How to Use Personality Tests for Employee Selection and Rejection

rejectedIn my experience, most users of personality tests aren’t aware of the practical distinction between using these tests to select candidates and using tests to reject them. In fact, selection and rejection are very different testing stratagems and, for both decision-making and legal reasons, users need to be quite clear on what those differences are.

Candidate selection is what most people associate with testing, but the reality is that tests do a better job of signaling who is unlikely to perform well in a job than they do of predicting who will likely succeed. Even one behavioral factor, by its presence or absence, might greatly increase the odds of job failure, but it rarely works the other way around. Complex roles are dependent upon so many diverse variables that no one test can accurately predict high-level performance on a sustained basis.

Using a test as a method of rejection means employing it in a frontline screening role where a cut-off score of some type determines who gets weeded out and who continues through the evaluation process. This is ideal for high-volume hiring situations where speed is essential. To some people, this seems terribly unfair or, at the very least, impersonal. Quite to the contrary, so long as the organization undertakes an objective, statistically based study of the job, preferably one in compliance with EEOC guidelines for such studies, it is very fair. Personality tests have not been found to produce an adverse impact on any protected group, so tests do not cull out candidates in any disproportionate way, and they provide an objective, as opposed to a subjective, means of differentiating job-performance potential.

The critical consideration for a rejection process to work is the quality of the job analysis. Sometimes less formal, but statistically sound methods work.  For example, accomplishing an indiscriminate group analysis of top and bottom performers in a job, but only where clear behavioral or trait differences exist between the two groups, can be an effective means of measuring candidate potential. Better still is an in-depth statistical study that generates at least one or more statistically significant correlations between the test measures and actual job performance outcomes. Such a study might show that sales revenues increase in unison with increases in assertiveness or initiative, in which case, candidates with more of those qualities will be more likely to generate higher sales.

Without rigorous job analysis, even ignoring possible legal concerns, the screening process could produce false positives, filtering out potentially higher performers in lieu of those with less likelihood to succeed. As implied above, when used in isolation, tests can only in the broadest way predict performance. In reality, no tool or process unilaterally has that type of predictive capability.

Alternatively, employing valid personality tests at the selection stage in conjunction with job benchmarks should enable users to objectively extract talents, motivational factors, as well as job-related behaviors that can only be inferred from interviews, yet with more precise calibration. One of the nuances of understanding personality is that the degree of various traits a candidate possesses is as crucial a consideration as the traits themselves! In some jobs, this gradation can be the one differentiating variable between top and middling performance.

At the selection stage, tests should also help validate and amplify what is learned from other tools and procedures, such as simulations, reference checks, résumés, and interviews. Effective assessment should leave no loose ends, so tests should either confirm insights from these sources or raise red flags where inconsistencies are evident.

Hiring is much like gambling: It’s always a game of odds. The issue is how to shift those odds more consistently in your favor. Tests can do that, but you have to be realistic in your expectations and know what you want testing to contribute to the overall assessment process. Even shifting those odds a couple points can have a tremendous accumulative effect on improving hiring success and job performance, and minimizing hiring and onboarding costs.

__________________________________________________________________________13259f4For more than forty years, Frank Gump has been helping corporations become more productive and profitable by helping management teams identify and hire top performers and manage them most effectively. Developed and refined through extensive experience in more than 1200 organizations in the United States, Canada, England, and Australia, ADGI’s Organizational Management System (OMS) is a finely calibrated, technologically advanced decision-making process offering the potential for enormous payback. Contact ADGI for more insight and connect with Frank on LinkedIn. Follow ADGI on Twitter @ADGIGroup. Like ADGI on Facebook and follow us on Google+.

2 thoughts on “How to Use Personality Tests for Employee Selection and Rejection”

  1. Excellent, and critical, point for managers and executive to understand – and more importantly, practice. Great article.

    1. Thanks, Dennis… I do hope that executives and HR professionals take these comments to heart. The proliferation of “parlor game” types of personality tests on the Internet has given too many people a superficial understanding and set of expectations for tests… They want what doesn’t exist – that proverbial silver bullet. Effective hiring will always be hard work and take time, and so it should! – Frank

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