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You Hate Personality Tests, But Do They Work?

Written by Trevor Kupfer
You Hate Personality Tests, But Do They Work?

This is what personality testing is like. You know, except not terrifying.

The use of personality assessments in the workplace is as divisive an issue as they come. Quite simply, people either love it or hate it.

But if you ask them “why,” it’s often complicated. Sure, supporters like to think the nay-sayers are just threatened by the idea that they aren’t unique; in the same way that the skeptics think the boosters are pleased by the thought of human psychology made simple; but it’s by no means that easy.

This week I talked with a dozen or so staffing business bigwigs who have used personality assessments for hiring their own staff, candidates for clients, and sometimes both. After weighing all their heated comments, one thing became clear. Personality assessments are neither crystal ball mumbo-jumbo nor are they the end-all, be-all recruitment tool. Their value depends 100% on how you use them and what you use them for. But, if used correctly, several staffers say it can complement your hiring processes and even improve team development.

Use Assessments In Conjunction With Other Pre-Employment Methods
Though AppleTree Staffing, CORESTAFF Services, and TempWorks Software all use different personality assessment platforms for hiring, it’s actually kind of amazing how similarly they implement them.

First, says Rick Carlson, senior vice president and general manager of CORESTAFF Services, you have to clearly define the characteristics you’re looking for with a given position. Assessments like those he uses (Personalysis and Target Training International) measure things like motivation, drive, and intellect. Some platforms, such as the Berke Assessment employed by TempWorks Software, allow you to target where a candidate would ideally fall in test areas like sociability, idea productivity, and problem-solving logic.

After you target characteristics, the companies do an initial interview with the candidate. “I only tested after I had reviewed their résumé, phoned screened them, and possibly even met them once,” Carlson said. “It serves as a support tool to confirm things I suspect or to uncover areas that I may have overlooked. What I coached my own people on was to never use it as a first-level screening device.”

The point of the test, Carlson added, is to confirm your findings or help define the “little thing that’s bothering you, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.” In the case of TempWorks, after they ask interviewees to take the test, the results of the test actually suggest some follow-up questions to ask the candidate when you meet with them for the second-round interview.

Jonathan Loo, CEO of AppleTree Staffing, says they use personality assessments both internally (for their own employees) and externally (for candidates they place with clients). And for him, consistency is key.

“The tendency is to use personality assessments to You Hate Personality Tests, But Do They Work?simply confirm our preconceived beliefs, but that is a mistake,” he said. “Use them for each and every person being considered for a position for a true apples-to-apples comparison.”

AppleTree uses Kenexa Prove It for general positions, and DISC (a more detailed and in-depth assessment) for higher-level placements.

“I personally feel that personality assessments can only be used as one piece of the puzzle – not the deciding factor in and of itself,” Loo added. “You have to use your gut and instinct in conjunction with the assessment to make the best hiring decisions.”

Don’t Let the Assessment Undermine Your Judgment
In situations like Loo’s, where they give the personality test results of candidates over to clients, things can get sticky. For instance, if the recruiter is dead-set on a candidate being a great match for a client, but the client can’t get over a certain aspect of the personality test (and won’t even interview the candidate because of it!), it undermines their job as a recruiter.

For some clients, Loo submits, personality test results are a mere “tie-breaker” whereas others put quite a bit of stock into them. “There have been times when we feel a client is putting a bit too much weight behind a personality assessment, and we will help them look at it as a piece of the puzzle instead of the ultimate decision-maker,” he said.

In essence, personality assessments are meant to offer a broad picture of how someone thinks and perceives the world around them; they aren’t meant to measure all the intangibles of a person. And often interviews, and recruiters, are called upon to do precisely that.

Use Internal Assessments to Optimize Your Team Development
My first exposure to personality assessments came a few years back when I was writing an article about KRM Information Services, and their founder Rick Olson. One of the most interesting things about their business is that they’re HUGE believers in personality testing, specifically Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

“I can’t overstate it enough,” he told me. “It has changed lives and made a huge difference. I’d never run a business without it. The power is amazing.”

After Rick hires someone and brings them on, he gives them two books on MBTI. Then he asks them to take the test. The results are then made public to everyone who works there, and that new employee likewise can see where everyone else falls.

The idea behind this (which they borrowed from Jim You Hate Personality Tests, But Do They Work? Collins’ Good to Great) is that it provides the team with the tools to know how to best communicate (and work) with others, and in essence address most every workplace problem. Or as Rick put it, “airing out the laundry before it’s able to get dirty.”

“I often encourage my clients to use Myers-Briggs for team development (for conflict solving, project completion, etc),” agreed J Paul Rand, learning director with Seattle Research Partners. “I would also suggest you consider the forced-choice option (along with a top-performance promise) of the Core Values Index. I have recently worked with a team of HR professionals who have analyzed this in a qualitative investigation and the feedback has been very strong.”

Louise Brook, a former recruiter, told me the management at her company did internal testing for “temperament,” rather than personalities as a whole. “They administer the test after hire to better determine who should mentor them, how they should be managed, and what the person should focus on or be aware of when trying to improve their habits and practices,” she said. “In this way, it was pretty valuable.”

Summary
I’ve covered a lot here, and I’ll offer this forth in case you want all the major points re-stressed (or if you skipped straight to this because of the length of this post).

In my research on this I connected with David Hilditch, clearly a proponent of personality testing, and in fact the founder of one of the providers (Improved Employees). David is very aware of the criticisms and trappings of these assessments, so very simply offered the following pitch:

If you want to use personality assessments effectively:
1. Make it clear that you’re using them to help job-seekers explore their softer side and not to exclude them or screen them.
2. Use the results of the test as a talking point for interviewing the candidate and to help the candidate explore their soft skills.
3. Whatever information you glean from the interview should always supersede the information from the psychometric reports.

“And if you’re using personality testing for existing employees, the theory goes the same – you use whichever system as a framework for your employees to discuss and understand their similarities and differences,” he said. “This all goes towards improving self-awareness, communication, teamwork, productivity, etc.”

“The evidence is there that it works, just don’t abuse the tool in the wrong way (never use the results to prevent access to a career path). … Self-awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence and leads to awareness of others and ultimately better communication.”

You Hate Personality Tests, But Do They Work?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }
  1. RS

    Not a fan. I have found that some people are not what these test say they are. So you can offen get a very wrong result.

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    • Gregg Dourgarian

      I agree although my high volume staffing clients tend to find value in them.

      When it comes to knowledge workers like developers, I have an even stronger position. Anyone willing to submit (emphasis on ‘submit’) to such testing may not have the positive self-image necessary to be creative and hard-working.

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    • D Mills

      Totally agree. I used to work with a test, can’t remember the name. But similar type function the Meyers Briggs. There were multiple choice, 1-5 scoring. Issue was, a lot of people would check 4 or 5 on everything, which really cancelled them out, made them middle of the road an “flat” on the graph score. Two things caused this. 1. The person was eager to make a good impression. “I am multi tasking” “I am patient” “I do jump to conclusions” “I do take time to think things through!” This did not give a fair assessment to how they actually approached life, as they thought they would somehow score higher. 2. The person would take it at home, and it was always some dominant female (mom/aunt) looking over the shoulder telling them to re-score their responses. A bunch of 5′s would result and effectively neutralize the test.

      I do realize there are more advanced tests out there, that take more time and commitment from the individual taking the test. But for a staffing service to implement a three hour test, that just does not seem to be a good use of time.

      I think they can be helpful, but only if a candidate is self realized. Otherwise, you may as well read their horoscope, and force them into that box.

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      • Trevor Kupfer

        That’s why I think the people who implement these post-hire are on to something. You’re more likely to accurately self-report when you know you already have the job and have less to lose. I know that doesn’t guarantee that they actually will, but it’s still decent in theory.

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  2. Tonie Snell

    As a firm that attracts and recruits a very diverse candidate (LGBT Professional focused placements), I think value based recruiting is very necessary for cultural fits or desired growth direction for any organization. I think if utilized correctly in drawing a baseline of certain characteristics that you are looking for in your organization would be very helpful, i.e., natural leader, team player, super curious. I was just speaking to the CEO of Knack.it and Smartrecruiters about this very thing. The fact is we are already doing a personality test of sorts to some degree with social media searches for candidates, we search their likes, groups they are connected to… etc. I mean let’s face it, we want the best viable candidate and with employee skill testing, I would expect you to know something about the degree you hold but it tells me nothing of your initiative, drive, compassion.

    Join our talent community at http://www.facebook.com/925hire

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  3. Tonie Snell

    Great Question Gregg,

    We are LGBT Focused simply because that is the marginalized group I am a member of, as well as African American, Female… Latino (my partner). Our firm encompasses true diversity and acceptance and the most awesome thing is for those who don’t identify as LGBT but registered with us, they are also allies. I hope that answers your questions.

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    • Gregg Dourgarian

      Sorry but I have difficulty with that although I admire your passion and also your FB website.

      Geeky-white-wish-i-were-actively-heterosexual-males-with-pimples is the marginalized group that I am a member of but I refuse to ‘focus’ on my group or in any way not equally consider those outside it.

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  4. Tonie Snell

    O, I am flattered you follow my passion and fb page, I follow your page as well. No apologies necessary. The fact that the group you identify with can be hired in all 50 states for being “openly heterosexual, white, male and geeky with pimples” and other groups because of who they are, appear to be and who they love cannot, shows that someone has focused on your group already. Diversity means to mix it up a bit and refocus. Be Awesome!

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  5. Don Desmond

    I agree. The use of the test is to discover the personality of the candidate; it is not used as a selection tool. However, I use this tool to ask my hiring managers based on this discovery, why does he/she want to hire this candidate and how can he/she be coached to success? The use of this tool will have an impact in the recruitment process if used correctly. I have hired sales people who have emerged top in their performance using this tool.

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  6. Kevin Prow

    In ages past, a firm handshake, a smile, a resume on thick paper, and some well-rehearsed answers went along way. Pleasing the corporate bigwigs, the H.R. manager, and your interviewers with nonsensical gibberish about why their organization needs you was how jobs were landed. Now, the next generational gap is taking over. Your younger workforce is determining your company’s fate more and more these days. As a 26 year old supervisor, I go into interviews expecting that the candidate recently Googled for interview questions and is eager to re-gift those answers to me. While I will play with those questions, the answers never really win me over.

    Take out their personality test results and ask some questions off of there, and I can tell in a matter of a few minutes if a candidate will survive here. With a workplace like mine, work history is somewhat irrelevant–personality reigns supreme. You need to have a matching personality to sustain long term employment with us. I recently interviewed a lady who answered my question about what brings her in with, “I’m awesome.” An offer letter is on the way.

    From the questions suggested from the test results, I can engage in an actual conversation with the candidate as opposed to being their interrogator. Candidates who were “maybes” often go flailing wildly into one direction or the other–hires or rejects.

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  7. Susan Wurst

    I agree with Kevin. After an extensive search for a personality test that works for us, we found one that meets our needs. It was selected for several reasons one of which was after taking many different personality tests over my career, I couldn’t figure out how to sway this test. The entire management team took the test prior to selection and without exception it described each of us perfectly.

    The main benefit of the test for me is that it allows us to create job profiles and match the results of the candidate against the characteristics of those who are already working at those jobs succesfully. Additionally the suggested interview questions it provides in dealing with areas of concern are invaluable. We have also had success in having our best employees take the test and use them as a basis for comparing core personality traits. Our corporate culture is unique here. While we can teach someone the technical skills they need we can’t teach them to thrive in an ingrained culture if they aren’t wired that way.

    We don’t use the personality test as a single point of decision, rather it is one factor used in consideration when hiring.

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  8. Jacque Vilet

    Having an MS in Clinical Psychology makes me very leary of testing. I notice that the article interviews people that have a vested in testing. I don’t think they add much value — obviously they are for testing.

    There is a scientific reason for not using 90% of the tests that are out there. It has to do with “validity” and “reliability”. Sorry the writer did not interview a bona fide psychologist.

    Having worked in international environments in HR I can tell you right now that these tests should NOT be used overseas. Culture does affect testing results.

    Let’s face it. Tests are not supposed to be part of the selection process. But they are, otherwise they would not be part of the interview process. Both HR and managers would rather use test results to guide their employment decisions believing the test provides objective, scientific results.

    Very shallow treatment of testing with this article. If you want credibility, do thorough research before writing.

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