"Socially Desirable" Behavior and Hiring Decisions

Very often I hear from all my clients using psychometric assessments - "How do I ensure that the candidate has not responded in a socially desirable behavior?” This is more often than not, followed by another question “How do I decide whether to hire or not, if a candidate has responded in a socially desirable manner?" What these questions really aim to do, is to understand whether the person has tried to ‘present oneself as Mr. or Ms. Right’, or tried to ‘distort the recruiter's perception about himself/herself’? However, is it so bad to present oneself in a favorable manner? I know, my dear recruiting partner, you would really want to hear a ‘yes’ to the aforementioned question. So, then let’s try to understand the genesis of this behavior and how to handle such personalities.

"Socially desirable" behavior is masking one’s real self, and presenting oneself in a favorable manner. So is the term “personality”, derived from ‘persona’ meaning ‘the mask’. But it’s always not really bad to present oneself in a favorable manner or give one’s best attempt during the selection process. All of us do it at all points across the day. So, when does it become a concern?

When, we need to live up to the way we present ourselves. When a person fails to do so consciously or unconsciously, deliberately or unintentionally, the “persona” is perceived as distorted and the ‘Mr. Recruiter’ in you gets alarmed. To save yourself from such alarming situations you can take some proactive steps. To identify the truth behind an "invalid report" based on psychometric assessment, due to social desirability, you can choose the following ways:

» Response Distortion towards Social Norms

Such individuals do not always portray themselves as more socially desirable. Rather they distort their responses to match the norms of their desired role. For e.g., sales applicants portray themselves as high on extraversion and low on agreeableness.

» Elevated levels of scores on the role specific competencies

Individuals who tend to portray themselves in a favorable manner are likely to show elevated levels of scores on the competencies, but will be low on the self-regard and modesty facets of Big Five Model of Personality.

» Response distortion over a period

In a test-retest assessment or selection process, validation studies at Mettl have shown that the individuals are unable to distort their responses suitably which leads to inconsistency of scores on related competencies.

My dear recruiting partner, you might be wondering how you can utilize this information to play a safe “Hiring Decision Game”. Below are some simple steps, which will justify your decision making process:

> Anonymity of responses

When an individual doesn’t provide appropriate information and tries to be anonymous in sharing the desired information, they tend to be less accountable and compromising on the quality of responses.

> Hiring benchmarks to be based on incumbents

Researches have shown that desirable personality traits such as agreeableness and conscientiousness are rated higher by the applicants than the incumbents. Similarly on competencies like self-starter or stability, the applicants prone to socially desirable behavior tend to score higher than the incumbents. This can be resolved by creating benchmark scores for the traits or competencies by administering the test on the high performers incumbent in the organization.

> Impression management and undesirable tendencies

Impression management or adapting to the situation basis the job profile can be validated during the interview process. Validation studies have shown that such individuals are low in self-esteem, feel vulnerable and respond defensively to inflate their qualities.

Next time when you see an invalid psychometric report flagged due to socially desirable behavior or have doubts on some of the scores, follow the above rules and churn the wheel. We assure you a safe jackpot!


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