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So what’s the situation regarding social desirability?

Selection and Recruitment

So what’s the situation regarding social desirability?

How do you deal in practice with self-deception and impression management?

Recruiters regularly ask us what to do with a candidate who has a high score on social desirability. How do you manage an interview with them?

A brief reminder:

We distinguish between two forms of socially desirable answers: self-deception and impression management. We talk about self-deception when someone has an unrealistic picture of themselves. In impression management, someone consciously paints a certain picture of themselves, in order to create a more positive image. It is easier to explain how to manage a candidate with a high score for impression management than how to manage a candidate with a high score for self-deception.
Tip: in personality measurement, impression management and self-deception is measured using control questions. These questions are separate from the questions from which a candidate’s personality profile is derived. The score for impression management or self-deception cannot therefore be specifically linked to one or more personality aspects or to specific competencies.

In the HFMtalentindex reports, social desirability is indicated by means of a 1, 2 or 3, so you can see at a glance what to take into account in the interview:

1 - no indication
2 - some indication
3 - indication

Impression management

A higher score for impression management is more likely among people from collectivist cultures. That is something to take into account. It is also interesting that a higher score for impression management occurs more frequently in selection assessments than in development-oriented assessments. If you want a new job, you will tend to present a more positive picture of yourself than when you want to know potential areas for personal development. Particularly when someone is applying for a commercial job, a higher score for impression management seems logical. Jan Meijning, senior assessment psychologist: “In my experience, impression management is mainly about the candidate “selling themselves”. I therefore often come across some indication among candidates for commercial jobs. Because selling yourself is fairly logical behaviour for such jobs, I don’t find such a score really problematic. The way I manage it is to discuss the score with the candidate. In general, the candidate understands the point. I then ask directly which aspects/competencies the candidate feels he/she may have presented slightly too enthusiastically. In addition, impression management can occur among people who feel they are too well behaved. It is a scale which indicates the extent to which you tend to keep to the rules: candour regarding your own behaviour can also be an indication of impression management.”

Impression management and the interview

Research shows that it is very important to hold a well structured interview where there is a high(er) score of impression management. It appears that the more standardised a selection interview is, the less the interviewer is influenced by impression management during the conversation.
Some tips:

  1. It is crucial to ask more critical questions about examples outlined by the candidate. Ask more questions about practical examples. Be on the alert for so-called positive weak points like “I tend to work too hard”. Ask more about this.
    2. Combine the results from the report with concrete examples from the candidate’s current situation, for example “What strengths does your current manager give you as feedback? And what points for improvement?”
    3. Take the time for an interview. In a short interview, there is a greater risk of being outsmarted by impression management.
    4. Evaluate the candidate’s responses to each question separately and don’t just look at the overall picture. In the overall picture, you are more likely to be duped by the effect of impression management.
    5. Ask the simple question: “Which points have you exaggerated?”

Overall, ‘some indication’ of impression management can be easily neutralised and can sometimes be useful.


Everyone probably exhibits a certain degree of self-deception. But too much is never good. A high score for self-deception is rare (1%). “Some indication” for self-deception only occurs in 4% of cases. It is difficult to give uniform advice on how to manage this. Try explaining to someone that he doesn’t listen, while that person is convinced that he is a very good listener. If someone is unaware that he has an unrealistic image of himself, it is impossible to convey this within the limited time of an interview. Meijning: “A tip: don’t argue what’s true. If you do, you’ll get into a yes-no discussion. Someone with an unrealistic self-image will always insist that the result of the report is not correct. Instead, ask about any less strong points and ask for examples of these.”

Self-deception and the interview

As Meijning mentions above, there’s no use arguing with the candidate. There’s a reason why a candidate has a high score for self-deception. The penny isn’t going to drop in an hour’s conversation. Meijning: “The norm we set for a self-deception in our own online assessments is very strict. So don’t think that it’ll be fine in practice. Check whether the candidate is willing to show vulnerability and what he would want to improve in the future. What does he or she find difficult or what training would they want to do? Do you get a realistic answer or is it a disguised ‘I’m too good for others’? Ultimately, there’s only one thing you can do in an interview: ask probing questions about points for improvement. Get the candidate to give examples from practice and then draw your own conclusions. In fact, a high score for self-deception tells you: if in doubt, don’t do it.


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