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: 1082

Comment by Peter Blitz on January 27, 2011 at 12:18pm

I have always used the tests after a phone screen with a select group. One thing I've recently started doing is telling the candidates up front that I don't use the results as a screening tool and that I will share the results with them. They can learn how their traits match against the job and any areas for concern. This creates a very compelling dialogue about the traits we are looking for in the right candidate without making it totally about "them" - the candidate opens up more. It's quite rare that someone passes a phone screen and is a really bad fit according to the traits test we use. There are always areas for discussion, but it's been a long time since I've outright disqualified someone based on the results.


Yes, the tests should never, ever be used in conjunction with an online application process. Due to the length of time it takes to complete a credible traits assessment, there must be a relationship in place with the candidate before asking them to complete the assessment.


I would encourage people using these tests to share the results with candidates in the interview process. It yields very interesting discussions.

Comment by Paul Basile on January 27, 2011 at 1:30pm
We test people outside of any application process and it is the best way.  Why should a test taker have a particular job in mind when answering questions about him/herself? We get much more meaningful results this way and the individual gets terrific, relevant insight into themselves. Think about it.
Comment by Sandra McCartt on January 27, 2011 at 6:25pm

A certain Texas oil man who owned a chain of banks became so excited about a bunch of tests that he started using them to hire employees for the banks.  He decided they were so great that he insisted that all of the current employees of the banks and several other companies take them to see if they were a fit.  They all did.


Result number 1.  He fired about half of his current employees based on the results of the tests.

Result number 2.  Half of the new hires who had passed the tests quit because their boss was fired.

Result number 3.  He no longer owns banks, sold them because of employee turnover.

Comment by Paul Basile on January 27, 2011 at 7:00pm
Fun stories, folks but the facts are these: tests win, science wins. You can be as much of a gut-feel expert as you like about, say, medicine and health, but I will trust the licensed MD every time.  Medical science isn't perfect - shall we each recite examples of when medical science failed us?  Like my first wife, who died 8 years ago of breast cancer?  Still, I know and you know that overall medical science is science - it uses the best of human intelligent, instinct, insight, imagination and creates a systematic, disciplined approach that is better.  It's not the opposite of the "human element", it IS the human element, collected.  The same is true of assessments.  That doesn't mean there aren't quacks in both fields but denying science isn't the conclusion to reach.
Comment by Paul Basile on January 27, 2011 at 7:29pm
Morgan, well I can't really agree. In baseball Hall of Famers go 0 for 4 all the time. Look at the longer term statistics. Doctors lose patients all the time; look at the full results. Test can be bad, there isn't a lot of fixed control. The science of good assessments is backed up by pretty hard facts as well as theory and evidence. Tests can be misused but overall are subject to much more defensible scrutiny than human prejudices. Good human judgement is a great thing, stick to it if you want. You will continue to do well. And science-based approaches will, evidence dictates, do better.
Comment by Becki Dunaway on January 27, 2011 at 8:01pm

I think we can all agree that we have different opinions about whether to test or not.  And not one opinion appears to be totally right or wrong.  I think testing works well in some situations; but I really believe it should not be the only deciding factor on whether you should proceed through the interview process.  I heard this story from someone I know who was working on an MBA.  Their class took a personality assessment as part of a project.  Based on the results one of the classmates received, he should never work in sales because he would make a poor sales person.  As it turns out, he did work in sales and he was the company's Number 1 sales person.  If the company had considered his test results in their decision to hire, they would have missed out on the best sales person they ever had. 


I think we need to not put so much weight on assessments; but use them as part of the entire process.  As with Morgan, I believe that sometimes you really just know from the first conversation if the person is a fit for the company or not.  The rest of the process should confirm the gut feeling. 

Comment by Sandra McCartt on January 28, 2011 at 3:20pm

Any time i have a client who is using tests i ask if i may take it to see how i score.  There have been some pretty funny results.

One reflected that i would be better suited to work as an auto mechanic.  I have trouble screwing in a light blub.  I hate trying to fix anything.


One reflected that i did not have the people skills to be in sales.  The HR rep i was working with got a laugh out of that one.


One reflected that i was better suited to teaching or the medical profession.  I can not stand little kids except in very small doses and the site of blood or needles makes me throw up.


Tests may be wonderful.  There are people who can not take tests for all kinds of reasons.  Tests may reflect certain apptitudes or whatever but i don't think they can predict what an individual can or will do based on personal motivation in different circumstances.  A great sales rep can fail dismally if he hates his boss or product is not delivered.  Because people react differently in different situations based on outside stimuli that tests can not predict they may be somewhat of an indicator but a hire based on test results is normally a rule that gets broken often when a known success in an industry blows the test but has a track record that contridicts the results.


I have seen them come and go four or five different times.  This seems to be a time of upsurge of testing.  These things too shall pass as they always have.  And they will be back.


Comment by Paul Basile on January 28, 2011 at 3:59pm
Funny stories are great. I can of course cite equally funny stories of wrong-headed hiring done by apparently smart, experienced, insightful recruiters and hiring managers where it all goes wrong. We all can.  Stories and cool and instructive but facts are facts: good tests professionally applied get the best results in understanding people and jobs and in placing people in the right places. Not every time but over many examples, yes. It's foolish not to use every advantage we can have (in my opinion).  People with good intuition will make good judgments, too.


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