Better Think Twice Before You Implement That Fancy Personality Test

We were hiring an executive and the CEO wanted him to take a personality test. I pushed back. I said that we knew his qualifications already.

We knew his working style (having talked candidly with some of his reports and peers). And if we are really afraid he isn’t being honest in his personality with us, why wouldn’t he do the same on a personality test?

We still gave him the personality test, of course. It’s what the CEO wanted, and you can only fight that so much.

Besides, I hoped that he would do well and that would be the final nail and we could make the hire. But in the back of my mind, it never felt like the right move, especially after we got the results back.

The problem with “testing” personality

This was no usual hire. It was a critical position. And it wasn’t a typical candidate.

I knew his former boss. I knew a few of the people who worked for him. I had off the record conversations with these people too.

That may be a no-no to some in HR, but I had to know. It was that important.

And we knew. He was “the” guy. When I hit his compensation number, I figured that we had him in the bag.

Then the personality test came into play.

When the CEO determined we needed to do one, I did my research and went with the best. If you’re familiar with the scene, you would probably know their name. We went through the validation process with them to make sure it would work for our organization.

After the results came in for the candidate, I was deflated. He was a low match for the company and the job. We ended up not hiring him, and I still think it was a major mistake.

It’s a perception problem

Now, that isn’t the fault of the assessment firm that we used. They definitely didn’t want us to use their test as a single point of failure in the hiring process. They even say so. The way we handled it was sloppy.

What I worry about is if we actually had hired him. At the first sign of trouble, would we have been looking back on his results to see if it was predicted? Would we have not given him the benefit of the doubt that we would normally give a new hire or would we have just cut him loose sooner?

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Even if we did hire the person, how many assumptions would we have built into our interactions with him based on the personality test rather than his demonstrated abilities?

That’s why I worry about the increased use of personality tests in hiring. I worry, not that personality test makers are evil and out to screw people, but that the people doing the hiring will be more strongly influenced by the test than other (and honestly, more pertinent) factors such as experience.

Culture conundrum

I believe in the importance of culture as much as the next guy, but trying to figure it out about a person before they are embedded in their team is a tough thing for any one factor to cover.

And other than your gut feeling, there isn’t a lot of data to go with the evaluation of whether someone will fit in culturally. So when we see that a personality test could help give us a seemingly objective view of someone (and an angle that many hiring managers believe is more important than any other factor), you can see why they are gaining traction.

But how important is culture when one is really looking at an individual’s performance?

Let’s say someone was a 50 percent fit for skills but a 90 percent fit for culture versus a person that was a 90 percent fit for skills but a 50 percent fit for culture. I know too many people who would take the former over the latter even though there is really no 100 percent validated way to evaluate for cultural fit like there is for skills and ability.

Fighting against the ocean

It may be a trend that can’t be stopped but I implore HR professionals to use caution in using personality tests in the hiring process. Consider the fact that any personality test can color the view of the person that wasn’t there before, whether it matters for the job at hand or not. Also consider that those doing the hiring are human and can’t distinguish the importance of a slick personality report in comparison to the greater organizational need.

Lastly, do a self-check. If a personality test is only one piece of the hiring process (as almost every person says), tell me what would happen if someone were a 100 percent match for everything except the personality test? How much hesitation is there in making the affirmative decision to hire the person? How does that compare if the situation were reversed (the person is a 100 percent match on personality but lacking in another area)?

Here’s a hint: if you get different responses to those questions, proceed with caution. That’s a lesson I could have used in another time and place.