UNC-Chapel Hill Grad Student Janel Burns sat at a laptop in her Durham apartment, taking a sample personality test. It was the kind you might take when you've applied for a new job.
"'If people are rude to me, I just shrug it off. Strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree,'" Burns read aloud from options on the screen. "Disagree. I don't just shrug it off. I do eventually, but..."
She admits she might answer differently if she were taking the test as a job candidate.
"I would probably say 'neutral', because it's, you want employees to not hold grudges. And it does depend on who the people are. So that's probably how I would justify putting 'neutral' for a job."
Burns remembers taking a similar survey for a sales job after college years ago. She was pretty sure the company was looking for people who were more extroverted than she is. So she played up that aspect of her personality in her answers.
"I didn't feel at the time that I was lying, but I definitely felt that I was skewing," she said.
Adam Meade said that's the problem. He's an Organizational Psychologist at NC State University, and he says personality surveys haven't been great predictors of job performance.
"The reason we don't see better relationships in the data and the studies is because of the way we measure personality," said Meade. "Because it is easy for people to game the system, so we don't really get good data on what personality looks like. And that's part of what I wanted to address here."
Meade and his team have created a personality test that is four times harder to fake. That's because it relies on instantaneous responses. Any hesitation, and your answer loses value. I tried it out out on grad student Janel Burns, and asked her to quickly respond to word prompts with 'like me" or "not like me".
"Not like me," she said quickly.
"Not like me."
"Like me," she asserted.
Burns hesitated, then groaned.
"Not like me."
Burns agreed this this test would be a lot harder to fudge. Something like this might have stopped her from getting that sales job after college, which she quit after eight months.
NCSU Psychology Professor Adam Meade and his colleague's paper on a faking-resistant personality assessment was published in the journal Organizational Research Methods. Meade has created a company that provides personality tests for businesses looking to hire new staff or coach executives.