Cheating in employment tests: rule it out with TFP

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DATE: 26th April 2019


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So you’ve heard the buzz about testing in recruitment, but you’re concerned about the level of cheating in employment tests.

We’ve been where you are, and we get it.

Sometimes the process of hiring new employees can feel like an arms race: you start to use testing, and immediately candidates start trying to beat the system.

There are even posts in student forums asking how to do it.

That’s why Top Five Percent comes with anti-cheating protocols as standard.

We’ll tell you more about this later.

But when you’re recruiting, it helps to know the whys and wherefores of cheating in employment tests. Some of them are genuinely surprising.

So here’s our take on the issue.

Who cheats in employment tests?

We think this figure is probably about the same proportion of candidates who cheat in the traditional hiring process.

And by cheat, we mean things like giving answers in personality tests which match the person the candidate thinks you’re looking for.

A high-profile instance of this reached the news in 2014 when Paul Flowers, the disgraced chairman of the Co-op bank, was accused of gaming the testing process.

Some employers actually expect candidates to play the system, and feel that it demonstrates initiative and a competitive spirit.

After all, you could argue that this kind of cheating is on a par with creative CV writing, done to make the most of what the candidate has to offer.

And with a well-designed test, it’s not so easy to cheat convincingly.

When it comes to understanding more serious cases of cheating in employment tests, it helps to look at why people cheat.

Why cheat at all?

While it’s tempting to regard cheating as a sign of moral failure, the reality is more complex.

Organisational psychologist Dr Charles Handler suggests that out-and-out cheating in employment tests is a bigger issue in countries such as India and China than in more affluent societies like the USA.

This tells us (not to our great surprise) that where stakes are especially high, you can expect more cheating.

But what is surprising is that other environmental factors can influence a candidate to cheat, even where they haven’t intended to do so.

And afterwards they probably won’t even realise they’ve cheated.

Yes, you did read that right: cheating in employment tests can happen because of factors in the candidate’s environment, and it can happen unconsciously.

Research suggests that low levels of lighting and disorderliness both influence an applicant’s likelihood of cheating.

It seems that even physical posture can make a cheater. Taking a test in an ‘expansive’ pose can turn a well-intentioned candidate into a dishonest one.

It’s enough to make a recruiter despair, right?

Not really.

All these findings do is point out that cheating in employment tests can happen anywhere and amongst almost any group of candidates.

And as Dr Handler says, the best defence against cheating is multiple layers of security.

Cheating in employment tests – how TFP rules it out

We’re not cynical about human nature, but we are clear-eyed about what the science tells us.

Cheating happens, and it makes sense to protect against it.

One of TFP’s anti-cheating defences is the verification test.

Here’s how it works:

Say you spot a candidate who’s excelled in the skills test taken from home. TFP allows you to invite them to take a similar test under strict exam conditions.

We use different questions which test for the same thing, so if your candidate really is as good as they first seemed, they’ll have no trouble repeating their star performance.

If they fail, you know you have to cut them loose.

The bottom line: when you have Top Five Percent on your side, cheats don’t prosper. But you certainly do.

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