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Faking and deviance


Disciplines > Human Resources > Selection > Faking and deviance

Different viewpoints | Interviews as social occasions | Faking as desirable | See also


The question of deviance of faking behavior may start with a consideration of what is ‘deviant’. Downes and Rock (1998) indicate the multi-faceted and contextual nature of deviance that can range from moral to criminal to political.

In the common usage within recruitment, there is an assumption that deviance has a deliberate element of deception with the purpose of achieving the goal of the applicant whilst bypassing goals of recruiters. As such, it is perceived as immoral at best and criminal at worst (for example deceptions that may lead to an unqualified fantasist gaining a job as a doctor).

Different viewpoints

Deviance, however, is an individual construction, and whilst a recruiter may consider distortion as deviant, applicants may have a social norm that positions it as ‘normal’, particularly if they socialize within groups of job-hunters (such as third-year students). Where the perception is that ‘everybody is doing it’, not to fake may be perceived as dooming oneself to certain failure. Recruiters may also take this assumption and cognitively downgrade impressive applications.

Just as interviewers may be trained, so also are there many ways that interviewees be trained, practicing on web-based MBTI alternatives, reading the many self-help books (such as Bolles, 2004), being coached and so on. This again is a socialized process where it is considered ‘good practice’ to prepare for interviews by learning how to fake. Recruiters may even collude with such activities, welcoming such preparation as an indication of the seriousness of candidates.

In any persuasive situation, arguments are likely to be more extreme in order to sway the other person (Pruit, 1971). This is also likely within interviews, where the goal of the interviewee is to sway the interviewer. In the other direction, the interviewer may be torn between the role of company representative, attracting good applicants, whilst also taking the role of objective and dispassionate judge, seeking only the truth of the applicant’s capabilities.

Interviews as social occasions

Within the situation of the interview, the interviewer and interviewee form a temporary group and as such are likely to succumb to group behaviors such as politeness (Brown and Levinson, 1978) that constrain and distort communications. There will also be natural harmonization, where each may subtly change to be more like the other (Giles and Wiemann, 1987). Social desirability bias (Fisher, 1993) is likely to lead both alter their behavior to be more acceptable and attractive to the other. Equity theory (Adams 1963, 1965), also points to the likelihood of a seeking of a balance of exchange. Where an interviewer is drawing much information from a candidate, this may drive them to seek to redress the balance, perhaps by interacting more or giving way on questions of doubt.

In interpersonal deception theory, Buller and Burgoon (1994, 1996) note that deception happens in a dynamic interaction where liar and listener dance around one another, changing their thoughts in response to each other’s moves. ‘Normal’ behavior in such situations includes manipulation of information, strategic behavior control and image management. Social interactions are complex and many, and even if either party is deliberately seeking to be objective, the subconscious nature of communication makes it impossible to fully suppress.

Robinson (1996) describes a ‘pyramid of truths and falsehoods’ that indicates the complex fabric of truth in social environments, ranging from the normal social interactions where truth is a negotiated variable through to the scientific pinnacle, where truth is proven and largely unchallengeable. Again, this indicates the dilemma of the conversation between interviewer and interviewee who may be sitting at different levels. This highlights how the legitimacy and desirability of faking is situated with the person and their individual context beyond the interview arena. What is deviant and unwelcome to one may be a natural social dance to the other.

Faking as desirable

In the reality of everyday company business, faking may be a normal and even necessary skill. Some jobs in particular may require the assumption of brand-aligned personas (eg. customer service staff) whilst jobs such as sales and marketing may require some form of distortion that is not unlike the impression management that a job candidate may use. In such cases, recruiters may actively provoke and seek faking in aligned assessment contexts, such as in the ability to maintain a calm exterior when under pressure and where a ‘truer’ expression would involve expression of strong emotions.

Despite these concerns, it has been found that faking have negligible results on psychometric outcomes (eg. Barrick and Mount, 1996) and, provided recruiters are aware of the effects, it need not be assumed that psychometric results (particularly from established and proven tests) are invalidated by faking results.


See also

Social Desirability


Adams, J. Stacey (1965), “Inequity in social exchange”, in Berkowitz, Leonard (Ed), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 2, Academic Press, New York, pp. 267-299.

Barrick, M.R. and Mount, M.K. (1996). “Effects of impression management and self-deception on the predictive validity of personal constructs.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 81, 265-72

Bolles, R. (2004). What color is your parachute? Berkeley: Ten Speed Press

Buller, D. B. and Burgoon, J. K. (1994). “Deception: Strategic and nonstrategic communication.” In J. A. Daly and J. M. Wiemann (eds.), Strategic interpersonal communication (pp. 191-223). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Buller, D. B. and Burgoon, J. K. (1996). “Interpersonal deception theory.” Communication Theory, 6(3), 203-242.

Downes, D. and Rock, P. (1998). Understanding Deviance, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fisher, R. J. (1993). “Social desirability bias and the validity of indirect questioning.” Journal of Consumer Research, 20, 303-315.

Giles, H. and Wiemann, J. M. (1987). “Language, social comparison and power.” In C. R. Berger and S. H. Chaffee (eds.), The Handbook of Communication Science (pp. 350-384). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.


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