Personality Tests Make the Hiring Decisions

Recently, someone I know went to a corporate website of a local firm in which they were interested.  The company posted a sales position and he clicked ‘apply’.  As part of the application process, he was forced to go through a 25 page questionnaire.  Inquiring Recruiter?  Yes, I HAD to know the details too.


The questions were all multiple choice and many were repeated in different variations.  Multiple choice questions are basically someone else’s ‘canned’ answers.  Remember now, this was an application he was completing.  Upon completion of this application, he was immediately bumped to a screen telling him he was not qualified.  There was no phone screen, no day or two to review it – BOOM you’re unfit to work here; period.


For those of you who know me well, I have a pet peeve about follow up.  And I do believe in the automatic email features within the ATS so candidates know their resume has been received.  So, yes he had closure and wasn’t left waiting for some type of reply (follow up) that never comes.  But it seems that there was a few steps missed here; or at least one big one = personal touch (or interaction). 


Companies are using the all knowing, super duper ATS not as a means to flag/prioritize candidates with the right job skills so they are viewed more quickly and for resume storage; but they’re using it to tell us if someone has the right personality to work at the company.  How does this type of questionnaire give you a true picture of a candidate’s personality?  Especially when they are just selecting the best answer based on what answer choices were provided on the questionnaire.


This type of Recruiting (if you can call it that) is extremely scary to a Recruiting veteran such as me.  I don’t believe you can remove the personal touch aspect of Recruiting and still find great talent.  I think this new type of recruiting is causing us to miss some really great gems.  And, if this is the way things are going, then what are Recruiters now doing on a daily basis?  What’s our purpose?


I know that much of this way of working has everything to do with companies having reduced the size of their HR departments while increasing the volume of work they do; but this seems to be a seriously bad business move in my opinion.  Thoughts?

Views: 1087

Comment by Christopher Perez on January 26, 2011 at 11:24am

Becki, I can understand your reaction to this situation. However, there are many types of personality surveys/assessment tools in use that have been scientifically validated many times over. If you google "DISC" I think you'll find some interesting information. Also, when you consider that these personality "tests" are really just the individual self-reporting on their own responses to different situations, it's pretty much like looking in a mirror. I have been amazed at the "accuracy" with which these things described my personality, until I realized that I basically described myself to the tool and it just regurgitated what I had told it. They can be a bit creepy in their accuracy until you take this into account!

Now with that said, I think that in this case the tool was misused, or at least, used at the wrong point in the process. I run a boutique practice in a small microniche of medical communications, so I am able to spend a lot of time with my clients and candidates. But even if I was in a high volume type of practice, I would not permit this type of mechanical sorting of candidates as a first step. Perhaps once a person made it to advanced levels of the interview process I might consider one of these to uncover things I had missed. But even then, I would not use it as a knockout factor, but rather as fodder for further discussion if any concern areas were revealed. My .02.

Comment by Peter Blitz on January 26, 2011 at 11:33am

We have successfully used personality traits assessments for years now to help us both with hiring and managing. They absolutely don't replace traditional recruiting techniques, but they supplement the process with some very powerful objective information. We use them less as a screening tool to qualify or disqualify an applicant and more as a guide to know what questions to ask in an interview. They have also been invaluable when structuring a position for a someone's strengths and weaknesses and the tests have literally made the difference between having a highly successful employee and an unhappy one in several cases.


I've put a lot of thought into how these tests could be used more effectively in a staffing firm and spoken to lots of recruiters who feel pretty much the same about them as you two do, Becki and Morgan. I think that they would be best used as an internal tool by the staffing firm once a short list of candidates is established and not as a client-facing tool. In some cases, like RPO, where there is a very close relationship with the client and some education on how to use the tests can happen, it could work. I definitely think that the proper use of these types of tests can improve results for staffing firms, though. The more tools, the better, and the test we use is a great tool in a larger arsenal of tools that lets us hire the right people.


Not all tests are created equal and I've looked at a large number of them. The one we currently use is from mindworks: .


Thus completes my first post on ;)

Comment by Paul Basile on January 26, 2011 at 11:34am
No feedback or instant non-personal response is awful, I agree.  But science, research, hard evidence will prove - not contend, but prove - that industry-standard, validated tests will produce a better fit for both candidate and employer.  Everyone ones.  That doesn't mean that some people can't be casual with the science, or misuse it, but it works.  It isn't only personality testing and "multiple choice" questions are not necessarily "canned".  Be informed before you make accusations. Done correctly, testing works for everyone.
Comment by Shannon Erdell on January 26, 2011 at 12:17pm

I do agree that the method your client used is all wrong, however I support assessments to the extent that they can predict behavior and motivation (versus simply "personality.")  We have adopted an assessment tool as a value-add to our clients, particularly for key positions and it has been well received.

I believe that recruiting is both an art and a science. The mistake would be to exclude the artistic part (recruiter personal touch) altogether.


Some of the fault is in the people who craft and sell the tests, believing that they have the exact formula to determine a person's success. I disagree with you a bit Paul. I've taken several of the most popular assessments, several times and I've learned how to fool them (even getting past their "liar" filter.) These tests were designed by people after-all and they aren't perfect, no matter what "proof" is used to support them.

In my view, the best practice would probably be to use about 33% behavior and motivation assessment, 33% experience, training and education, 33% interview and yes, gut feeling.


Back to the client in question. They are hiring sales people, right? If I wanted a sales job, I'd ignore my failed test and work hard to talk to someone anyway. Hey - they want a good sales person right? If he/she can't bet past the "gate-keeper," they might not be that good.



Comment by Allison on January 26, 2011 at 12:18pm

I agree that various assessments do have a place in the evaluation and screening process. Like with any tool, it must be used carefully and appropriately. I would agree that the way it was implemented in this case is inappropriate.  I also don’t think there is one end-all, be-all tool to find the perfect candidate. Personality assessments are just one tool in the recruiter’s tool box when it comes to sourcing and evaluating prospective candidates. I do not believe in a one-tool shop as many recruiters do who rely almost solely on their intuition or gut instinct from their years of experience interviewing candidates.  I think the interview is a valuable tool, but it can be enhanced with skills and personality assessments, background and reference checks, and all the other ways we assess the strength of a candidate. I think the goal of every recruiter is to get past the paper resume to the PERSON. If personality assessments help us to get to the person faster and more effectively then I am all for it.

Comment by Joseph P. Murphy on January 26, 2011 at 12:38pm


The candidate experience is one of the most significant factors in what is called FACE VALIDITY.  Becki and the rejected candidate question the appropriateness of the questionnaire and left with a BRAND NEGATIVE impression of the company.  Neither outcome good.


As several of the other commenter’s stated, when done well, pre-employment assessment can add value to comparing and contrasting candidates.  However, in this case, regardless of the psychometric rigor, the application of rule-based decision making sends a very poor message.


In a recently completed, but not yet summarized, survey we conducted on Candidate Expectations, one of the most important things applicants want is status feedback.  The system described here wins big points in process feedback, but the FELT FAIR factor is way below par.


Performance in most jobs is driven by a pretty complex set of competencies.  Occupational Personality, or  workstyle as we prefer to call it,  typically accounts for less that 25% of performance variation.  So to knock someone out with that small of an evaluation sample seems imprudent.  But, recruiters put resumes in "NO" piles with less science, less time, and more personal bias at play all the time.  The candidate just does not get instant feedback when their resume lands in the circular file.


I have blogged about similar issues.  Here are two links you may find of interest.

Pre-employment testing in the experience economy

Selection Science




Comment by Paul Basile on January 26, 2011 at 5:28pm


I want to encourage you to think a bit more broadly about the role of tests. So far, organizations have tended to use them late in the recruitment process as a supplement to other things. But leading companies do a lot more than that. There is tremendous power in the science and to underuse it isn't fair either to employer or candidate. We can use tests in a very fundamental way, in ways much more advantageous to candidates and employers, and the highest performing companies are doing that.

Comment by Becki Dunaway on January 26, 2011 at 9:18pm

Everyone has great feedback and I appreciate hearing all sides.  Again, I'm not at all opposed to testing if it's used properly.  But I have serious doubt the proper way to use it is at the very beginning when someone is submitting their resume into the system for consideration.  As a few of you already stated, it leaves the candidate with a bad feeling about the firm.  I already know the person this happened to told his friends and their friends, etc.  And now the problem is that there could potentially be someone within this loop of friends who would have truely been a good fit who are now unwilling to spend the time to apply.


It seems to me that this type of testing would be more beneficial after at least a phone screen, but maybe before a face to face interview.  Just my thoughts.

Comment by Becki Dunaway on January 26, 2011 at 9:39pm

@Joseph -- I did take a look at your blogs - very interesting reads.

@Peter -- Congratulations on your first Recruitingblogs post!  Great information there too.  And you're right - the more tools to help us with a decision the better.  But this one should not be done right out of the gate.  Used at the right time, would be much more beneficial.

Comment by Paul Basile on January 26, 2011 at 10:47pm


I think given the experience cited at the beginning of this train of comments, it's logical to shy away from tests at the beginning of a recruitment process.  But in fact, properly done, it opens real possibilities for the candidate - it's in their best interests to give them full consideration - much fuller than a cv reading - at the beginning.  A good many of the best companies do this - but, indeed, it must be done (like everything) professionally and with personal attention.


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