T or F? Honesty Tests Really Work
Inc.'s "scout's honor" honesty poll (Managing People, September 1991, [Article link]) produced some passionate responses. We were emphatically advised about proper behavior and counseled about how to pose better queries. (See chart, below right.) The first thing we learned about honesty quizzes is that they can provoke a lot of resentment among test takers.
We've also learned that even seemingly irrelevant questions can pose problems for less than honorable test takers. "The content of items really doesn't make any difference," explains Dr. David Arnold of Reid Psychological Systems. "We may have an item that says, 'I would really like to try skydiving.' It's hard to come up with why that has any connection to honesty in the workplace. But we may have research that shows people with high levels of integrity say they would like to try skydiving."
So how well do skydiving questions weed out the undesirables? Well, they're no panacea. According to Arnold, Reid correctly classifies test takers only 80% to 85% of the time. It errs in both directions. Seven percent to 10% of the people you hire based on the test will not be trustworthy, and 7% to 10% of the people you turn down because of it would have been good employees, says Arnold. Yet Dr. Wayne Camara of the American Psychological Association says: "We still find these tests work better than any other technique."
If you're thinking of using honesty tests, beware. Some have so little supporting research that their claims are almost fraudulent, says Camara. And although the three largest publishers (see Resources, [Article link]) have loads of research behind their tests, think twice before buying a test on the strength of that fact alone. All tests must be carefully matched to your organization and the job.
The best way to pick a test is to hire an industrial psychologist, a labor lawyer, or an academic to evaluate the test that's best for you. But since that may cost you up to $100 an hour, you may want to do your own analysis. As a guide, consider Linda A. Goldinger, R. Michael O'Bannon, and Gavin S. Appleby's Honesty and Integrity Testing: A Practical Guide ($39.95 plus $4 for shipping, Applied Information Resources, P.O. Box 420281, Atlanta, GA 30342), which describes all the facets of honesty tests, reviews 40 tests, and includes a descriptive directory. Or the Association of Personnel Test Publishers' Model Guidelines ($10, 202-639-4314) for integrity tests. It doesn't critique specific tests, but it does tell you about how to select tests and interpret scores.
Just How Honest Are You?
We don't have the "right" answers to Inc.'s "Scout's Honor" honesty poll -- those are proprietary, according to the test publishers from whom we purloined our questions. But we do have some bad news for the IRS. Not content to answer a simple Yes or No to Question 8, a large number of our respondents agreed with the reader who wrote, "Of course -- I think that's called aggressive tax avoidance." Here's how Inc. readers compare with one another on the questions:
(results in %) Agree Disagree Undecided
1. It's OK to take something from a company that's making too much profit. -- 97 3
2. Stealing is just a way of getting your fair share. -- 100 --
3. If I'm passed over for a promotion, it's OK to take things from work to get back at the company. -- 100 --
4. When a store overcharges its customers, it's OK to change price tags on merchandise. -- 97 3
No Yes Unsure
5. Do you always tell the truth? 83 15 2
6. Did you ever think about committing a burglary? 70 30 --
7. If you could get into a movie without paying and not get caught, would you do it? 70 29 1
8. Is it OK to get around the law if you don't actually break it? 27 61 12
-- Ellyn E. Spragins