Ask The Headhunter: How Can I Cheat on Employment Tests?

BY Paul Solman  December 17, 2013 at 7:51 AM EDT

By Nick Corcodilos

An online personality test for a job could soon turn into an in-person, proctored test, so don’t assume you’ll be able to fool employers by having someone else take the online test for you. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Nina J. G.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: A friend of mine has an important job interview coming up. It’s for a pretty high level job. Before she goes to the interview, they want her to do a personality type of test, and she’s very worried because she doesn’t test well. Her idea is to have someone else do the online test for her because no one would know. I think that’s cheating, but I understand her concern — she could miss out on a really good job over a test that won’t mean anything once she starts the job. Is there any way they could find out it’s not really her taking the test?

Nick Corcodilos: That’s a scary question.

We live under an employment system where people think they can buy resumes, interview answers, keywords and clever methods to beat the filters employers set up when they’re recruiting. It’s no wonder your friend thinks it’s okay to cheat on a test.

There are several issues of integrity in your question, but all I’ll say about this is don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t fake who you are. Even if you survive the guilt and even if you beat the risks, there’s a good chance that the payoff might be that you’ll win a job that’s not right for you because you misrepresented yourself. Doesn’t your friend understand that this is a big part of employment testing? It can be to her benefit as well as to the employer’s to do the test honestly.

My second point: I don’t like employment tests. I wish employers didn’t use them. If they’re going to truly assess a job applicant, they should do it directly, by spending time with the applicant and observing them in real-life work situations, not indirectly through tests. (See “Kick The Candidate Out of Your Office.”) So there’s my personal bias.

Now let’s put all this aside and deal with the very real problem of getting busted — because cheating on employment tests isn’t an option.

Your question is the perfect example of how ignorance about employment tests could needlessly cost you a great job — or even get you into bigger trouble. (Yes, bigger trouble. I’ll tell you about that shortly.) It’s not a matter of whether you’ll have to take one of these tests (and there are many kinds) but of when. I’m turning to an expert to answer your question: Dr. Erica Klein, author of “Employment Tests: Get The Edge… when you compete for a job.” (Klein’s PDF book is available in the Ask The Headhunter Bookstore). Industrial psychologists like Klein normally conduct and interpret research only for the benefit of employers. Here’s her advice for the job seeker.

Reprinted with the author’s permission from “Employment Tests: Get The Edge… when you compete for a job” by Erica Klein (pp. 9-10):

What about cheating?

High quality pre-employment testing benefits both employers and job applicants by matching them to help ensure mutual success. One way to think about cheating is that, if you cheat, you can hurt yourself by getting shoe-horned into a job that is not a good fit for you.

What is considered cheating? Usually the rules for taking the test are laid out for you before you start the test. Rules for test taking vary but usually require doing your own work, answering factual questions honestly, not accepting help from anyone else and not accessing other sources of information while taking the test. The rules for different tests will vary. For example, some tests allow you to use a calculator and some will specifically instruct you not to use a calculator.

Some tests are set up to catch certain kinds of cheating. One increasingly common practice is to provide two versions of the same test. The first test you take is “unproctored” — you take it from your own computer and nobody is watching you. If you are in the top group of applicants, you might be invited to take the test again, but in a proctored environment where you are watched while you take the test and your identity is verified. If your score on the second, proctored test is significantly lower than the score on the unproctored test, then the employer assumes you probably cheated and excludes you from further consideration.

[Get it? There's nothing to stop an employer from insisting that your friend take the test a second time, with someone watching. -- Nick]

Applicants sometimes try to get a better score on personality or integrity tests by choosing answers that reflect what they believe would be a perfect person’s answers. Test manufacturers are aware of this strategy and they have built in “lie detector” scales that catch applicants who portray themselves as perfect people with no flaws. This is sometimes called “claiming uncommon virtues” or “faking good.” If you score high on a built-in lie scale, you may be excluded from consideration for the position. One example of a question that could be part of an uncommon virtue/lie scale is “Have you ever told a lie no matter how small?” It is a rare individual who has never told even a small lie in his or her entire life.

I mentioned that ignorance about testing can lead to bigger trouble. Klein highlights this warning in her book:

If you get caught cheating on pre-employment tests, you might ruin your chances for employment not only in the job you applied for, but also with that employer, and even possibly with other clients of the test vendor.

That’s right: Cheat on one test, and you could get blown out of many jobs because the test vendor can keep track of your results from one employer to the next.

Your friend is not required to take any test, but the employer will probably dismiss her as a candidate if she doesn’t participate. If she wants a chance at this job, tell your friend to take the test herself, and to answer honestly.

Readers: Have you ever been surprised by an employment test? How did it turn out?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

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Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark. This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown — NewsHour’s blog of news and insight.