Do Personality Tests Really Work?

When it comes to the tricky task of hiring, you might recall a time when one candidate looked great on paper, aced the interview, then went on to be a less-than-great employee. Today we’ll hear from the Vice President of Caliper®, Cyndi Sax, about how to address this exact problem.

By Cyndi Sax, senior vice president, Caliper

A Bad Hire Is Time and Money Wasted

 If you’ve worked in human resources long enough, you’ve probably encountered preemployment personality assessments, or at least you’ve heard of them (or you’ve gotten a phone call from someone trying to sell you one).

It’s understandable to be skeptical. HR departments typically have limited budgets to start with, and now you’re being asked to shell out money so an applicant can take an anonymous questionnaire?

And you should be skeptical, until you can vet the assessment and make sure it is backed by real science. Once you do find a good preemployment assessment, though, go for it, because in the long run, you are not only saving money by hiring the right person but you are also opening yourself up to a world of data that can help with onboarding, team building, coaching, and succession planning.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Good and Bad Personality Assessment

 “You get what you pay for” is as a good rule of thumb for a preemployment assessment as it is for any purchase. Anyone with decent software can slap together a cheap questionnaire and call it a personality test. An organization that specializes in talent development and that commits to performing research and testing is likely to be the one that delivers an effective tool for evaluating the motivations, strengths, and limitations of a job applicant.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The sales rep who reached out to you should be able to tell you the history of the assessment and who developed and researched it. A good assessment has been evaluated and revised over time, and the people conducting the research and development are not interns; they are experienced professionals with the same credentials you would expect to be behind any scientifically validated instrument.

And speaking of scientific validation, a preemployment assessment is only legitimate if it has been rigorously tested to ensure its validity, reliability, and predictability. This means that the tool is confirmed to measure the personality traits it claims to measure, consistently and over time, and predicts the on-the-job behaviors it claims to predict.

An assessment company that does not conduct ongoing research and testing to validate its instrument is a company you should avoid.

What Else Is a Preemployment Assessment Good For?

 If a personality assessment does nothing more than help you hire the right employees, it has paid back the money you spent 100 times over. Hiring and then terminating the wrong person wastes thousands of dollars in training and benefits, and now you have to repeat the exhausting search process.

But a good personality assessment can do so much more. By uncovering a person’s strengths, limitations, and motivations, you can customize your onboarding and development efforts as well as ramp up productivity and avoid the pitfalls that would otherwise be unseen.

For example, imagine you hire someone to perform administrative work. The new employee quickly proves to be conscientious and smart, but the personality assessment reveals he or she lacks self-assurance as a decision maker. Instead of wondering why the employee is asking so many questions and taking so much time to get up to speed, you would now be armed with the knowledge to create a 30-day action plan that focuses on encouraging independent judgement.

Tomorrow, more reasons to use preemployment personality assessments.