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Published April 2004

Making the Most of Personality Tests

By Michelle Collins

Personality and assessment tests have become increasingly popular over the last few years. When used to their best advantage they can help you make the right hiring decisions, and improve productivity with your current employees.

"People are getting more anxious about providing references other than to confirm employment," explains David Towler, a partner with Creative Organizational Design. "People don't want to get sued if the employee turns out to be a bad hire. It's a difficult situation for employers and I think this is why you've seen a fairly large jump in testing over the last few years."

If you decide that testing and assessment is the way to go Towler advises contacting a professional organization with qualified people who can administer, score, and evaluate these tests. While these tests may be available in several areas, on the Internet, in a magazine, or through a professional organization, the results you get and what you decide to do with them can be very serious.

Whatever you do, don't write a test of your own.

"People who've whipped up their own tests have no proof that it's reliable, accurate, and that it measures what it's supposed to. There were some cases where the companies got their tails sued off by applicants or employees who claimed discrimination, because they couldn't prove that these self-made tools measured what they said they were going to measure," says Towler. "As a result these tests were ruled invalid, and this is where some of the standards have come from.

Personality tools vs. assessment tools

If you are thinking of incorporating one or more of these tools into your hiring process make sure that you understand why and what you hope to achieve from it. There are many tests on the market that measure all kinds of skill sets and personality profiles. Towler says that it is difficult to pinpoint which tests are the most efficient, as it's a very subjective area.

Skill assessments are efficient in measuring the qualities and qualifications necessary to perform a particular job and Towler advocates using them in the screening process. These include things like manual dexterity, math skills, and literacy tests.

"I think that when it really comes down to it, you're always on much safer ground looking at skills, behaviours, attitudes, and attributes when you're measuring someone's suitability for employment rather than looking at whether they have the right "fit", because it's subjective."

Personality tests aren't necessarily the best indicators of an employee's potential because they simply weren't designed for that function.

"There's no correlation between your personality and on the job behaviour," says Towler. "You may be an outgoing gregarious person, and those might very well be the qualities that a good salesperson has. Simply being able to identify a personality type is no guarantee that you're going to be able to consistently replicate that sort of behaviour in a job situation. For that reason it's ill advised to use a personality tool for a pre-screening tool to determine whether or not someone is going to be a good candidate."

Benefits of personality tests

When used correctly personality tests can be very effective tools explains Towler. Perhaps one of the best things about them is that the results tend to be very accurate. Towler has found that most of the people he has tested aren't particularly surprised over their results, with a few areas showing up as higher or lower scored than the individual would have expected.

Knowing that these qualities can change over time make these kinds of tests useful when employees are placed in new positions. As employees move through the ranks they are asked to take on duties that are unfamiliar and maybe even unpleasant, explains Towler. This can cause them to react in a negative way, even if they are enthusiastic about new challenges and opportunities. The insight gained from these tests can bring that out allowing the business owner to understand what is really happening and adapt their approach.

By using these tests you can build more effective teams, or adapt your approach knowing that a particular employee is likely to react in a certain manner. So if you have an employee who is wary of change and you know that they need to take on new duties you or co-workers may have to give them the time and space to adjust to these changes. Or on the other hand, if a personality test shows that someone thrives on a quick pace and constantly moving from one task to the next leaving behind loose ends you might want to have them work with someone who is more methodical and pays close attention to details.

Legal matters

Aside from ensuring that any pre-screening test you decide to use does in fact provide information necessary to make a hiring decision, there are other legal issues that you should consider when doing these tests.

The only pre-screening test that is illegal is Canada is a drug test says Towler. These tests cannot be used prior to hiring someone, but they can be used once an individual is working for you.

Other legal issues that you need to be aware of in any tests you decide to use are things that fall under the Human Rights Code such as age, sex, martial status, sexual orientation, and ethnic backgrounds.

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Categories: hr

Author Info

Michelle Collins is a CanadaOne® staff writer.