Do Pre-employment Personality Tests Work?

I recently stopped thinking about recruiting software long enough to Google “pre-employment personality test.” The top result was “How to Pass a Pre-employment Personality Test” at eHow.com.

Which made me wonder if pre-employment personality tests actually do any good.

I’ve never been a big fan of such tests. Tests that measure actual skills that will be used on the job make sense, but “personality” is a vague term – which means it’s hard to test for – and it’s simply a fact that different personality types can thrive in the same job. At the risk of trading on stereotypes, I’ve met highly successful accountants with exuberant personalities and CEO’s of successful companies who were quiet and shy.

The tests themselves leave a lot to be desired. One had “I have known someone who shoplifted,” followed by “Strongly agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree.” How can anyone “strongly agree” with such a statement? You either have known a shoplifter or you haven’t. The question is either just plain confusing or, worse yet, is meant to be confusing, which would mean that it’s manipulative. Either way, what is an employer supposed to learn about a candidate from the answer to this question? The makers of such tests always talk about gleaning personality types from hundreds of such questions, but with many of them so odd, I’m skeptical about any conclusions drawn from them.

It also seems to me that any skilled recruiter or employer should be able to get a sense for a candidate’s personality in an interview (or maybe two interviews). Yes, it’s true – every employer has a story of someone who was great in the interview but who turned out to be a toxic colleague. But if such a person can fool an experienced interviewer, he or she shouldn’t have much trouble answering the questions on personality test in their favor. After all, anyone can go online, learn about how such tests are analyzed, and adjust their answers accordingly (see above).

I also wonder about using a candidate’s time by giving them such a test. Isn’t it inconsiderate (or even unethical) to take advantage of a candidate’s desire for a job by subjecting them to a half-hour test that may or may not tell you anything about their suitability for that job?

If you have stories or data that suggest I’m wrong about pre-employment personality tests, pass it along. Until then, I recommend that you stick to interviewing OR hire them as a Temp-to-Perm worker if you want to see a candidate’s personality.

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Views: 546

Comment by Valentino Martinez on May 10, 2011 at 4:50pm

Tim,

 

While I agree with the questionable value of "Personality" tests & related testing, and the points you make--I must disagree with the image you have selected to portray a Tester of Personalities, because the picture you've chosen to use here is misleading.  It seems to be displaying a person holding a vile of some kind of liquid, chemical, diluted blood--who knows, but it certainly is not a good rendition of what testing for a personality would look like.  To that end, please consider using the picture I'm entering for that purpose.

Happy to be of service and you're quite welcome.

Comment by Richard Stephen on May 11, 2011 at 11:58pm

There’s no right or wrong personality style but understanding how a person likes to act is going to provide brilliant insight in to whether they are suitable for a particular environment….The accountant who is chatty may annoy all the other 50 quiet and introverted accountants in the firm. The quiet CEO will get lost by the noise of their overbearing senior leadership team…or the accountant firm happens to be full of extroverts who are sociable and friendly…the CEO is surrounded by equally quiet or respectful people who gel well together. You don’t know unless you ask them – through a personality questionnaire.

It’s about the gut feeling ok with science! Hopefully science backs up people intuitions. But ask someone’s gut to stand up in a court of law and they will be all about the process and scientific method and rigour of the tools used.

 

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