Personality Tests & How to Use them

Using Personality Data to make Good Hiring Decisions

Let's assume you've conducted a recent and thorough job analysis. You know what knowledge, skills, abilities, experience and behaviours predict success. You're also using a reputable personality test - one that's reliable, valid, fair and engaging - as part of your assessment process. So far, so good. Personality is a better predictor of work performance than lots of other things: qualifications, references, unstructured interviews...

However, how do you use personality data to make good hiring decisions?

Personality ≠ behaviour

First things first. Personality is not the same as behaviour. It's true, for example, that an extraverted person is likely to be sociable, and also assertive and energetic. However, these traits may be present in different 'quantities' and may not all be on show at the same time. That's the thing about personality. Different settings -- work, home, leisure -- tend to highlight different aspects of personality.

In contrast, a personality test reveals someone's 'default setting'. That's what they're usually like, across situations. In consequence the results provide an indication of how someone might behave (and think and feel) -- and not that they will be influenced by their personality to always behave in a particular manner. This is why the best way to use results is to focus interview questions in order to explore the likely impact of a candidate's personality in a work setting.

Select in, don't sift out

Building on the first point, it makes sense to use personality data to select candidates into the hiring process, rather than sift them out. Use the results from a personality test to add depth to your decision making, in conjunction with other sources of information that have been shown to be predictive of work performance.

Go ahead and use personality insights to explore a candidate's likely work style, motivation and fit with the team. In practice, the big takeaway is that someone concerned with fairness and objectivity does not 'remove' candidates from the hiring process based on the results of a personality test alone.

Open up, don't close down

It's all about finding candidates who can do the job, would like to do the job, and who will become productive members of a team and organisation. However, candidates who fit the bill are likely to have a range of different personalities within the parameters set by the job analysis. Basically, there's always going to be more than one 'type' of person who can do the job. This is a good thing.

It also means that hiring managers should not fixate on one 'ideal' profile, rather they should recognise that a range of different personality characteristics are equally valid. In this way, personality data allows for aspects of difference and diversity to be recognised in the hiring process.

'Low scoring' high performers

A typical scenario is that an organisation's top performers are encouraged to complete a personality test. This is then used as the justification for using personality data in making hiring decisions, as long as those ace performers all get the 'right' results. Of course, the right results are those which reflect a perfect personality match with the requirements of their current positions. But what does it suggest if they don't?

Another important thing to know about personality is that if we're aware that our personality influences our behaviour -- in what we consider may not be helpful ways -- we might have done something about it! Thus those personality results may not be wrong: your top performers may be top performers because they have a 'work-around' for their personality.

It's a fact that all of us use 'coping mechanisms' and can adjust our outward behaviour. That's why introverted people can give speeches, disorganised people plan a project, and altruistic people make hard decisions. Of course, it frequently takes energy to operate outside your default setting -- and may not always feel comfortable -- but it's worth considering the difference between someone's 'true' and 'operational' personalities. This is yet another reason to go beyond the surface of someone's personality and to validate their results directly with them.

And finally, attack of the clones

"If only we could clone Jane." It should be apparent by now that using personality data in an agile and thoughtful way means an organisation actually avoids the dangers of ending up with a cloned workforce. In fact, what employers usually mean when they talk about 'Jane' is they would like everyone to be equally as capable, productive and as well integrated within the organisation. This doesn't require the use of Petri dishes! What it does imply is that personality data is used to objectively illuminate the process of making hiring decisions.

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