Well, it shouldn’t be.

A rather seasoned debate has existed, for about fifty years now, concerning job applicants and their propensity to intentionally “fake” personality assessments used in selection screening. Many have tried to answer the question of frequency of faking. Most of the research has used either scales designed to measure response distortion embedded within the assessment or comparisons of applicant to non-applicant samples on assessment results.

I’ve always felt the concerns about applicant faking were a bit over-blown primarily because the base rate for cheating in general is fairly low. It did occur to me a few years ago that a better way to estimate faking frequency would be to re-test people who were assessed as part of a selection process. I’ve had this on my list of research to do ever since. Thank goodness some outstanding scientist-practitioners have finally accomplished just this study.

In a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Ellingson* et. al., identified over seven hundred individuals who had completed the California Psychological Inventory for both selection and development purposes. So to put it more simply: A group of people who took the CPI as part of an employment screening process then again sometime later for professional development purposes.

After working the statistical magic needed to analyze the data, the researchers showed that there is indeed very little faking going on in the selection context. The bottom-line? Applicant response distortion amounts to an increase in personality scale means of approximately .075 standard deviation units—or a score change of 14.3 to 14.6 on a Flexibility scale. In short, the difference is not at all practically significant.

I encourage those so inclined to read the entire research paper, it is a fine piece of work. I hope that others will follow with similar studies using different personality instruments. In the meantime, it really may be time to put to rest this “faking” issue once and for all.


*: Ellingson, J. E., Sackett, P. R., & Connelly, B. S. (2007) Personality assessment across selection and development contexts: Insights into response distortion. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 386-395.