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Should You Cheat on Pre-Employment Tests? Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.


    You Need Every Edge You Can Get. Just Be Careful What You Wish For.

You saw the job on Workopolis, researched the company, applied for the position, got called in for an interview, then prepped until you knew your stuff cold. You really, really need this gig. Now you're in the employer's office, being grilled by human resources. Suddenly, they hand you a personality quiz to fill out. You're faced with a dilemma: Do you complete it? And, if so, do you answer it honestly, or try to cheat so they hire you?

Pre-employment testing is on the rise big-time. In this era of bottom-line fixation, companies are afraid to make mistakes in the hiring process. The days of recruiting by gut feeling alone have gone the way of extravagant signing bonuses and free doughnuts on Monday morning.

Bringing on the wrong employee can be disastrous. Wasted costs run into the thousands, including salary, benefits, severance pay, headhunter fees, training time, hiring efforts and squandered business opportunities - not to mention the tarnished reputation of the people who approved the hire.

You can see why employers would want to rely on more than just personal opinions. That's why they resort to "tests" (also known as statistically validated inventories) to back up their hunches. It's not that it gives them certainty, but it does add a quantifiable measure they can point to if need be.

So where does this leave you, the applicant, when faced with a barrage of aptitude and personality exams? On the horns of a thorny quandary. On the one hand, the law says you don't have to complete this type of questionnaire as part of an interview process. However, refusing to do so could lead the employer to conclude you've got something to hide. You can almost hear the cheers from the dozens of other applicants who'll gladly submit to the probing.

If you do choose to respond, the issue is clear: whether to answer as you normally would, or as you think the company wants you to. There are pros and cons for each approach.

In favour of being honest, the argument goes something like this. Isn't it better to be yourself and hope the employer will select you on your merits? After all, if you try to manipulate your answers, the tests are designed to catch you anyway.

Plus if you do end up getting hired, it means you're likely the kind of person who'll fit in there and you don't have to pretend to be someone you're not.

On the negative side of telling the truth, there's the harsh reality you might get rejected because you're not exactly what the employer wants. Something to ponder as you're wondering where your next rent cheque will come from.

As for cheating on the tests, well, why not give yourself every advantage in a deteriorating job market? After all, the employer's pulling out all the stops to weed you out. Shouldn't you fight back any way you can?

The argument against this strategy is equally compelling. Let's say you successfully fool the testers and you accept their offer of employment. When you show up for work they'll be expecting you to be the person you said you were in your test profile. So either you contort yourself to become who you claimed to be, or reveal your true self and let the employer decide whether "the new you" is worth keeping on the payroll.

For those of you convinced that faking the results is the better way, you might find the following books helpful. Ace the Corporate Personality Test (Edward Hoffman, McGraw-Hill, 2000), which claims to "show you how to dramatically improve your score and how to frame your answers to fit the position you are seeking"; How To Master Psychometric Tests (Mark Parkinson, Kogan Page Ltd, 2001); and How to Pass Advanced Aptitude Tests (Jim Barrett, Kogan Page Ltd, October, 2002).

Some of the hints they give? Don't try to come off as impossibly honest. You'll likely be asked several times if you've ever stolen from an employer, sometimes in different ways. If you keep answering "never," you'll trigger the test's internal lie scales. In other words, you'll be outed as a potential fibber.

Another tip is to choose the highest level (eg. 5 out of 5) on any questions relating to an outgoing nature if you're applying for a spot in sales or marketing.

So with all this info in hand, do you try to cheat the system or let the chips fall where they may? The dispute is summarized nicely by two readers of the books cited above. One says, "I do not understand why Dr. Hoffman would suggest to anyone that they misrepresent themselves on tests of basic personality. All you will get is an offer for a job that will not match your personality, that will make you miserable, and at which you will eventually fail." Another counters, "I must react to those who have taken the high moral ground in this debate relative to 'Tell the Truth.' We're talking corporations here and not Ben and Jerry's. ... Like the vegetable vendor who sells his bushel of fruit by placing the perfect pieces on the top; if you want cash for your tomatoes, learn how to do likewise."

In the end, it'll come down to how badly you want the job, how well you think you can fool the tests and how strongly you believe in yourself, the truth and in being authentic. Because when it comes to hiring, the best person always gets chosen. True or false?

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