Are there wrong answers to personality tests?
Personality assessments, recruitment, and selection.
There is so much we want to know about applicants before hiring them (Is she a team player? Is he a quick learner? Is she well adaptable to change? Is he a good problem-solver?…), and there is so little time we have for investigating all of it.
Psychologists were kind enough to come up with a fantastic instrument to help people make right decisions during selection processes. Personality assessments originated from WW1 times (1) or even the 18th century (2) and are quite popular nowadays. Questionnaires are widely used to discover one´s personality, find love or talent.
According to Psychology Today, about 80% of Fortune 500 companies use pre-employment testing in their recruitment strategies. This improves their team building, talent search and decision making capacities (3). Pre-employment personality testing is an additional stage of the interview process that many of the applicants go through. It gives employers precious overview of candidates´ personality traits, values, views, beliefs, behaviors, motivations, weaknesses, strengths and helps (or is supposed to help) finding the right person.
Sounds amazing, right? I wish recruitment and selection were so easy after simply implementing online assessments and making decisions based on their outcomes.
I created two polls last week to see what my network here on LinkedIn thinks about personality assessments (PA). Here are the results from the candidates´ side and those who are hiring.
34 applicants/candidates took part in the poll and we can see the following:
• 50% believe that PAs are useful and would not mind taking the test if requested
• 44% do not consider PAs as helpful and rather see them uninformative
• 6% voted “other”. I received a couple of messages about not the tests being the problem, but their interpretation and application.
Here is what people on the other side say, from 47 polled employers/HRs/TAs/recruiters:
• 33% do not plan or want to use PAs in their selection processes
• 32% are actively using assessment, and the results are critical for decision making
• 26% use PAs as a reference and additional information
• 9% picked “other”. In DMs I got opinions that, for example, assessments are best used in combination with other selection tools; usage depends on the position and comments about the importance of the test type.
Out of curiosity (and to better understand my clients, be able to support the candidates, explore more about a certain assessment tool and my own nature), I conducted a tiny experiment:
- Step one
I used a free version of a personality test offered to one of my candidates before and completed it myself. There were multiple adjectives, and test attendees are supposed to pick the ones describing them. After finishing the assessment, I was given a label “X” – let me use variables so that there is still a chance for everyone to build their own picture of me. The result at the end was describing some sides of my character quite well, however, I partially disagreed with the motivators and weaknesses identified (understandable, who wants to admit their weaknesses?! 😊)
- Step two
We are told “onlookers see most of the game”, so I went to my colleagues asking for help. They were offered to anonymously fill in a Google Form which contained the very same adjectives from the test I went through before. The Magnificent Seven [coworkers of mine] kindly picked the adjectives that in their view were describing me. Moreover, there were questions about my strengths and weaknesses, these were also answered in a detail.
I am extremely happy to work together with such a responsive and supportive team. I got a lot of useful insights and very positive replies and would recommend this exercise to everyone. Answers regarding my personality were not unambiguous, a couple of times completely contradictory characteristics were selected as relevant. After analyzing the responses, I picked those chosen 5-7 times and used them to go through the test again. At the end, I was assigned a label “Y”, which was not a complete opposite to the first result but described another person. Still me.
Interestingly, commenting on my strengths, the colleagues described the exact same characteristic which was supposed to be my weakness based on the 1st-round assessment.
- Step three (optional)
Same task was completed by my husband – his adjective choice led me to getting… label “Z”!
Some can say, “No surprise – personality VS social factor!” (absolutely, there is a lot of interesting information on the internet). All three labels were describing the same person, had a lot of true precious information about one´s personality, but then were different and incomplete, missing the whole picture.
Do I now think we should stop using PAs in recruitment? No. Do I believe there is a lot to pay attention to when implementing and interpreting them? Yes.
- Assessments do:
– reduce costs and save time;
– measure traits and characteristics (potentially) relevant to the job;
– give an insight on an individual´s strengths and development potential.
- Assessments do not:
– have categories for each multifaceted personality;
– foresee performance levels with a 100% accuracy;
– predict future success or commitment of the applicant;
– fully check the motivation to join the company and other crucial factors;
– make hiring decisions.
Using multiple PAs, we can narrow down the pool of candidates, get some useful additional information not listed on CV, identify behavioral tendencies and place person´s personal characteristics into some pre-designed frame to try predicting their success. And all of these are definitely a great help in recruitment.
It is however worth remembering that there is no guarantee that the test results are the ultimate truth. Different types of interviews, assessment centers, hard- and soft skills evaluation, reference reviews, push- and pull motivation factors analysis, chemistry, gut feeling <…> are just as vital during the selection process.
Personality assessments are a wonderful selection tool when applied correctly, but unfortunately might be misleading or even damaging if misused. Consider utilizing them not as a gate keeper but for discovering
– hidden potential;
– strengths and growth opportunities (as well as insights for support one can need);
– suitable ways to motivate and manage employees;
– a lead to training development and much more.
Good luck finding “diamonds in the rough” and keep polishing them to see them sparkling!