Do Personality Tests Make the Grade?

THIRD SECTOR TODAY by Jennifer Schaupp

Most people are natural psychologists, wanting to understand what makes people tick, what motivates people: And nothing is more psychologically intriguing than a space that houses a hierarchy of strangers who have to prove their worth every day and seemingly get along for 40+ hours per week.

No, I am not talking about The Bachelor; I am speaking of the workplace.

In some ways, nonprofit offices function like families. People squabble and compete, some members pull their weight more than others, loyalties form, disinterest develops, but ultimately they all work together to solve problems and make day-to-day activities run smoothly. Unlike families, however, you get to pick the entire cast of characters. What if there was a surefire way to make sure you selected people from whom you could guarantee long-term success, a personality match, and continued productivity?

Many companies use personality tests when hiring candidates, as they are often affordable and simple to administer. In fact, according to The Harvard Business Review, “the use of personality assessments are on the rise, growing as much as 20% annually.”

However, a 2010 study revealed that “personality tests used in employee selection account for approximately 5% of an employee’s job success.”

Here are some cons of personality tests:

  • Hireology states that personality tests are a way to understand people but not necessarily job performance. The tests are a small step up from recommendation letters. For example, the Myers-Briggs test was developed to help women find comfortable job placements during World War II. According to Plum, “Without (an) additional cognitive ability screening measure, employers will place comfortable workers, but not necessarily ones that will be productive.”
  • Cornell HR Review mentions the issue of applicant faking. The Internet poses acceptable answers to commonly asked questions on the tests and the questions can also be transparent, helping the candidates to give the answers employers want to hear.
  • Personality tests do not always detect stable traits or take into account fluctuations. For example, the Myers-Briggs test places most people in the middle, rather than the extreme ends, of two opposing traits, e.g., extroversion vs. introversion, contributing to the likelihood that the individual’s personality “indicator” could change the next time he or she takes the test.

Despite the cons, why still use the tests?

  • Houston Chronicle discusses the various ways personality tests can be used in the workplace. For example, when building teams, employers “can leverage the strength of one employee to fill the weakness of another.” The key is knowing what tests to use, when to use the tests, and how to interpret the results. With the right test used in the correct way, determining “the big five” personality traits — neuroticism/emotional stability, extroversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness — can predict certain job outcomes. Furthermore, having an employee take the test more than once allows you to check for consistency.
  • When hiring candidates, it is best to consider multi-measure tests, including cognitive tests along with personality and interest assessments, as well as structured job interviews.

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