Last semester I took a seminar on digital ethics. In the course we examined how big data and algorithms intersect in models that analyze what we do and predict what we are likely to do next. Two of the books we read were Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction and Nick Bostrom’s Superintelliegence. I recommend both.

Many authors argue that the big data/algorithm nexus is increasingly determining and limiting our options in life. Some examples they provide are pre-selection in university admissions, calculating insurance premiums, or even setting bail in the justice system. They argue that in these, and other situations, our livelihoods are increasingly dependent on “making our cases to machines.” In the seminar we discussed the subsequent normative and ethical effects.

One situation I find particularly interesting is personality testing in the hiring process. The use of online personality testing to screen job applicants has exploded since 2000. In job interviews in the United States, between 60-70% of all candidates are required to complete online tests which purportedly assess their personality. Globally the testing market is expected to develop at a ~14% CAGR between 2019 and 2027 expanding from $2.3 to $6.5 billion.

Online personality tests are typically structured as a series of statements to which applicants must respond on Likert scales. This post’s image is a typical statement.

I wanted to know what people thought about lying on such tests and untruthfulness in job interviews in general. So I conducted some extremely unscientific research – I interviewed ten friends. My key findings:

  1. There is a clear schism between attitudes regarding the permissibility of misrepresenting factual information and misrepresenting personality traits.
  2. My friends are a bunch of liars.

All respondents found it absolutely unacceptable to “misrepresent or overly embellish factual information such as degree of education, past positions held, or results achieved in those positions.” Conversely, all respondents found it acceptable to intentionally misrepresent personality traits. Justifications included:

  • downplaying relevance – “It’s not really lying. It’s just a first step to get to the interview.”
  • defiance – “Such tests are bullshit. They have no bearing on job performance.”
  • emphasizing competitor’s conduct – “Other applicants would lie. I would put myself at a disadvantage by not doing so.”
  • framer’s intent – “The test is really looking at your ability to adjust your personality and fit into a group.”

What do you think? Would you lie on a personality test? Leave a comment.

One thought on “Lying to get a job in the Age of Big Data

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