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The truth about using personality tests for hiring

DispleasureShould I use a personality test for hiring?  Are personality tests legal for hiring?  What are the pros and cons of using personality tests in hiring?

Many people are skeptical about using personality tests for hiring—and they should be.  But not for the reasons you may think.  Personality tests can be extremely effective in screening out problem employees at all levels of the organization, including executives, but they have to be used correctly.

Before even contemplating whether to use a personality test in your hiring process, think about what else you will be using to gather information about the candidates.  A personality test alone is not sufficiently predictive of job performance.  Other factors and methods of assessment need to be included in your hiring process to select good candidates.

What is the best predictor of job performance?

Cognitive ability, or intelligence, is the single best predictor of job performance across all jobs.  If you were to include just one assessment, a test of cognitive ability would be your best bet.  However, many of these tests suffer from adverse impact, which means they predict differently for people in different ethnic groups.  Employment laws and our societal values suggest that we use other measures instead or in combination with intelligence tests to make sure we are giving people of different backgrounds equal opportunities for employment.

What is the worst predictor of job performance?

Interviews are typically the least predictive method of assessment because employers often don’t conduct them in a systematic or uniform way across candidates.  Rather, individual employees typically decide whether they like or connect with the candidate and rate them accordingly.

What methods should I use to assess job candidates?

You may have noticed that we’re talking “apples and oranges” because cognitive ability is a characteristic of a job applicant whereas interviewing is a method of assessing candidates.  This is a very important point and one to carefully consider.  You can measure cognitive ability in an interview, with a test, or with a job sample, or in a number of other ways.  Some of these methods of assessing cognitive ability will be more accurate and more predictive of job performance than others.

The bottom line is you want to choose the right factors to measure and the right methods of assessment to use in your hiring process.  Now, back to personality.

Does personality predict job performance?

Personality is not the best predictor of global job performance, but it will predict certain things that are critical to job performance.  That is, if you use a high quality, multi-factor personality test.  The popular tests that you see out there generally are not appropriate to use for hiring and, if you get sued, you’ll probably lose if you are using them.  What you need is a highly “reliable” and “valid” measure of personality.

Which personality test should I use?

We use several different personality assessment instruments that were designed for hiring.  One of them is the personality test battery in the Hogan Assessments.  We use the Hogan for hiring leaders and executives because it is one of the best assessments of derailing factors.  In other words, the test can tell you how likely the candidate is to exhibit tendencies associated with the dark side of leadership—the kind of leaders you don’t want in your organization, the ones who are out there for themselves, who bully others, who take great risks and give little credit to others and who will run your department, division, or entire organization into the ground if given the chance.

These leaders, unfortunately, are often very good at fooling interviewers, but they are not so good at fooling quality tests of personality, such as the Hogan.  These kinds of tests typically require a qualified person to administer and read the test and often are administered by external consultants, like us.  An external assessment is a great way to get objective data about your candidate to incorporate into your hiring process.  When you look into the cost of such an assessment, you will find that it is far less expensive to assess a few candidates on the front end than to fire a bad leader once they are employed in your company.