the applicants were warned verbally and in writing that dishonest answers could be detected by the test, and that any misrepresentation would affect hiring decisions. The rest of the applicants weren’t warned at all about the test. According to Wright, the results suggest that some people do lie on pre-employment tests. However, a simple warning influences job seekers to provide honest answers, which ultimately generates more accurate test results. Further, applicants who were warned against lying were more likely to be rated as “honest” by the test’s lie detection scale. The findings are published in Applied HRM Research, a human resources journal.
While it’s a no-brainer that people are less likely to lie if they know they can’t get away with it, the study does have relevance in today’s job market. People do regularly embellish their applications in an attempt to influence hiring decisions. One background screening organization, Nashville-based Kroll, reports that discrepancies exist on about 48 percent of all job applications it reviews.
Employers are increasingly utilizing pre-assessment tools that have built-in scales with specially crafted questions to detect lies. For instance, job seekers might be asked to rate their agreement with unrealistic statements, such as “I have never lied.” Or, they might be asked the same question in three different ways to measure the consistency of their answers. Such tests are more commonly used now, especially for retail and service jobs.
Today’s job market is more competitive than ever; so to get a leg up remember the old adage that honesty is the best policy with potential employers.