Personality assessments are valuable and long-studied tools that help employers make intelligent hiring decisions. The use of personality testing in combination with other selection procedures can be highly indicative of which candidates will be most successful on the job. According to the Society of Industrial Organizational Psychology:
scientific research clearly shows that personality assessments developed according to modern professional standards can predict which job applicants are most likely to become successful performers, be more satisfied in their job, and less likely to quit, without unfair discrimination.”
However, not all tests are created equal, as some may not be suitable for a particular industry or role, while others are not suitable for hiring at all. Employers who want to incorporate a personality test to help them better understand their talent pool should keep a few things in mind when choosing a personality testing solution.
Personality tests should be developed using professional standards
Assessment developers should carefully study and document the requirements for success in a particular role. This can include efforts such as interviews, focus groups, and surveys that consult with the subject matter experts in the field. Only once the job is well-documented can the most relevant and accurate factors be identified and measured. The end result should be a thorough and standardized job analysis in which the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are required for the job are all clearly identified.
This type of methodological and bespoke approach comes with its advantages — selection decisions are more valid, applicants report more favorable reactions to being tested, and adverse impact is often reduced. Final tests should be screened for compliance with the guidelines established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to ensure they are void of federal anti-discriminatory violations, and reasonable accommodations can be made in completing the assessment, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Personality tests should only serve the purpose of selection
The most accurate pre-hire assessments are built to measure specific competencies shown to be related to specific job outcomes. All assessment content, questions, or prompts should be carefully designed and evaluated to ensure the individual questions are consistently and accurately measuring the targeted job-related competencies. Tests built to be position or industry specific should not be applied outside of that particular industry or to a different position.
Beyond that, the purpose of the assessment matters, too. For example, personality type inventories may be popular, and appropriate, tools for increasing personal awareness, guiding professional development, or aiding in team building, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to validity for selection purposes. Because these tests are not validated for the purpose of selection, they can consequently misidentify talent, create bias, and not be predictive of future job performance.
Questions in an assessment used for selection should be carefully screened for relevance in the context of a professional environment. For example, while “remaining positive and focused despite challenges” may be an important part of success in a particular role, a question that asks candidates to respond to prompts such as “I often feel down” or “I sometimes get mad for no reason" without the context of a professional setting like work or school, may inadvertently be measuring emotional states or mental disorders. Personality tests should never inquire about a person’s mental state or how they regulate emotions outside of the workplace, as well as other signifiers that could potentially detect a mental health condition.
Personality tests should be considered a part of the process, not a sole data point for decision making
Assessments are an excellent tool to aid in human capital decision making. However, they are not complete solutions. In practice, personality tests must not be treated as a single source of information used to make consequential hiring decisions. Other appropriate selection data weighed at different hiring decision points may include resume screening, structured interviews or/and work samples that are carefully designed to eliminate unconscious bias and discrimination.
Bias can have an impact at many points in even a thoughtfully designed recruiting and hiring process. For example, interviews may induce a “like-me” bias, and resume screening has been shown to lead to unconscious bias related to gender and ethnicity. A key part of any assessment technology is to mitigate or eliminate biases or information that isn’t job-related from interrupting the real goal of any recruiting effort — to hire the best person for the role.
Assessments can eliminate bias in a number of ways, by removing any personal identifiers from the data collection process, incorporating questions that have been tested for adverse impact, and allowing recruiters to consider candidate traits that exclusively predict job performance. These practices move selection processes away from hiring based on personal, biased and subjective preferences to an objectively, scientifically and empirically based decision making process.