HR Management & Compliance, Learning & Development

Using Preemployment Personality Tests—A Quick Guide

Hiring, onboarding, and training new employees are some of the most important—and challenging—functions that an HR professional may be called upon to perform. Personality assessments can help HR with these efforts. To explain how, we present an article by Cynthia J. Sax, senior vice president at Caliper, a global employee assessment and organizational effectiveness firm.

One of the toughest decisions an HR professional has to make is which applicant to hire. You probably have at least one story of a candidate who aced the interview and had great credentials but bombed in whatever job he or she was hired to perform. Hiring decisions can be stressful not just from an economics and resources standpoint but also because, honestly, we don’t want to look bad to our peers by having advocated for the wrong applicant.

A Bad Hire Is Time and Money Wasted

If you’ve worked in HR long enough, you’ve probably encountered preemployment personality assessments as well, or at least you’ve heard of them (or gotten a phone call from someone trying to sell you one).
It’s understandable to be skeptical. Human resources 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 also opening yourself up to a world of data that can help with onboarding, teambuilding, coaching, and succession planning.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Good Personality Assessment and a Poor One?

“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 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 also predicts 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.
In tomorrow’s Advisor, Sax discusses what else preemployment personality assessments are good for.
Sax is senior vice president of consulting services at Caliper, a global employee assessment and organizational effectiveness firm.