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Using personality tests to make your hiring decisions - what you should know

By Recruit IT Solutions
Johannesburg, 04 Apr 2011

There are many aspects of an interview process that a potential employer considers before making the ultimate hiring decision. These days, finding the right person for the job not only means getting through potentially three to four stages of interviews with the applicant, but often includes making use of a personality test.

The frequency of the use of personality tests by employers in an interview/screening process is becoming more and more prevalent today.

Many companies make use of personality tests during the interview process in an attempt to hire the best possible person for the job as they are viewed as an accurate reflection of the applicant's personality type, and can be predictive of a person's job performance.

Ultimately, allowing the employer to analyse the type of person they are looking to hire, and assess whether or not they will fit in perfectly with the company and the job at hand.

While it has been revealed that there are some positives to using Personality Profile Assessments (PPAs) in the recruiting process, it is important to note how these types of tests can also have negative results if not used in the correct way.

According to Executive Coach, Tim Goodenough, certified Meta Coach and Mental Coach for the Sharks Rugby Team 2008, there are numerous factors that can influence the result of a personality test:

* People are very dynamic: People are made up by a combination of many personality traits and styles, if the test favours one trait over another, it does not mean that they do not possess another complementary style or trait to what may be required.

* Frame of mind/mood when taking the test: If we are in a good mood during an assessment, the results may differ to that of when we are in a poor mood. Personality tests can be seen as consuming and bothersome to applicants, no one wants to complete several questionnaires, only to walk away empty handed and have to repeat the process.

* Confusion around trying to answer the questions: A complicated questionnaire or format could lead to one misunderstanding the test.

* The focus point of the assessment: What environment is the test being written in reference to? Are the questions directly about work, about home, or are they artfully vague questions that could be referring to any context? Different environments are likely to bring out different personality styles and traits.

* The use of standardisation: Is the test measuring against a norm, and is that norm relevant and fair to the country/region of the person taking the test. Or is it against American or UK norm - which is not as relevant as a South African norm?

* What specifically is being measured and is it relevant to the workplace: Is the test considered a snapshot or a diagnosis? Is it being assessed to reveal how people behave at work, rather than in general life or at home, or no specified context? A relevance example: If you are assessing for a junior level computer programmer, how important is it to be extroverted?

* Ability to 'cheat' on the test: When faced with a test, potential employees may see it as a pass or fail method of hiring, which could lead them to answer the questions in a way that they think will satisfy their employer, and therefore increase their chance of being hired.

So if personality assessments have so many potential limitations, should they be used, and if so, how should they be used?

“If you are going to use an assessment to help you have a better quality discussion in your interview with a candidate, it is essential that a quality personality assessment is used, one which measures specific attributes for a specific context, is statistically validated and grounded by the context of the applicant who is doing the assessment, and is seen as a snapshot that can provide value to the employer by creating potential areas to discuss fit and growth that will have taken a lot longer to uncover through normal means,” says Goodenough.

“Too many employers these days are making the mistake of basing their final hiring decision on the result of the personality test alone,” says Lisa Knowles - Team Leader at Recruit IT Solutions “There are many candidates I have worked with who have lost out on a job opportunity because of one negative trait/warning sign that has been revealed from the test. In one particular case, it was found that the test was actually faulty, and my candidate almost lost the job because of it.”

Instead of using the information from the test as a management tool to have discussions about, train or develop the person in one or two areas, employers are taking the results at face value and evaluating the person on the result of the test alone.

In conclusion, personality testing can provide some significant information about an applicant's personality, it is important however, to understand the limitations of personality tests before using them in an interview/screening process. Using a personality test is only one of the many steps to finding the true personality/skills of a person and should not be considered as the backbone of the interviewing process, or the hiring decision alone, but rather seen as a snapshot view of the person being tested. Personality is dynamic, so personality testing should not be the deciding factor of an applicant's evaluation. It is the interaction of the candidate that should be the deciding factor as to whether the personality of an individual is appropriate for the position or not.


A bit about the contributors:

Tim Goodenough is a Meta-Coach, member of the MCF and holds a trainer's qualification in both NLP and Neuro-Sematics. Goodenough specialises in coaching executives and elite athletes. He has worked at Standard Bank: Personal and Business Banking in the Coaching and Mentoring Unit, and he was the Mental Coach for the Sharks Rugby team during the 2008 Super 14.

Lisa Knowles is a Team Leader at Recruit IT Solutions and has spent three years successfully advising companies on their staffing requirements and hiring procedures, as well as guiding applicants with their careers.

Editorial contacts

Lisa Knowles
Recruit IT Solutions
011 465 3360