Honesty is the Best Policy in Job Search

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.

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  • While I also take the stance that honesty is the best policy, I have had three years of experience where my honesty has possibly prevented me from obtaining gainful employment. You see, when I was 18, I was charged with, made to plead guilty to, and convicted of a sex offense and now I am considered a Level 2 sex offender on the registry and all that crap. Regardless of my guilt or innocence, I served 5 years in prison and then 3 years on parole, both of which I finished flawlessly because I am not a bad person. Anyhow, job applications have right on there “Have you ever been convicted of a felony, and if so, please explain.” So I explain, and the few times in the last 3 years that I have been off parole that I have actually gotten a job interview, the final note is always something along the lines of “You have a solid education and great work experience prior to your conviction, we cannot take the risk of hiring someone with a conviction of such a nature working for us”, and this happens whether I am going for a welding job, a cooking job, or a cleaning job. Most potential employers haven’t even taken the time to tell me that, they just say that they will let me know and then I never hear from them. There was even a paint supply store that as I was walking out the door I saw the manager throw my application in the trash. It has depressed me so badly that I have not really tried to look for a job in the last six months or so. I am not going to lie on my applications and it is hard to explain a 5 year absence from the work force without bringing up that conviction, so I really don’t know what to do. I have even had problems when I have applied to local colleges and finally had to enroll in online classes because that was the only way that I was going to get any kind of college education. While honesty might be the best policy, honesty will also bring out the ugliest of truths within our society, from the disclosures and from the reactions alike.

  • heres a fact for you. most background checks are BS. they get basic info. the same as calling your references.

    yes they can pull public records. 90% of the time they do not unless there is a BIGG redflag.

    @tellinthetruth depending on what state you reside you may not have to write anything at all. if they ask for why you were absent from the workforce, just tell them you ran your own business for a while. or maybe you were taking care of a sick relative. they do not know.

    for being honest. i do not agree. are the companies you are applying for honest to you?

    eye for an eye.

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