Can you sum up your personality in one word? Or better yet: in a four-letter code? What about potential employees? Can you encapsulate their personalities in an abbreviation? These are the queries that lead to the core question concerning personality tests and recruiting: Do they really work?
Phyllis Hartman, SPHR, of PGHR Consulting, a human resources consultancy based in Ingomar, PA, has been using personality tests for recruiting purposes throughout her 25-plus-year career. The argument for them, she said, is to ensure that you are indeed hiring the right person for the position—not simply the job candidate who is interview savvy and who knows what to say to land the gig. “A lot of interviewees come into an interview situation knowing how to play the game, or how to answer the question correctly,” she said. “In some ways, that’s a really good thing—when I interview somebody who has done a lot of homework, I’m impressed because that shows me they really want the job; that they’re smart.” But if the person conducting the interview isn’t skilled in recruiting, they may not be able to discern whether the candidate is really a fit, or if they’re just good at selling him-or herself.
Phyllis Hartman, SPHR, PGHR Consulting There are, Hartman concedes, a number of caveats. “If you use that tool—whatever it is—as your sole determinant, it’s very risky,” she said. First of all, the test results depend on what assessment you use, and not all personality tests are created equal. “For something to be valid, it must truly measure what it is you’re looking for. And it has to be reliable; in other words, it works all the time to measure that thing that you’re looking for.”
Hartman uses her husband as an example: throughout his career, he took a number of personality tests that labeled him an introvert. “Yet I can tell you, he had a very successful career in sales,” she said. While one may stereotype salespeople to be outgoing, the job requires strong listening skills—something that less gregarious people often possess.
Peter Bregman, CEO, Bregman Partners Peter Bregman, CEO, Bregman Partners, a leadership coaching firm based in New York, and author of Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Stop Counter-Productive Habits and Get the Results You Want, and several other books, argues that personality tests kill a crucial ingredient of good leadership: curiosity. “I think powerful leaders are curious and need to be curious, and if they’re not, then there’s an element of closed-mindedness,” he said. Curious people have the courage to ask questions, to get to know others, rather than having them fill out what is essentially a form. “A personality test is a vote for efficiency over curiosity. And that, ultimately, is very attractive to adults who are trying to get a lot of stuff done. But it’s also very limiting.”
While leaders that are recruiting employees may benefit from a healthy dose of curiosity, they also need to know their own personalities, Bregman said. What are your biases? Do you have any preconceived notions about what type of person would best fit the position? Are these preconceived notions legitimate? “Identify your thought patterns … and question them,” he said. “Your bias might be a very appropriate bias. But it also may not be, and so being explicit about your biases will really help.”
Stephen Shapiro, creator of Personality Poker Stephen Shapiro is a speaker based in Orlando, FL, and author of Best Practices Are Stupid, and several others. He is also the creator of Personality Poker, literally a card game designed to help professionals identify each other’s personality traits in the interest of building strong teams. Shapiro argues that his tool helps organizations construct talent pools that are complementary—a necessity in business, he believes. “All we’re talking about here is diversity,” he said. “We think of diversity as ethnicity or gender, but we have diversity of discipline and experience; we have diversity of personality.” The goal, he said, should be to incorporate different personalities into an organization, but only if the company has a culture that supports them.
“Bringing people onto the team who are different is not a good thing if you aren’t going to [have] processes that value those people,” Shapiro said. A team whose members share the same personality traits will be productive—but it probably won’t be that innovative. At the same time, a team of people who are all different won’t get anything done if those differences aren’t embraced. “But when you put people together who understand their blind spots, who understand why they need other people, that’s when you really get the value.”
If self-awareness is a critical element in recruiting and team building, an extension of that is organizational awareness, which can also help to determine whether or not a specific candidate stands to succeed in your company. What is your leadership style? What are some of the negative aspects of your organization that, realistically, you’re never going to change? “You need to find someone who can operate with the dysfunctions of the environment that may not be fixed,” Bregman said. “The self-awareness that you need in order to be able to identify what those dysfunctions are, and be honest about them, is really critical to bringing in the right people.”
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.
Be Careful Who You Test
Phyllis Hartman, SPHR, urges companies to really examine whether or not personality tests are a sensible recruiting tool for their specific purposes. For one thing, they can expose organizations to discrimination suits, especially if you pick and choose who has to take the test, and who doesn’t. “Any time you use something like this, you should be consistent about applying it, particularly for that job or that job level,” she said. “If you use it for all management candidates, and you don’t use it for non-management, there’s a little less risk. But once you use it for non-management, then you should use it going forward because then you’re less likely to be accused of being discriminatory.”
Companies should also determine how the tool they’re using would stand up in court. “Good suppliers can provide you with statistical information and information about how valid and reliable something is,” Hartman said. Vendors should also be able to provide non-biased assistance on how to read the findings. “If you don’t have a good vendor to help you interpret the results, then there’s a risk that you’re going to misinterpret [them].”