In this 3-part miniseries, Mark Parkinson, Ph.D., and Rachel Stewart Johnson, Ph.D., cover all of the assessment basics, from what defines a 'good' one to the best ways of leveraging the data.
Here is the full series:
Why Use Hiring Tests?
Psychometric tests and questionnaires are a useful way of finding out what people are like. They are obviously not the only way of doing this as everyday we make “assessments” about those we meet. However, human judgement is not always accurate and so psychometrics provide an objective way of adding to what we know. This is particularly important in high stakes situations like hiring new employees.
In a hiring context the results from psychometrics are best used as part of the decision-making process. In particular, when the information is needed for some form of selection. This is when candidates are classified according to the presence or amount of specific work-related attributes. Bearing in mind that the same attributes -- and other qualifying criteria -- will also be checked by reviewing resumes and application forms, and assessed through interviews and other similar activities.
For tests, when results are used for screening, the information is used to select candidates “in” or “out” of a selection process. Likewise they can be used for classifying candidates, as say, “preferred,” “acceptable,” or “potential risk.” In addition, the same information can be used to match candidates against particular roles; and once people are onboarded, as an element of engagement, development, or career planning activities.
What is a “good” test?
Whether it’s a questionnaire or a test, there are five key qualities of psychometric assessments. All are important if an assessment is to be accurate, fair, and unbiased.
- Standardized. What someone is asked to do is clearly defined in both content and activity. For example, everyone gets the same instructions, the same questions, and the same answer options.
- Objective. The task and how people perform -- the output -- is independent of the influence of other people. This means how the assessment is delivered, scored, and interpreted is the same for everyone.
- Reliable. Whilst people’s performance will always vary, the normal variation is known, and so results can be judged as being inside or outside the appropropriate range for the assessment. This signals the robustness of the results.
- Scaled. The results are presented using statistically meaningful and understandable units of measurement. There are a variety of standard scales that can be used but the important thing is they all allow people to be compared directly with each other.
- Valid. The assessment measures what it claims to measure -- for example, a personality questionnaire is measuring personality and not cognitive ability -- and that what is being measured is directly relevant to the performance of a particular job.
Making the right choice
Thinking about the key qualities, it’s obvious that some types of assessment are more “psychometric” than others! For instance, unless interviews are very tightly scripted, scored, and rated, the results are likely to be far less objective than a psychometric assessment.
The implication is that while an interview gives a “feel” for the candidate, and may for example be a useful way of asking how someone would approach a work task, it is not an effective method for assessing underlying personality, motivation, interests, or values. In addition, all these more nuanced attributes are often confounded by someone’s (good or bad) communication skills.
The same can be said for cognitive tests. If an organization wants to understand someone’s “raw” problem-solving ability, or how quickly they might learn new skills, a test is a better way of doing this than asking a series of interview questions. There’s often simply too much “noise” to really appreciate -- during an interview -- the subtleties of someone’s reasoning style and ability.
The consequence is that employers need to appreciate the quality of data that various assessments provide. The “five qualities” are a good starting point. And obviously while it’s unlikely that someone will be employed without an interview -- and in some cases, without having delivered a presentation or participated in some form of work simulation -- it’s always wise to supplement these with more objective information. This can then be used to help consistently and fairly compare one person with another.
Do your homework!
There’s a lot of weird stuff out there. As ever, when it comes to tests and questionnaires the best advice is to check the psychometric qualities of a particular product. The same advice applies to the more eccentric ways of attempting to assess people. For example, thankfully brain scanning is still some way off! However, there are two other methods that deserve a mention.
Astrology, or predicting personality based on time, location, and date of birth, has yet to be proven as a reliable and valid way of determining someone’s personality. And Graphology, or predicting someone’s personality from an analysis of their handwriting, falls into the same unproven category. This speaks volumes as both methods have been around for centuries.
However both techniques are still used in hiring. Graphology is popular in a number of European countries, and astrology also has an enthusiastic global following. The latter has a strong following in China. So whatever your point of view, the important thing is to conduct the necessary technical due diligence on any assessment you’re considering. This is the only way to ensure that candidates -- and employees -- have a fair and credible assessment experience.
Why Hire With Personality?
The process of selecting a new hire has for many years followed the same playbook. An applicant provides demographic information up front, submits a resume or work history, and reports credentials. An interview confirms qualifications and provides a “first impressions” view. The focus is on the past, with particular emphasis on job skills.
But a closer look reveals what is missing: real data on who the person is, not just what they’ve done. What’s the best way to capture who a person is? A validated personality assessment rooted in behavioral science.
But that hire looked so promising!
Taking the common approach can result in hires “who were good on paper,” so to speak, but who are poorly suited to the job they were hired to do. Why? Consider the case of hypothetical job applicant Inez, who is seeking a merchandising role. Hiring manager Stella is excited to see the four recent years of experience on Inez’s resume. During the interview, Inez uses the word “ideas” several times, along with “mixing it up,” “building from scratch,” and “that makes me wonder.”
From a personality perspective, these comments reveal high Openness. That’s an aspect of personality that is typically associated with welcoming change, being curious, and having a focus on the future. Without personality data to bring attention to this and spark a productive discussion, Stella is focused on the fact that Inez checks off the qualifications boxes and seems like a pleasant person, so she offers her the job. What’s left unaddressed: Stella’s employer is a traditional retailer whose appeal is in its 70-year history and old-fashioned values, while Inez’s personality thrives on innovation, trying new avenues, and imagining alternative outcomes.
Although Inez’s experience is technically relevant, it was achieved through a different corporate culture, involved contrasting priorities, and was built around a target audience that skewed young and tech-savvy. Moreover, Inez enjoyed regular opportunities for innovation in her previous role. While those contrasts can be overcome, the bigger issue is the personality mismatch that underlies this history. When the creative, future-focused Inez is asked to be a role player “doing things the way they’ve always been done,” there are numerous consequences. Her visionary talents are wasted, those four years of experience are less of a resource, and her satisfaction and performance both suffer. It’s a pathway toward a relatively short tenure for Inez.
The story of Inez and Stella highlights why the old resume-and-interview approach to hiring could benefit from a refresh. With budgets tightening during the economic strains of the pandemic, there is even less room for error than in past years. The costs of interviewing, onboarding, and then losing Inez are considerable -- not to mention her less-than-optimum productivity while in the role. Meanwhile, Inez likely would’ve been happier -- and done a better job -- at an edgier, more innovative retailer. A different candidate in the pool might’ve been a better, cost-saving choice. An example is one whose “on paper” statistics attracted less attention at first glance, but whose personality thrives with tradition, gains comfort from following guidelines long in place, and has no need to pursue change for the sake of change.
What makes personality a better assessment?
Hiring that is “personality blind” should be seen as taking a risk, an organizational liability like hiring by a “hunch.” But here’s a question worth asking: why personality? Why not first attempt to gauge something else at play, like “culture fit” or “values?” Among the several answers to this question, let’s focus on three main ones.
Personality is not linked to a single point in time or setting. Although our environments do shape our behavior, personality can be thought of as a lens that reliably colors how we view the world around us. It sets a range within which our responses and behaviors typically occur. A person who contentedly works alone on a repetitive task for months is unlikely to suddenly demand to work “in the middle of the action,” lamenting an environment that is too quiet and boring. Likewise, an employee like Inez who loves generating new ideas, researching technology, and asking a lot of “What if?” questions is not going to routinely take others’ word for everything, stop asking questions, and simply hum along without wondering what’s next.
Personality provides a broad measure that can pick up the potential for issues across a variety of workplace situations. In other words, it provides a comprehensive understanding rather than a narrow one. Consider the framework of personality long regarded to be the gold standard: the Big Five. This model arose from analyses of the terms people use to describe themselves and others. By collecting these terms -- everything from “anxious” to “kind” to “talkative” -- researchers observed that five distinct clusters emerged. On the job, that means that personality data can inform every aspect of what a job entails. Need quick solutions to customer problems? Levels of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness likely play a part. Need someone with the stamina to get through a physically demanding workday? Look to Extraversion and Emotional Stability. Whatever the workplace need, personality data can shed light.
Research has shown that personality can be a good predictor of workplace outcomes. Using personality as a gauge of on-the-job behaviors isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, the practice dates back decades. For example, the dimensions of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness were found to have a relationship to different levels of counterproductive workplace behaviors. Another body of research concluded that High Emotional Stability and Extraversion are associated with higher job satisfaction overall. There are numerous examples of research that has used one or more of the Big Five personality variables as a predictor of what a person is likely to do on the job.
Out with the old, in with the nimble and true
As 2020 enters its final quarter, an important pandemic insight is emerging: many times, our old ways of operating are no longer a good matchup for today’s demands. Instead, nimbleness, flexibility, and adaptability are vital. With an economy still marked by uncertainty, savvy employers now recognize that business operations must take on a new look. With hiring practices -- and resulting turnover data -- for too long failing to provide any evidence of sustained success, it’s time for an industry rethink. An organization needs to know more than an applicant’s “stats.” It needs to know who the person is behind the application. Tools that combine a validated measure of personality with quick, engaging data capture are the best solutions to lead the way.
Leveraging the Power of Personality Data
Let’s start by thinking about what we mean by personality. The simplest definition is that it’s the underlying pattern of thoughts and feelings that influence what we’re likely to do. In practice, it frames our view of the world and shapes the way we’ll probably behave across many different situations. Hundreds of studies over the last 50 years demonstrate that personality predicts job performance and work satisfaction; let alone many other life outcomes such as health, happiness, and even mortality!
Of course, it doesn’t predict any of these things with perfect accuracy: how we react to events is influenced by the situation in which we find ourselves, and other factors like personal values. However, that being said, in a work context personality is a powerful indicator of the type of job in which you’re likely to thrive. Ultimately it also affects the goals you set yourself, and thus the degree to which you’ll grow and develop.
Hiring the best
How well someone will actually perform in a job is a function of their knowledge, skills, ability, experience, interests, values, and personality; quite apart from a raft of other things like pay and status, and of course the work environment itself. The role of the hiring manager is to have an extremely clear idea of what they are looking for, and a critical appreciation of the attributes that are known to make someone successful -- something that relies on a thorough job analysis.
As mentioned, there is considerable research linking personality with work performance, and with the requirements of specific jobs. This means that the “fit” between a candidate and the personality profile of a job can be established. This is a valuable data point, but it must be considered alongside other sources of information. It’s not simply a selecting “in” or “out” sort of thing! This is because there are a range of personalities that can perform well in any given job, let alone the many other factors that need to be taken into account.
Indeed the best way to use personality data is to sharpen interview questions so they have meaning in the context of the job. For example, a role requires enormous attention to detail and the candidate appears to be low on conscientiousness. In this case, questions could focus on whether the candidate is aware this is an issue and whether they have done anything to remedy it. The latter is important as it’s essential to distinguish between those who always go about things in the same automatic way and others who have worked out techniques for successfully “overriding” their personality.
The use of personality data to “explore” job fit is also reflected in its application at the attraction stage of the hiring process. Just as the interviewer can use the information to ask better interview questions, if potential candidates receive online feedback early in the hiring process, they can think about whether they’re a good match for the role. Also, even if they’re ultimately unsuccessful, they’ve received valuable information about themselves. This is good for them, and good PR for the hiring organization.
At Traitify we know that personality has a unique role to play in recruitment. We also know that treating candidates like customers is the key to bridging the gap between attraction and hiring. And whichever way it falls for an individual, the sense they have of being dealt with in a mindful way is the key to maintaining your organization’s reputation.
Building great teams
Most employers rely on the performance of teams for business success. It’s true, teams may be loosely structured, assembled for specific projects, or be virtual in nature; but whatever their structure, whether they achieve their goals is always going to rely on collaborative working.
It’s also the case that whatever the function of the team, mapping the personalities of its members is the first step in understanding how it might operate. Indeed, surfacing the personalities of the different team members is the only way to appreciate the different perspectives each can bring -- and how these affect trust, cooperation, and productivity.
In addition, recent research suggests diverse teams make smarter decisions. Teams that are composed of members with different personalities -- and from different genders, ages, backgrounds, and cultures -- are far more likely to remain objective. This is because facts will be re-examined, and potential biases and “groupthink” identified, leading to a lower probability of faulty thought processes.
From a Traitify perspective, we have developed a unique way of linking team structure and purpose with the different aspects of personality. This provides a method for “auditing” existing teams, and for constructing new ones. It also helps team members work on ways of collaborating with each other in a “psychologically safe” fashion.
Lastly, teamwork would be impossible without effective and meaningful communication. And that’s why we’ve also produced a communication guide for employees. This contains personalised tips that are linked directly to their personality profile. Because, guess what? Personality drives the why, when, and how of communication with other people.
Being a brilliant you
There’s a model in marketing called “SOGI”. This suggests that to understand the impact of an initiative you need to think about it in terms of society, organization, group, and individual. Looked at from a hiring perspective, both “society” and businesses have an obvious interest in spotting potential, providing opportunities, and getting the right people into the right jobs. Also, when it comes to the bottom-line, making sure teams are working well is a clear business imperative. But what about inspiring the individual?
It probably comes as no surprise that the “intrinsic” aspects of a person’s motivation like the need for autonomy, wanting to feel competent, and requiring meaningful connection to other people are all mediated by personality. In this way personality is often the driver of self-growth and of engagement at work.
Trying to decide what helps employees become engaged is often seen by employers as the “Holy Grail” of staff development. Frankly, it’s also pretty important for employees, as healthy engagement is at the root of job satisfaction. It’s certainly a complex mix of forces, but putting it all together -- motivation, personality, and engagement -- provides a springboard for personal growth.
To this end, Traitify has created a motivational tool called Engage. This addresses the topic of how to give employees personal and actionable personality insights. The sort of snapshots that let people see how they can tap into the power of their personality. The tool uses a brief personality description, a short video, and a series of ‘success skills’ tabs -- superfast ways of dealing with stress, communicating with colleagues, motivating yourself, and working in a team.
Likewise, we’ve also designed a development resource managers can use to support their employees. It takes an employee’s profile, providing the same quick reference points, but this time lets the manager explore personality through the lens of common cognitive biases. It explains how a personality might be influenced by a particular bias, and then it provides a series of short exercises that can be used with that employee to unpack things further.
For example, we often make assumptions about what other people know. This is called the ‘false consensus effect,” and by definition, it affects communication and understanding. Looking at this in a work context can provide a valuable learning point -- for employees and managers alike!
In summary, personality data can be used across the whole employee lifecycle. When handled sensitively it provides insights that are difficult to obtain in any other way, and important clues about how to motivate and engage staff so they can perform at their best.
Traitify builds assessments and guides that help attract, select, and engage employees based on their personalities. To learn more, connect with Traitify.