Does personality testing improve recruitment?

Personality testing still has a way to go to be taken seriously. But is it worth a look?

What it is:
What is personality testing?

Personality testing – or psychometric testing as it is more accurately known – is a standardised and objective way of assessing people's preferred work style and how they would react to various sets of circumstances. All tests present a range of scenarios and those taking them must state, from a multiple choice list, how they would expect to respond to the given situation.

What different tests are available?

There are hundreds of different tests available, although only half a dozen are particularly popular. You can carry out tests tailored to different professions, such as pilots or accountants and more specifi cally, you can test for managerial aptitude, typical behaviour, a person's value base, their technical skills, or their decision-making ability.

The most popular and recognised industry names include SHL, Myers & Briggs and 16PF (Personality Factors), all of which have been developed over many years, and thoroughly tested.

Occupational tests will focus on different ways of working, an individual's relationships with people, their typical thought processes, how extrovert they are, how sociable, etc. It will identify how good they are at numeric analysis, people analysis, assess their emotions and feelings, whether they are thick-skinned, and how competitive they are.

How is it carried out?

Tests, typically lasting between 30 minutes and an hour, need to be carried out in a controlled environment. This means at a desk or computer in a room with a trained practitioner.

The practitioner will then score the test, or it will be scored in real-time by the computer, and conclusions will be drawn based on the results. A de-brief should then follow, exploring why the individual responded the way they did.

Ideally the results should then be passed on to those carrying out interviews, enabling them to explore further avenues. “Quite often it's done after the interview process,” says Mark Welsby of recruitment consultancy WWB (Welsby Wooding Bourne), who warns that this can lead to mistakes. “I was recruiting a fi nance director for a PLC client. The interviewee sailed through the fi rst and second round, but the test came back appallingly.” It turned out that the candidates mother had died a few days before the test.

Why bother:
What will it tell you?

The questions will establish what a person would be likely to do, what they're like, what their preferences are, and what they'd like to be. It can, for example, be a good indicator of whether a person is creative or else has an eye for detail.

As well as recruitment the tests can be used to help write a development plan for an employee, identifying strengths and gaps in the person's abilities. Diane Ingham-Cook, director of EDT (Effective Training and Development), a company that provides training and development programmes, feels the tests are better deployed here as people are more likely to be honest and give their fi rst reactions. “When in a recruitment scenario I think people behave differently,” she says.

How will it improve your recruitment?

In the early days of a business you can mould the culture. As it grows that becomes more problematic. Equally there will be roles you can recruit more happily, such as sales or finance where you might have experience and know what you're looking for.

This is where the tests can come in. “It's better than a faceto- face interview,” says SHL's product group manager James Bywater. “If you have lots of different interviewees there will be inconsistencies. The real benefi t is that it's objective. The scientifi c research suggests they are better than most forms of interview.”

One call centre company we are aware of used psychometric tests for a large-scale recruitment effort and tracked those that tested well against those that didn't to see how reliable it was for identifying committed and capable employees. The result was that it lost 50% less of those that tested well to those that didn't – quite a difference when you consider the time and expense of fi ve weeks training and everything else that goes into the recruitment process.

Why don't all companies use it? how reliable is it?

If used appropriately and prior to further assessment and face-to-face interviews, says Welsby, the tests can prove useful and prompt more detailed discussion, such as whether a candidate really is an aggressive go-getter or too meek and mild for the position.

It is estimated that around 30% of people recruited are thought to work out well where psychometric tests have not been carried out. Yet where testing has been used that fi gure rises to 50%.

The general view is that psychometric tests should be used with other tools available, such as role-play, presentations, simulations, cognitive tests (verbal and numerical tests), CVs, and face-to-face interviews. “It should be used as part of a battery of tools, particularly assessment tests, which are the most valuable, along with critical incident interviewing,” says Barbara Pearce, a director of Formation Training, who is an accredited tester and used the test to hire the company's business manager.

What are the drawbacks?

? It can depend how the person is feeling on the day

? It assumes that the person is answering honestly

? It makes the process even more protracted

? Involves booking a room out for a day

? The best candidates aren't available for long

? Some view it as little more than a magazine quiz

? Some question the cultural western bias of the tests

Companies offering the tests refute, by and large, that tests can be manipulated. However, the range of books now available offering tips on how to beat the test may suggest otherwise. “There are lots of subtleties within it that complicate things,” says Bywater. “It's very easy to not tell the truth in a questionnaire, but harder with a well-constructed one to fake the direction.”

How much does it cost?

Consultants charge a daily rate of between £700 and £1,500, so to make it more cost-effective it's important to test en masse. To train somebody to carry out the tests in-house costs in excess of £1,000. The off-the-shelf packages themselves cost around £200 for about fi ve tests.

What are the different packages?

Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ) developed by SHL in 1984 and redeveloped in 1999. Devised specifi cally to aid recruitment and for interaction in the world of work 16PF5 has existed for around 50 years and was redeveloped around 10 years ago. It can be used in recruitment, management development, career development and team building.

Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) has also been used for around 50 years and was redeveloped around seven years ago. Best used in leadership development, communication and team building, and change management

FIRO-B assesses individuals' relationships with other people and is used for leadership and personal development Ideally, look for those that are British Psychological Society audited.

So in practive…
Who would you use if for?

Anecdotally, only 5-10% of companies carry out such tests. So it's fairly clear that it's used sparingly. Those that do use it often tend to be devotees, although most will use it for more critical positions or roles that require greater interaction.

Advocates use it from junior management upwards. It should be used for positions where there is a big potential impact on financial performance.


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