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Thesis Format



Master of Science




Goffin, Richard D.


References are a useful preemployment assessment for gathering unique personality information about job applicants. However, despite the capacity for external observers to provide valid personality ratings, references tend to be less accurate than similar preemployment assessments. This problem is important to address, since almost all organizations use references of some kind when hiring. This study attempted to improve the accuracy of the personality ratings provided in references by using two novel interventions believed to improve referees’ felt accountability to the hiring organization. These interventions included (a) a more elaborative rating format that asked participants to provide the reasons underlying each of their quantitative personality ratings, and (b) a monetary incentive that was issued at the start of the rating task. Two-hundred and eleven (N = 211) supervisors and managers completed a personality rating form while playing the role of a referee for four prototypical call center employees shown in a series of work-sample videos. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions in a 2 X 2 factorial design with Cronbach’s (1955) four accuracy components as dependent variables. The results suggest that the monetary incentive did not appear to meaningfully impact participants’ felt accountability or their personality rating accuracy. The reason giving requirements also had no effects on felt accountability, but interestingly had unintended negative consequences on participants’ personality rating accuracy. Possible explanations for these findings are discussed, along with study limitations and potential avenues for future research on references.

Summary for Lay Audience

References are a useful tool for gathering personality information about job applicants that is otherwise difficult to obtain. However, research suggests that references are often provided inaccurately, which reduces their overall effectiveness compared to other similar hiring tools. This problem is important to address, since nearly all organizations use some form of reference check when hiring. This study was conducted to investigate two new ways to improve the accuracy of the personality ratings provided in references. These two new ways included (a) altering the reference form so that participants had to describe the reasons underlying their personality trait ratings, and (b) altering whether or not participants received a monetary incentive as a token of appreciation for their ratings. It was predicted that each of these changes would lead participants to feel more accountable to the hiring organization, thereby improving the accuracy of their personality ratings. However, the results indicate that the monetary incentive had no significant impacts on participants’ felt accountability or rating accuracy, whereas the reason giving requirements had unintended negative consequences on the accuracy of their personality ratings. This research paradoxically suggests a potential new avenue for explaining rating inaccuracies in personality references. Study limitations and potential future directions for research on references are discussed.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
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Available for download on Monday, July 31, 2023