Personality Tests “Useless”: Is this really true?

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Personality Tests “Useless”: Is this really true?

“Personality tests are useless at predicting future job performance,” if you believe self-confessed personality test hater Bob Corlett. Mr Corlett by the way is founding member of the Editorial Advisory Board for the HR Examiner.

He feels personality testing is “just a way to shirk responsibility.” Except for that comment and his nuclear-like condemnation of personality tests for hiring in general, I surprisingly agree with most of his rationale and opinions.  We just don’t arrive at the same conclusion.

For example, Mr. Corlett believes “To hire successfully, you need more deep thinking, not less.”  Absolutely, that’s true. But doesn’t deep thinking require that you ask more questions and get more information?  Sure it does.  Personality tests are another source of valuable insight.

If managers use the information incorrectly, then they likely are misusing information from interview questions (or even asking the wrong or illegal questions) too. The problem isn’t the test. It’s the manager – his or her people imperfect analytic ability to be perfectly precise.

He goes on, “A personality test will never encourage your managers to have the kinds of flexible thinking you need, because the test makes the ultimate decision.”

Bull$h!t. That statement is so wrong. A personality test only provides information. Is Mr. Corlett suggesting that personality tests make a manager do stupid things?  If a manager was good at hiring in the first place, most companies wouldn’t even consider using pre-employment tests. It doesn’t hold the manager at gunpoint.

If a manager is willing to flip off his decision making skills and default to the test for the winner, then he’s just as likely to rely on questionable judgment during the interview. Many managers are already really competent at seeing and hearing what they want to hear and ignoring what they don’t.

No good hiring system should rely on personal judgment or a single source of information. If a manager chooses to use only the test results to hire his next employee, that is user error and/or the result of a weak hiring process.

Used correctly, pre-employment personality tests help managers become better interviewers.  In fact, many of these pre-hire tests include recommended interview questions based on applicant responses.

I agree with Corlett that these tests can be alluring and everyone wants these tests to work.  That is because most people, even the best recruiter and hiring manager, struggles with hiring the right people.  If a personality test can add a little more insight and improve the rates of success just a few percentage points, they translate into a lot of time, money, and resources saved in the future.

Here’s another curious proclamation from Corlett: “No test will save you from the hard work of developing an intelligent hiring process.”  Who wouldn’t agree with that? As I mentioned earlier, personality tests make a hiring process more intelligent when used in conjunction with other screening tools like the behavioral interview.

Relying on only the interview places the hiring burden squarely on a manager’s ability to cut through the mask worn by the savvy and rehearsed candidate. Even more suspect is the manager’s ability to neutralize all personal bias from his decision making.  Few managers are so skilled at interviewing they can eliminate some bias. And bias makes selection vulnerable to mistakes.

Before I close this article, I wanted to share one pet peeve.  Why is it that every writer or consultant that wants to badmouth personality tests resorts to comparing them to phrenology, the 19th century theory of determining personal attributes by measure the bumps on a person’s head? Really? Is that the best argument offered to discount the value of personality tests? If so, I guess we should question the value of computer science because it was based on the same fundamental math principles as the abacus and slide ruler. Testing for almost any purpose has progressed in infinite ways since the 1800s.  For sure, there is a lot of room for improvement but eliminating pre-employment testing from a hiring manager’s toolbox does not improve chances of success.

But I digress!

The bottom line is this: personality tests can make good managers better at hiring; But they don’t won’t make bad managers who make stupid or bad choices good.

Comments (4)

  1. Mar 27, 2015

    In only a way that Ira can, he provides to the point insights as to how and why pre-employment tests are just another piece of information in the hiring decision process. The testing can go on to help inform follow up interview questions or reference check questioning. Then, if the candidate is successful, it provides coaching and career development insights.
    Ira – thanks for your insights

    • Mar 27, 2015

      Rick – Thanks for following, reading, and confirmation. Sometimes all I hear is my echo!

  2. Jesse
    May 26, 2015

    Personality test are completely useless in all sense! The ones who pass these test are mostly (not all) the best liars that are out there. Do you really think someone is gonna answer the question honestly “I get irritated when I have a lot of work to do”?? No of course not, they will lie and say whatever to float your boat.

    In my 10 years of management in the hospitality industry, I’ve noticed that hiring people who pass the personality test tend to be trouble makers of some sort (again, because they know what to tell you and know how to lie). Those who fail those test are telling the truth………….don’t you think we should be hiring them since they answered the test honestly?

    How do I know all this………………Im an ex-convicted con who passed these personality test with high flying colors (no background check was conducted on me, so they didn’t find out about my felonies). I ended being one of their best workers not telling them the truth about how I hate working with people. Now Im a hotel general manager.

    • May 26, 2015

      Thank you for your comments about your experience with pre-hire personality tests. It is difficult to respond accurately since I don’t Thank you for your comments about your experience with pre-hire personality tests. It is difficult to respond accurately since I don’t know which assessment you completed. But lumping all the testing available to employers in one category is an unfair and broad assumption.
      All tests used for hiring should have what psychometricians (the people who study, design, and validate tests) call a “distortion” scale. It is a scale that detects aberrations in the results such as lying. Even if you chose to fake out the personality questions, the distortion scale would flag the results as too good or too bad to be true. If the assessment you completed did not include such a scale (or chose to ignore it), shame on the employer.
      I’d also like to address your concern about why anyone applying for a job would answer honestly a question such as “I get irritated when I have a lot of work to do.” Your assumption is wrong.
      We test hundreds of thousands of applicants each year. Hundreds of millions of candidates are tested worldwide. I can assure you that plenty of people do respond honestly. Not only do they admit to be irritated but often admit to questions that ask about skipping work, stealing from a previous employer, harassing a co-worker, or even hitting a co-worker when angry. One reason they admit unacceptable behavior is that many people are honest. They admit their faults. Others feel justified in the action they take because to them it’s normal. Third, many people are not looking just for a paycheck but a job or career that fits their personal style and work approach. If they lie, they may get a job they hate or get fired. It seems you got the outcome you wanted. Others are not so fortunate.
      Regarding your qualifications to beat the “personality test with flying colors,” congratulations! Unfortunately I have some bad news. Unless the assessment was a clinical test for mental illness (which is typically illegal to use for most jobs), there is no such thing as “flying colors.” Your personality is what it is. It might be a good fit for one job and not another. Trying to fake out a personality test serves little purpose and rarely works out for the applicant, employee, or employer.
      If the assessment they used didn’t have a distortion scale (also called good impression, social desirability, and positive factor) maybe you did successfully lie your way into a job. Or maybe your employer was looking for someone who exhibited creativity and flexibility, who was willing to push back and interpret rules loosely, and not a manager who walked the straight and narrow.
      Besides, how do you know the manager who hired you even read the results…and if he or she paid any attention to them? They didn’t run a background check for a management position. That’s a risky proposition for any employer, especially those in hospitality. Please don’t take this personal but it might not be your ability to fake out a personality test that got you the job. It seems your employer’s hiring policies might be a bit lax. Unfortunately many managers prefer to turn a blind eye to potential risks and fill a vacancy as quickly as possible.
      Regardless of our differing opinions on the accuracy and utilization of pre-hire personality tests, congratulations on 10 years in management and hopefully 10 years of reformed and honest living. Hopefully you will never be asked to complete a personality test again when applying for a job. Next time you might not be so lucky when that employer utilizes the results properly and conducts a background check.