Question: Are Personality Tests a Valuable Tool to Screen Potential Employees?
Personality Measurement: A Proven Tool
by Robert T. Hogan, Ph.D.
Personality psychology is about people – literally the nature of human nature. The topic is important to employers because well-constructed measures of personality can forecast significant practical outcomes such as competence, effectiveness, leadership, creativity and integrity. As a pre-employment tool, they predict job performance almost as well as measures of cognitive ability. Additionally, personality testing is free of race or gender discrimination.
The field faces ongoing skepticism, in part because it isn’t as well known as other areas of psychology. A bigger problem is that the vast majority of test publishers in the United States are willing to sell products with no demonstrated validity. However, the employer who demands validated testing can be confident in using these measures, because a large collection of studies over the years demonstrates that personality assessment is quite valid. In fact, the validity of well-constructed personality measures exceeds that of many medical procedures on which people risk their lives.
The basic premise of personality psychology is that there are “structures” inside people such as hopes, dreams, fears and aspirations. These structures influence their social behavior in important ways. That’s important to employers, because they know individual differences in attitudes and values affect job performance. They want to make better hiring decisions. They want the savings that hiring well brings.
For example, using personality assessment can help select staff who adhere to safety procedures, abide by corporate policies, show a high degree of detail-orientation, initiative and energy and can work well with others and perform well in fast-paced stressful environments. Using such testing has dramatically reduced such negatives as dishonesty, drug use, insubordination and accidents.
How? The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior – reputation. The measurement process involves taking statements that people make about themselves and then determining the links between their self-descriptions and their reputations. This is based on decades of data collection and applies to hundreds of individual job descriptions from entry-level to the executive suite. Test results are stable and virtually impossible to fake. And yes, assessment is a tool that can help avert the corporate leadership disasters we’ve seen in recent years.
The employment world today is a minefield, and decision-makers need help. Personality assessments work well in comparison with all other measures. Incorporating them into the pre-employment process adds a proven tool that can help an organization’s managers – and its bottom line.
Three Reasons to be Wary of Using Personality Measures
by Kevin R. Murphy
Tests of all sorts are used in selecting among job applicants, assigning people to jobs and making promotions. In the last 10 years, both researchers and HR professionals have suggested using measures of personality in making these decisions. I am skeptical about using personality inventories in this way, for three reasons.
First, there are some very weak tests on the market. While some good personality inventories are available, they are buried in a morass of truly bad measures. In many cases, it is hard to tell what, if anything, these tests really measure. It is difficult for anyone other than a testing specialist to sort the good tests from the bad ones. There are often few incentives for testing organizations to devote the time and money needed to produce tests that show the same level of precision and sophistication routinely demanded of tests of job-related abilities and skills.
Secondly, the methodology of personality measurement is suspect because it relies very heavily on self-reports. That is, most personality measures involve asking people, directly or indirectly, to describe themselves. People are often motivated to distort and inflate their reports. That does not mean that self-reports are worthless, just that they are hard to interpret. So, if one job applicant describes himself as a gregarious go-getter and another describes himself as introverted and cautious, these statements might provide useful information. However, they cannot be taken at face value, and it might sometimes turn out that the person who describes himself as introverted and cautious will be a better pick than the person whose self-description is more glowing.
Finally, the process is more complex than it appears. When we measure skills and abilities, we can usually assume that more is better. That is, it is almost always better to hire a person who is smarter, has more skills, knows more about the job, etc. Things are not so simple when we work with personality inventories. For example, one of the core dimensions of personality is “agreeableness.” People who are very disagreeable are usually poor workers, but people who are too agreeable might be unwilling to offer realistic feedback, to negotiate good deals, etc. For most personality traits, the rule that “more is better” simply won’t work, and it is often hard to know what the relationship between personality and performance will look like in a particular job.