by Sharon Florentine

Are Personality Assessments Effective Hiring Tools?

Dec 22, 20147 mins
CareersIT JobsIT Skills

Businesses often use personality assessments to gauge a candidate's degree of cultural fit. looks at workplace personality tests really tells employers.

Cultural fit is critical to maintaining an engaged, productive and satisfied workforce. To ensure that match, businesses often use personality assessments to gauge a candidate’s degree of cultural fit in the hopes it will translate into loyalty and lower turnover. But are these assessments accurate and how much do they really reveal?

Not All Assessments Are Created Equal

Probably the best-known personality assessment is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI, developed in the 1940s based on Carl Jung’s hypotheses about how humans perceive and interact with the world around them. First published in 1962, more than 1.5 million instances of MBTI are administered each year, including to most employees at Fortune 500 companies, according to CPP, the company that owns the testing instrument.

But, according to John Demartini, a human behavioral specialist, the underlying principle of the MBTI is flawed. It demands that all people fall into one of 16 predetermined types, and that can be misleading for businesses, since human beings react differently to situations depending on the context. A person who seems introverted in the workplace might exhibit the exact opposite traits when in a social situation with friends or family, for example.

“While Myers-Briggs might suggest correlation with certain behaviors in specific and isolated contexts and settings — like working environments — overall, such generalized typing can be misleading to individuals, as well as organizations, and make them think that such individuals are solely a ‘one quadrant’ being; fixed in stone and predictably set,” says Demartini.

“Most individuals can vary in their approaches and reactions based on their environment and can demonstrate a full spectrum of traits,” says Demartini.

Aligning Personal Values With Corporate Mission

More through and in-depth assessments that can be useful in the workplace do exist, says Jim Povec, principal at the Padgett Performance Group, an assessment, leadership and professional human capital consulting firm.

Povec’s firm uses the Harrison Assessment, a workplace suitability tool, which measures 175 personality traits and scores them on a sliding scale. Based on the qualities, values and beliefs necessary to success in specific roles, Povec says the Harrison Assessment can give a much more accurate prediction of a candidate’s potential for success or failure in a role.

The Harrison Assessment is customizable to reflect each workplace’s core values and mission, says Povec, and then the test can be tweaked to gauge how well an individual candidate’s values and mission align with that of the workplace.

For example, Povec says, emotional IQ — empathy — is one of the most important traits for effective leadership, but it’s one that can’t be measured by most assessments.

“Now, if your organization is big on empathy as a core value but a candidate doesn’t score well on that part of the assessment, what does that mean? It’s not necessarily going to impact their empirical performance, but that doesn’t mean it’s not critical,” Povec says.

“Without that empathy, an applicant is not going to fit well into a team. They’re not going to care about their colleagues, and they’re not going to make a good contribution to morale, productivity and that’s bad for business overall,” Povec says.

Other traits that can be measured with tests like the Harrison Assessment are intellectual curiosity, self-regulation and ability to work independently and relationship management, all of which are critical soft skills, especially for leadership roles.

What Personality Assessments Can and Can’t Do

General, psychometric personality assessments can reveal how an average individual will respond to generic questions taken without context, according to Demartini. Assessments like Myers-Briggs use questions like, “You tend to sympathize with other people,” and only offer two potential answers: Yes or no.

Not only is human behavior rarely so binary, but such questions don’t take into account that not all individuals display honesty and true self-reflection. The test also can’t account for human beings’ desire to pass the test, which could lead candidates to give the response they believe the hiring firm wants to hear, not necessarily the one that reflects their own belief.

“Many individuals do not always see or represent themselves the way they actually are. The test cannot tell employers exactly how an individual will react and respond to various work related matters, in context, in certain individual settings,” Demartini says.

An accurate assessment depends upon an individual’s hierarchy of values and the degree of congruency between those values and his or her attentions, intentions and actions, Demartini says.

Predictive Analytics for Human Capital

Identifying a candidate’s values, priorities and ethics, and then gauging how those align with the values, priorities and ethics of a company are a much greater indicator of candidates’ potential success or failure on the job, and that is where values-based assessments like Harrison are really worthwhile, says Povec.

“One of the major trends in industry today is using predictive analytics — and to me, that’s what Harrison allows HR, recruiters and hiring managers to do. If you look at the results from a Harrison Assessment, people are telling you what’s important to them, what makes their work meaningful, what they love [and] where they excel. That translates to business knowing exactly how to motivate, encourage, incentivize and retain talent,” Povec says.

Values-based assessments aren’t just for pre-employment screening, Povec says. They are valuable resources for current employees to understand how to improve and for career growth and development.

“Top performers love taking these types of assessments, because it helps them identity areas in which they need help, where they can grow, where they can improve and how they can do better. Offering an assessment like Harrison to a top performer, or a potential top performer, is giving them a great tool to better themselves, and to inspire loyalty to your organization,” Povec says.

While personality assessments are legal, they should not be the sole criteria used to make hiring decisions, according experts. In addition, these types of assessments should be an all-or-nothing exercise given to all potential employees during the screening process or to none to avoid legal trouble.

“Everyone must be subject to the same assessment criteria to remove a legal basis for discrimination lawsuits. If you’re unsure, consult an employment attorney or don’t use these tests. Remember, too, that this shouldn’t be the single deciding factor when making a hire – I suggest technical skills, experience and knowledge should count for about 50 percent of the decision, assessments for 30 percent and interview performance 20 percent,” says Povec.

“There is nothing inherently immoral or unethical about having candidates take these tests or even making such assessments mandatory, as long as the results are used in context and not in a discriminatory fashion,” says Demartini.

Congruent Values Are What Matter

Personality assessments can help you determine how congruent the job description, values and mission of your organization is with an individual’s highest values or priorities. The greater the match, the better probability of cultural fit, productivity, engagement and longevity, no matter if the candidate is an introvert, extrovert, a judger, perceiver, intuitive or what have you.

“Each individual is an extrovert in those settings that are more in alignment with their highest values and an introvert in other settings that are not in alignment with their highest values. Individual human values make more practical personality indicators. That’s why typologies are fading out in favor of more concise value-determination systems today,” says Demartini.