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What Are Employee Integrity Tests?

There are many characteristics of a good hire. Knowledge and skills are a major component, but what about integrity? If you could test your job candidates to reveal their scruples, would you? Learn more about integrity testing options and the job fields most likely to use them.

What is Integrity Testing?

Integrity testing is an interview or survey that relies on the candidate to self-report their tendencies toward certain behaviors. From their answers, employers can get a better idea of a candidate’s likelihood to take honorable, honest, and reliable actions in the future. This kind of personality test can provide insight into the problems an employee may cause before they are hired.

While not a perfect tool, it can limit liability, provide an idea of the candidate’s dependability, and contribute to a safer work environment. Most integrity tests are used in conjunction with other corroborating hiring process tools, like a background check, drug test, or employee reference requests.

There are two types of integrity tests:

  • Overt integrity test, which directly asks about dangerous or counterproductive behaviors
  • Covert integrity test, which uses a personality-type test to draw conclusions about likely integrity issues

In both types, the effectiveness of tests relies on candidates answering questions honestly.

Jobs That Can Benefit from Integrity Tests

These tests can be used in any position, but their cost and practicality limit them to being used in industries or roles where trust or security are most valued. Any position where the employee comes in contact with money or sensitive data may benefit from the use of integrity tests.

Examples of roles that rely on these tests most often include:

  • Teachers and childcare workers
  • Security officers
  • Money handlers at banks, retail stores, and customer service departments
  • Nurses, CNAs, and health workers
  • Any worker who regularly goes into a customer’s home
  • Employees in industries that deal with highly-classified information
  • Government employees

If risky behavior could cost the company a significant amount of money or trust—or could put them in legal noncompliance—integrity testing could help reveal red flags for future improprieties and may be worth the investment.

Pros of Integrity Testing

When done well, integrity tests can alert hiring teams to high-risk hires before they are brought on board. Hiring lower-risk employees can lead to a reduction in employee theft, employee substance abuse, and disruptive behavior. In turn, this can reduce turnover and improve productivity across the board as you create a company culture that other workers will deem safe.

If you have experienced conflicts with employees and declines in customer satisfaction due to improper behavior, an integrity test for future candidates may help reduce these issues. Remember that you shouldn’t use integrity testing for current employees. Instead, handle any issues with existing teams as they arise.

Cons of Integrity Testing

Before you get started, consider the potentially adverse impact of this type of applicant screening by reviewing the following:

Are Employee Integrity Tests Legal?

These tests have evolved over time, and most of the professionally-marketed tests aim to comply with the regulations laid out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, discrimination could still occur.

For example, tests cannot include questions that may hint to family status, religion, or even age. Even asking simple questions about mood or how they react to challenges could signal you are giving preference to those without mental health issues or physical disabilities. The risks that you may run afoul of the EEOA are very real and should be considered before you test.

Some tests are designed to indicate if a person is likely to commit a crime. But in many states, it’s illegal for an employer to ask if a person has a prior arrest or felony, especially if it’s unrelated to the type of work they will perform.

It’s best to have your legal department look over any integrity tests before you administer them for legality. Some jurisdictions have banned integrity test results as a condition of pre-employment.

Can Integrity Tests be Faked?

Overt test questions may be easy to discern and answer in a way that’s pleasing to the employer—even if the candidate is faking it and doesn’t believe what they are answering. It’s hard to imagine that someone would agree with a statement such as, “I don’t think stealing is wrong and have no problem doing it at work,” for example. It’s entirely possible that someone with poor ethics to simply figure out what you want to hear.

For this reason, it’s recommended that any integrity tests feature a variety of both overt and covert questions asked in a variety of ways to catch inconsistencies. If someone doesn’t answer two similar questions the same way, it could be a reason for concern.

The best tests may alert you to red flags in a potential employee, but nothing is foolproof. Use an integrity test as just one pre-employment test as you also run background checks and check past employer referrals.

Can Integrity Testing Screen Out Good Candidates?

Since the more honest people are likely to admit to their faults, it’s possible that these tests can be overly critical of good candidates. If you have a large candidate pool and don’t care that you may be excluding top talent, this is simply another way to cut through the candidate list. For those industries where skilled, honest workers are hard to find, take these results with a grain of salt and don’t rely on them solely in your search for ethical employees.

Are Employee Integrity Tests Ethical?

You may be wondering if it’s right to use a standardized test to decide who is a “good” worker and who is a “bad” worker. No test is perfect, and it’s possible that these tools can feel intrusive or overreaching in their mission to sniff out their counterproductive behaviors before they start.

Tests that use past mistakes as a litmus test for future mistakes are especially suspect. People can change, and if a candidate feels strongly about doing the right thing at your workplace, they may feel led to lie about past behaviors to get their chance at employment. This dilemma is itself an ethical quandary. 

Examples of Integrity Questions

It’s possible to get an idea of a candidate’s risk of deviant or illegal work behavior by asking questions. These questions fall into two groups: overt (or open) and covert (or veiled-purpose). You can ask variations of these questions, using guidance from your legal department to ensure they aren’t discriminatory in nature:

Typical overt integrity questions include:

  • Would you consider taking home a low-value item, such as a pen or ream of paper, stealing from your workplace?
  • Do you think that businesses, in general, look out for their employees and want to see them succeed?
  • How upset do you get when you are asked to do something that you don’t find is a good use of your time?
  • How much time is OK to take out of your workday for non-work tasks, such as internet browsing, online shopping, or daydreaming?

Typical covert integrity questions include:

  • True or False: I don’t like people telling me what to do.
  • True or False: I consider myself a risk-taker.
  • True or False: I find it hard to make connections with the people around me.
  • True or False: I like to attend social functions at least once a week.
  • True or False: I think everything should have a place.

Candidates may also be asked which of a range of statements they most identify with. For example:

  • I always tell the truth.
  • I tell the truth when it won’t hurt someone else.
  • I will try to tell the truth.
  • I don’t always tell the truth.
  • I don’t think it is important to tell the truth.

Having two sets of questions with the same meaning, but expressed in different ways, may also be useful. “I tell the truth” can be substituted with “I don’t lie,” for example.

If you do decide to use employee integrity tests in your full life cycle recruiting, make sure that they are used consistently for every candidate and are used as part of a wider arsenal of human resources tools. Track the metrics carefully, incorporating them into your applicant tracking system (ATS), if possible.

For more information on how to measure and use this data, try out Comeet’s free demo and see what our own ATS can do for you.


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