Minority of graduates prepared to cheat to get ahead

Aug 07 2006 by Nic Paton Print This Article

More than a sixth of graduates applying for jobs would be prepared to cheat to get an advantage over their candidate competitors, a British survey has discovered.

A poll of 534 students by HR consultancy Cubiks has found that about 15 per cent said they would be "prepared to gain an unfair advantage" by changing their CV's and 10 per cent would cheat on an unsupervised ability test.

One in 10 also said they would try to cheat on a personality or competency questionnaire.

The study aimed to assess how the revolution seen in recent years in how graduates apply to organisations has affected the way students view the process.

Rather than being asked to complete a paper-based application form or send in a CV with a covering letter, it is now far more common for candidates to visit a section of a company's web site and take part in a series of online selection stages.

Online ability testing was now widespread, the survey found, with more than three-quarters of those polled saying they had completed an ability test for selection purposes and 62 per cent a computerised ability test in unsupervised conditions.

Home was the preferred location for such remote testing: The vast majority of those who had taken part in an unsupervised test had completed the test at home, while 31 per cent had completed a test in a university computer room and 18 per cent in a private office.

Some applicants complained of being affected by interruptions. Nearly half Ė 45 per cent Ė of those who had completed an unsupervised computer-based ability test said they had been interrupted during the process, usually by another person or by the telephone.

Nearly two thirds of these felt the interruption had adversely affected their performance, but only 8 per cent had actually reported it to the employer.

Technical difficulties were less common, with just a third experiencing problems when completing computerised assessments.

Of these, nearly two thirds again felt the difficulties had adversely affected their performance and half these reported it to the employer.

Four out of 10 thought computerised ability testing was unfair, with factors that appeared to influence how a test was perceived including: its relevance to the role, its ease of use, the level of support provided to candidates and whether the test is used on a standalone basis or as part of a wider series of assessments.

These findings, said Cubiks, illustrated that employers and test developers needed clearly to communicate to applicants how the tests were to be used.

The more confident the candidate was, the more likely they were to perceive ability tests as being fair, and the more likely they were to enjoy the testing experience, the research added.

Most applicants, the survey stressed, would not cheat to get ahead. When asked to select the methods they would use to maximise their performance on unsupervised computerised tests, the overwhelming majority selected fair methods such as reading information about the tests beforehand, completing practice questions and reading wider material that is available on the employer's web site.

But a small minority would resort to cheating. A total of 11 per cent of those polled said they had attempted some degree of cheating when completing unsupervised assessments.

A total of 7 per cent had asked friends or relatives to assist them, 8 per cent had managed to get hold of the questions in advance, a similar percentage had practised the test under a pseudonym in advance and 3 per cent had even attempted to circumvent the technology.

Cheating was more likely in application forms and CVs, with the survey revealing that more people were likely to attempt to gain an unfair advantage through conventional selection methods than during an unsupervised ability test.

For example, 15 per cent said they would be prepared to gain an unfair advantage using their CV, 13 per cent using an application form, 11 per cent via an unsupervised ability test and 10 per cent via an unsupervised personality or competency questionnaire.

A desire in an increasingly competitive jobs' market not to lose out on a job was the chief motivation for cheats, the survey found.

The most common reasons given for cheating was either really wanting the job or feeling they would be good at the job if only they could get through the selection process.

When asked to name the factors that would deter them from cheating, almost four-fifths reported their honesty would be enough to stop them acting unfairly.

A fifth said an honesty contract with the employer would discourage cheating and almost the same number said they would be deterred by the possibility of a re-test later in the selection process.

Of the 375 employers polled by Cubiks, just 8 per cent though academic qualifications were always a reliable indicator of successful job performance.

Rather than relying on qualifications, the vast majority of employers preferred to ask candidates to complete a range of different work-related assessments to identify the most suitable candidates.

The vast majority of employers regularly saw lies and exaggerations in CVs and application forms.

Only 2 per cent felt they never encountered either of these, proving why it was so important for employers to have rigorous selection procedures in place.

The most common reasons for rejecting candidates was because they lacked the core skills or abilities needed to do the job (36 per cent) or because of a poor personality fit (33 per cent).

Almost two thirds of those surveyed (59 per cent) were required to withdraw job offers because the candidate received a poor personal reference.

This suggested that too many inappropriate candidates were making it through to the final selection stages and not being identified earlier in the recruitment process, said Cubiks.

More than half said they had lost candidates because they found them unwilling to invest enough time in the company's selection process.

"Whilst the majority of candidates are likely to respond honestly in unsupervised environments, both the candidate and employer surveys have highlighted the need for organisations to put rigorous assessment and security measures in place to protect themselves against a minority of candidates who are willing to cheat to get ahead of the competition," said Cubiks.