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Using Personality Tests for Hiring

Over the last decade, organizations have increasingly turned to personality tests in their hiring process to find skilled employees who are also a great organizational fit. Personality tests can also be an easy way to sift through the slew of applications submitted in an online recruiting process. Across industries, employers have increased their attention to soft skills, leaning on personality tests to help parse out shortcomings – and, in some cases, to screen for integrity, according to HR Dive. Tests, like the prolific Myers Briggs, have been used in the workplace as development tools for decades, and the ability to measure different skillsets and supplement interviewing can lead to more insightful hiring. However, personality tests need to be selected and used carefully, as they can come with a tangle of legal issues and weed out quality candidates.

Why Do Employers Use Personality Tests?

Employers apply personality tests to rate candidates’ fit for the organization and can customize tests to measure core values specific to their organization. For example, Amtrak applies personality tests to spot people who are skilled at collaboration, exhibit integrity, are customer aware and safety conscious. Ultimately, the goal is to hire people who are most likely to be engaged in the position and stay with the organization, which reduces overall recruiting, hiring and training costs.

Popular Personality Tests

A plethora of personality tests are available, and organizations need to consider which assessment is right. Some of the most popular tests include:

  • The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which asks 93 questions to classify respondents into 16 different personality types, built on four groupings: “Extraversion vs. Introversion,” “Intuition vs. Sensing,” “Thinking vs. Feeling,” and “Judging vs. Perceiving.” This test is often used to understand an employee’s fit for a position.
  • The DiSC Behavior Inventory, which classifies respondents into four different personality types: “Dominant (D),” “Influential (I),” “Steady (S),” and “Compliant (C).” This short test, which has 30 questions at most, can help employers understand how an employee or candidate may work with a team.
  • The Caliper Profile, which maps personality traits to job performance. Using several different types of question, the Caliper Profile assesses both positive and negative qualities.
  • Assessments focused on “The Big 5”: (1) Extroversion, (2) Emotional Stability, (3) Agreeableness, (4) Conscientiousness, and (5) Openness to Experience.
  • Situational Judgment Tests (STJs): This scenario-based assessment examines how a candidate or employee handles common, challenging situations using a set of provided responses to simulated situations.

Are Personality Tests An Effective Hiring Measure?

The short answer is: sometimes. Low cost or free tests can be too shallow and situational to provide a good assessment. And even some well-respected tests may not have been designed for use in the hiring process at all, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Questions that are too anchored in the moment can reflect current life circumstances over long-term personality, and candidates may feel compelled to respond in the way they think is “right.” In some cases, they can even stagnate growth if companies file away the tests and continue to lean on them without any updates, Neel Doshi, coauthor of Primed to Perform, How to Build the Highest Performing Culture Through the Science of Motivation, told Fast Company.

When personality tests are standardized and quality, they can help remove bias and support fairer candidate comparison. In addition, these tests can help employers avoid hiring people who aren’t a good fit, which saves costs and time down the road. Personality tests provide different insight than standard interview questions or skills testing and can help evaluate fit for the organization.

Selecting the Right Test

Before organizations even begin the process of evaluating test options, they need to first establish precise job requirements. Then, they should consider whether testing is the right fit for each role, instead of applying it globally without any consideration.

When it comes to selecting a test, organizations shouldn’t be swayed by what others are doing. Instead, the key is to first establish the purpose of the test specific to the organization, Whitney Martin, a measurement strategist at ProActive Consulting in Louisville, Ky., told the Society for Human Resource Management.

Two vital attributes of a personality test to consider should be its validity and its reliability. A quality test publisher will be able to provide evidence-based support for both. A valid test should be able to relate a test score to a real factor in the job setting. For example, can you accurately say a specific test score on a certain attribute will correlate to higher performance in the job? A reliable test must have consistent results.

Then, Martin says in addition to requiring validity and reliability, organizations should expect their test to:

  • Measure static traits
  • Provide outcomes that can be compared
  • Offer insight into how likely it is the results are accurate for the individual test taker

Finally, organizations need to understand how the test was developed and how tests compare across different demographics.

Legal Implications

Personality testing can expose a host of legal implications, mainly centered around discrimination. If any specific demographic group is selected at a substantially lower rate than the majority group, an adverse impact may come into play. For the test to withstand scrutiny, an organization must be able to clearly demonstrate how the scores correlate to an outcome. In particular, personality testing can violate several acts aimed at protected classes: Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), according to legal firm Troutman Sanders. These acts, the firm notes, also have requirements for testing.

Troutman Sanders states that testing can also expose privacy concerns, as some states, like Massachusetts, prohibit assessing an applicant’s honesty, or if tests deeply personal or offensive questions.

Other areas of risk include:

  • Bias in determining required traits
  • Questions that expose protected characteristics
  • Biased administering or scoring of the test
  • Suggesting a disability
  • Age discrimination

Consider the Cost

Administering a personality test requires monetary investment and additional time for hiring staff. In addition, making the interview process more complex can cost the company talented candidates if they drop out of the process in frustration.

Costs for the test will vary, as some are software subscriptions and others are a one-time purchase. Keep in mind that higher quality tests may come with higher costs because the process to develop, validate and score is more involved.

These costs should be weighed against the cost of turnover, which leads to more recruiting, hiring and training.

Combine Tests With Other Approaches

Personality tests should be one facet of the assessment process, not used in isolation, the Harvard Business Review advises. Evaluating cognitive ability and integrity alongside personality, which both have higher predictive validity, in conjunction with personality testing can boost the effectiveness of the overall measurement, creating a more robust approach poised to offer the best possible insight for hiring.

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