Can a Personality Test Pick the Perfect New Hire?

Last Updated Jun 2, 2011 4:24 PM EDT

By Alex Coppola
Heather Stouffer founded Mom Made Foods five years ago when, as the mother of two young children, she saw an unmet need for healthy, convenient children's food options. Based in Alexandria, Va., the company has grown rapidly since starting out as a stand at a local farmer's market in 2006. Mom Made Foods now has a core staff of five people, works with two manufacturers and is represented by over 100 sales brokers around the country.

The Problem
By 2007, Stouffer's business was growing at a rate far too fast to continue managing on her own. She realized that she needed to make some key hires, and fast. As the owner of a small company with no human resources team, making the right hire the first time around was critical. "We didn't have the resources," explains Stouffer, "to recover from the potential disaster of hiring the wrong person."

The Background
In her first year of operation, Stouffer -- whose background is in marketing and sales --sold all of the company's accounts. She recognized, however, that the model was not sustainable. "My focus was on running the company," says Stouffer, "which left only 10-20% of my time to allot to sales. With a business that's looking to expand nationally, that's just not enough."

In February of 2010, Stouffer decided to bring in a director of sales to oversee the handful of sales brokers she'd recently hired, and to grow that force, expanding broker representation nationally. She needed an individual who fit the company's culture and who could, as she says, "hit the ground running." The hire not only needed an extensive background in sales but also experience in the grocery industry.

Stouffer needed to fill the position quickly, but she had neither the time nor the resources to go through the hiring process twice. What's more, the company's reputation and relationships with retail clients, distributors, and broker representatives were at stake. The sales director is the primary point of contact for all of those parties, so making the wrong hire could have alienated the people most critical to the company's success.

The Solution
After narrowing down applicants to a field of three, one of Stouffer's board members suggested she use a less traditional method for her final selection: a personality index. "He told me it's the greatest tool in determining whether or not someone is going to be a good fit for your team," says Stouffer.

So, Stouffer contacted the personality test administrator Predictive Index, and explained who she was looking for and what the role entailed. She also discussed her own personality and professional and management style, and took the test herself. "I was shocked," she says. "It took less than five minutes, but the detail they were able to pull out of the results was incredible. It was like the person administering the test had known me for years."

Sold on the effectiveness of the assessment, Stouffer asked her three candidates to take the test. Surprisingly, the index weeded out the candidate Stouffer had been certain she would hire.

The test identified a number of the candidate's work habits and personality traits that would have proved very problematic down the road. "He was inclined to work at bird's eye level," Stouffer explains. "He would never have gotten down to the level of detail we needed from him to close deals." The candidate had extensive experience, but was not interested in dealing with the often unglamorous range of work required in the world of small business.

Even before she used the results to conduct further interviews with the applicants, Stouffer says the test administrator knew who she would hire based on the test results alone. "'I'll tell you right now,' he told me, 'this guy's your man.'"

He was right. After the interviews, Stouffer selected the same candidate the PI assessor had identified. The new employee joined the company in June and the test results have proved accurate. "He's a great fit," says Stouffer. "He's closing accounts like crazy, the pipeline is fuller than it's ever been and we finally have the full national broker coverage we set out to establish."

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