Are Personality Tests Required For the Job You Want?

It's hard enough to get someone to look twice at your resume and now, more and more, you need not only the right resume, but the right personality.

That's right, personality testing isn't just for online dating sites anymore. MarketWatch reports that 56 percent of companies do some form of personality testing before hiring people. Am I a fan? How about a resounding maybe.

Turnover is actually really expensive. Not only do you have to pay for a recruiter's time to find someone, all the interviewer's time to interview and consider, and your current employees are overworked covering, or the work doesn't get done (which means whatever income was generated by the job is lost), and then when you hire someone and bring him on board there is a learning period. For some jobs it's a few weeks, but for a lot of jobs it takes a lot longer to get someone up to speed.

So, companies are motivated to make good hiring decisions in the first place. (Or rather they think they are motivated to do so, but they don't "waste" money training managers on what to look for and how to interview because that would be too easy.) And training managers is hard, and most managers don't hire that often. So, enter the short cut--the personality test.

In theory, this test will tell you if you'll be a good fit in a department. In reality, unless you run the test on your current employees, how on earth will you know? You won't, and you'll just be guessing that "this" particular personality is the one that will fit in your group.

And let's face it, managers always say they want "independent, hard working, self starters!" but then they micro-manage these people until they are shells of their former selves. Or, they reward face time instead of results. No manager is going to tell the recruiter, "I need someone who excels at sucking up!" but that might be the exact type of person this manager wants.

So, you end up with a disconnect. Of course, these problems can be avoided if personality tests are used and interpreted properly. Again, this means that a manager that hires one or two people a year (if that!) is not the person to look at the test results and say, "Yep! Perfect fit!"

I tend to think that such tests work best for people at the far ends of the scale. For your non-technical call center employees, of which you have hundreds, it makes sense to use a test to figure out who fits. Because of the high volume of people in that type of job you can put together a set of skills that have been shown to be effective.

For executives, for whom the costs of hiring the wrong one are even higher, doing extensive pre-employment screening tests make sense. (If you're responsible for all North American sales and you implement a really bad program, that's far more costly than if you're responsible for Iowa sales and implement a really bad program.) Because the cost of errors are higher, you should be willing to spend a bit more to making sure errors don't occur.

Tests for these types of jobs don't tend to be short multiple choice tests that spit back, "Self starter!" because anyone who has the requisite resume skills to be considered for the SR VP of Sales is, presumably, already a self starter.

Fortunately, people who do executive recruiting understand this principle. MarketWatch reports:

Dana Landis, vice president for global search assessment with executive search firm Korn/Ferry International, said the firm has assessed almost 700,000 applicants over about 10 years. Rather than taking negative assessment results at face value, Korn/Ferry uses results to dig deeper, she said.

"We don't want to ignore the results, but we also take them in context," Landis said. "We often try to circle back to the candidate to ask follow-up questions."

And that's the correct way, because a test can't be devised to accurately predict success at the highly customized jobs that executives do.

But like them or not, personality tests are here to stay. Have you taken personality tests, or had candidates take tests? In your experience, are they worth the effort?

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Photo by foltzwerk, Flickr cc 2.0.