Personality Testing . . . Should I? or Shouldn’t I?

Having been involved in executive recruiting for 35 years, prospective clients often ask if our firm includes a formal personality assessment as part of our evaluation process. The answer is No, however we recently decided to re-assess the pros and cons of this evaluation tool.

It was not surprising to learn that the use of personality tests in the hiring process has been on the rise for the past 10 years. A recent survey by The Aberdeen Group indicates 56% of the companies surveyed are using a pre-hire assessment which can check personality, cognitive ability, and/or competency among other areas. The most frequently given reason for adding testing is to help withstand legal challenges. Another factor is the ease of completing and administering the tests on-line which is a huge advantage over the traditional pencil and paper process.

It was surprising to learn that there are over 2,500 different personality questionnaires offered in the marketplace. We did not attempt to evaluate all 2,500 but it is likely that each offers a unique method or process to assess potential candidates.

It logically follows that each test also has the potential of reaching a slightly different conclusion about the personality components they are focused on. It is critical to understand that assessments often focus on specific character traits. For example, the test used to evaluate the technical capabilities of an engineer is not the same one that should be used to evaluate the gregarious nature of a salesman. This obvious example is only mentioned to highlight the fact that “one size does not fit all”.

JSA has numerous clients who utilize personality assessments in their internal process. Their use ranges from having the candidate complete a simple form (DISC, Briggs-Meyers, Caliper, or the Cleaver Profile) to having the candidate meet face-to-face with an assessment and development professional. The latter method can be expensive and is primarily used for senior level executive placements.

The purpose of this article is to offer some things to think about if you are considering adding this tool to your evaluation process, or if you are evaluating your current testing methods and looking for alternatives. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure they’re legal. We were surprised to learn in our research that the EEOC does not automatically accept the results from all standardized tests as non-discriminatory. Hiring a professional firm will mitigate this risk but, as noted earlier, can be very expensive. How the test is created, its intended purpose and how you administer the results are all areas that may be challenged if the test is used as a reason for hiring or not hiring the candidate.
  • Choose the test that measures what you need. Some companies ask every prospective candidate to complete the exact same assessment questionnaire. Our observation is that the company then either does not fully utilize the test results or they use the results to help predict if there is a good personality fit with the rest of the Team. JSA has seen this used very effectively early in the evaluation process by a small firm (less than 100 employees) to quickly eliminate candidates that would not be a good “fit”. However, in doing so it also could eliminate some well-qualified candidates just because of the way they elected to answer a series of questions. This leads us to our 3rd point to keep in mind.
  • Be aware of the limits of the test you are using. Reputable tests can identify personality traits however none can actually predict whether a person will succeed in a job. Management style (theirs and yours), corporate culture, previous experience and training all have a huge impact on the future success of a candidate.

Since our firm fills various senior level positions for a wide variety of clients in the heavy equipment industry, we continue to believe that using one standardized test to assess candidate potential and organizational “fit” is not a good tool for us. As we have highlighted in past articles for this magazine, the most important foundation for hiring the right candidate starts with development of an accurate and comprehensive job description. The position spec identifies company values and character traits that are required for each specific role. Interview questions and reference questions can then be honed to evaluate how a candidate will “fit” and how his or her experience will contribute in this new role.

We have no doubt that a standardized testing process, which is properly understood and accurately administered is a valuable tool that should be considered. However, it should be only one of many tools in your process and should not displace the face-to-face interview complete with questions designed to validate your initial “gut feel” about each finalist candidate you meet.