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Who is cheating to get ahead? Employers can land valuable candidates by assessing who they really are, not who they claim to be

Rachel Stewart Johnson

Psychologist | Driven by communications about human behavior in News

 With news breaking this week of fraud in applications to selective universities, applicants of a different sort -- for positions at sought-after companies -- might wonder how level the playing field is for them. Are applicants padding their resumes? Are back-room deals and “side doors” the norm? How does an authentic, hard-working job seeker distinguish oneself in this climate?

Since companies tend to rely on referrals and resumes that report specific pedigrees, candidate pools can be limited. Talented individuals who lack connections in the industry or who do not hold degrees from well-resourced universities may repeatedly fail to get a seat at the table.

 Meanwhile, companies that emphasize the resume as an influential gatekeeper are vulnerable in two ways.

  1. Resumes provide a limited snapshot of an individual and their history, which can lead to overlooking a whole subset of talent. People with transferable, high-value skills from other industries are likely to be skipped over, as are those with uncommon backgrounds or who are returning to the paid workforce after time away.
  2. Resumes represent an honor system and can be exploited. Applicants can embellish their credentials to varying extents, from providing outright false information to exaggerating work responsibilities. Lacking the time and resources to verify content, companies may end up with their fair share of beefed-up resumes.

Gaining a clearer view

That’s why new approaches to vetting candidates are necessary, with tools that provide a more nuanced view of who applicants really are and how they are likely to react to the needs, challenges, and opportunities of a position. Science can boost this effort.

The “Big Five” is a well-established way to summarize personality. The words we use to describe ourselves and others -- like “friendly”, “trustworthy”, and “stressed” -- cluster around five primary factors, which form the core dimensions of personality. These trait dimensions are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Emotional Stability.

Scientists have discussed this approach for decades. University of Texas professor Sam Gosling and his colleagues explained, “The Big-Five framework enjoys considerable support and has become the most widely used and extensively researched model of personality.”

Using this approach, employers can get a sound assessment of a candidate’s personality profile. This information can be used to ensure good matches between a position and an applicant. A position requiring frequent cold calls and face to face meetings is likely to be best suited to candidates high in Extraversion, for example. Those demanding that workers take on new approaches and generate innovative ideas are a good fit for people high in Openness.

But what about the way we measure these personality dimensions? Science can again step in. Measures that have been well designed are studied extensively before implementation. For example, a data analyst should ensure that the items in an assessment measure what they claim to measure, that they’re not being systematically misinterpreted, and that results don’t change from one time to another. Relatedly, an assessment that is completed quickly, with very little time taken to respond to each item, gives test takers less opportunity to reflect on and consciously manipulate choices.

Good news for applicants

These innovations in hiring and recruitment should bring comfort to the job candidate. While one’s counterparts can manipulate how much relevant experience they gained in a past position or even claim to have finished a degree that wasn’t conferred, they can’t change who they really are. Generally speaking, a person who becomes stressed with client demands and shifting deadlines will always be stressed in those situations, regardless of what success that may claim in past high-pressure settings.

Real-world behavior doesn’t lie. By gaining preemptive insight into how candidates behave and what makes them tick, companies are at an advantage. And that’s good news for the job seeker with the skills and personality to perform well -- those real attributes will shine through in the coming era of holistic, science-minded assessment of candidates. Employers that understand the personality dimensions of their applicants add an important piece to the portrait of a candidate. While some job applicants, just like some college applicants, may cheat, fudge, embellish or exaggerate to garner attention, a well-informed understanding of the individual as a person will help ensure the selection of truly valuable candidates.

 

 

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