Cheating on tests at a job interview: Can you do it? And should you?
From the series "I’m not crazy! My boss had me tested | Part 3"
A candidate’s guide to personality assessment and ability testing
It’s a Thursday afternoon. I’m sitting in a meeting room at a client’s office.
The coffee cups on the table are already empty. We have spent the last hour designing a Development Centre that would suit the client’s needs. All the pieces of the puzzle are in place. All of a sudden, the HR manager darts a question in my direction: “Oh, regarding the tests they’ll have, can they fake them? How do we know they’re telling us the truth?”
Well, that’s a great question!
Not just a great question, it’s also one of the most common when it comes to personality and ability tests at work. In fact, if you google names of some widely used tests and questionnaires, there will be guides on how to prepare for them among the first hits. Personality and ability tests are perceived by many as something unpredictable and even insidious. There is some mystery there that is being understood only by those few who know how the innards of these tools work.
Let’s reveal at least a bit of this mystery and answer the question: Can you fake a test at a job interview?
There is a difference between cheating and preparation
First of all, there are more types of tests. It depends on which one you have in mind. If we talk about ability tests (tests of numerical, verbal, logical reasoning or intelligence test) or knowledge tests, cheating is not much possible. This lies in the fact that when it comes to these tools, there are right and wrong answers. Your real capabilities are limiting you (if you’re not for some reason trying to turn out worse than you are).
This argument stands if you don’t copy someone else’s answers or don’t get the assignment somehow fishy upfront. In that case, you’re cheating, and your result will probably not correspond with your abilities.
However, it’s possible to prepare for these tests. There are many workbooks, seminars, and apps providing cognitive and knowledge exercises so you can hone your skills in this area. If you improve yourself by investing your effort, learning and working on yourself, you’re not breaking any rules as far as I’m concerned. Pushing your limits is one of the best things you can do.
Is it possible to cheat? In theory, yes, but…
So, let’s talk about personality and motivation questionnaires. This is a whole another story since there are per se no wrong answers. There are just answers. The hiring committee is not looking for the right answers; they’re looking for the most suitable answers given the job assignment, company strategy and culture and much more. If you’re truly interested in that job, you might be willing to go for miles and miles to present yourself as “the one.” However, on the road towards being seen as the best possible choice given your answers in a personality or motivation questionnaire, there are some serious bumps you should consider:
You might read the crowd wrong. The hiring committee is looking for the most suitable candidate. Are you sure you know who it should be? There are so many variables entering this equation, and even the hiring committee will often have a hard time figuring all of them out. It might be worth thinking over whether you’re not founding your efforts on a wrong assumption in the first place. It’s not about whom you would hire. The hiring committee’s vision can be very different.
Faking it consistently is a challenge. If the candidates and clients are asking this “Is it possible to fake it” question, the authors of these tools don’t fall behind. The authors of the best tools on the market sweat blood and tears to make faking as hard as possible. One of the tactics they use is making it very hard to produce consistent answers if you’re not answering according to your true nature. You will get asked many questions, in many forms, in a way that makes it complicated to memorize your previous answers if you’re making them up. The systems created for registering your answers are designed in a way that quite easily indicates if there’s something unusual about your answers. Although you shouldn’t be tagged as a cheater right away, there might be some follow-up questions for you from the hiring committee, and your result might come under much more thorough scrutiny.
Getting hired could be your worst-case scenario. Let’s say you were able to guess who are they looking for. Let’s say that despite your true self wasn’t the right fit, you managed to nail the questionnaire and get hired based on your fake answers. You were good enough in pretending to be someone else for the time it took to go through the hiring process. Now – are you good enough to keep being someone else every time you’re at work? Some say: “Fake it until you make it.” Do you believe this is the case? Perhaps they were looking for someone open-minded because the job is about exploring new opportunities and experimenting. If this is something you don’t feel comfortable with, you might be unhappy at your new job. Perhaps they were looking for someone extroverted because they want their new employee talking to many people. If this is something way out of your comfort zone, you might be miserable at your new job. Perhaps they were looking for someone structured and detail-oriented because this job is a lot about inspecting other’s work. If you, in reality, find such tasks incredibly tedious, your new job can easily become your snoozefest. Do you get where I’m going with this?
Being curious about the challenge in the form of a test or questionnaire is a good thing. If you can do something to prepare yourself better for that challenge, you should go for it. Presenting yourself as your best self is the winning strategy. However, if you’re willing to misrepresent important facts about yourself, you’re putting yourself on a thin line between playing fair and acting dishonestly. The cost of crossing this line lands not just on your employer’s side. You’re running the risk of landing a job that is not suitable for you, becoming part of a team where you don’t fit at all, missing an opportunity for your personal and professional development based on the feedback from the tests, and more.
Is it possible to cheat? In theory, yes.
Is it worth it? That’s an entirely different question. A question you should answer to yourself at the very beginning.