Integrity tests are one type of pre-hire personality test that seeks to determine how likely it is that a person may engage in counterproductive work behaviors, such as theft, fraud, or tardiness. Most personality tests measure a person’s traits and behavioral tendencies through a series of targeted questions, but the way in which different tests go about asking these questions can vary quite a bit.
There are generally two types of integrity tests: overt and covert. Overt tests are fairly transparent about what they are asking you – an overt question might directly ask if you have ever stolen anything or how prevalent you think workplace fraud is. In general it is pretty obvious what an overt integrity test is attempting to measure. In contrast, covert tests go about assessing behavior indirectly by assessing personality traits associated with counterproductive work behaviors.
Covert questions essentially use an indirect approach to gauge the same type of information that overt questions do. However, one advantage of covert integrity tests is that it is more difficult for job candidates to manipulate an integrity test that uses covert questions.
Most personality tests require self-reported answers, meaning candidates answer questions about themselves. So candidates can potentially alter their responses to make themselves appear more desirable to employers. And while many tests have internal validity measures that monitor and flag test results whenever a candidate’s responses appear inconsistent or exaggerated, covert integrity tests make it more difficult for candidates to misrepresent themselves in the first place.
Let’s dig deeper into how this works in the context of integrity tests. One extremely basic example of an overt question could ask how much you agree with the following statement: “I think stealing is wrong.” There’s not a lot of nuance in this question, so any reasonable person applying for a job would probably answer strongly in the affirmative, that yes, I agree that stealing is wrong. So this question alone may not be all that helpful in identifying people who have a lax perspective on stealing.
A covert question might assess personality traits such as conscientiousness with statements such as “I pay my bills on time,” “I try to follow the rules,” or “I follow a schedule.” Research has shown that people who are conscientious, organized, diligent, and follow through on plans tend to be less likely to engage in counterproductive activities or ignore rules at work. This is how covert integrity tests infer the likelihood of bad behavior based on associated personality traits.
Covert tests have the added advantage of being tougher to “fake” because they are less transparent, but for both types of integrity tests, the concern about faking can be counteracted through the use of rigorously tested validity scales that detect and correct for such tendencies. Some integrity tests, such as the Workplace Productivity Profile (WPP), contain elements of both overt and covert integrity tests. Research shows that both types of tests can be effective selection techniques that can help companies manage risk effectively.