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5 Questions Hiring Managers Should be Asking About Modern Personality Tests

Charles Schwab CEO Walt Bettinger has said one of his methods for finding the right job candidate is to arrive early for a breakfast interview and ask the restaurant manager to purposely make a mistake with the candidate’s order. He says the tactic lets him see how the potential hire reacts to conflict and adversity.

Of course, hiring managers and human resources professionals don’t have the time to take every candidate out for breakfast, so they have to find other ways to determine whether she or he is the right fit, not only in professional competency but in the organization’s culture and community. Many are turning to personality tests, which rely more on data than on gut feeling or instinct to identify the right employees.

These tests can help you quickly sort through candidates and also reduce turnover rates. But with the array of assessment options out there, you need to think carefully about what to measure and why.

Here are five questions about modern personality tests that you should ask to help you find the right fit.

What Behaviors Does Your Company Need?

Start with what you want to assess. “Companies should think through what organizational metrics they’re trying to move the needle on,” says Whitney Martin, founder of ProActive Consulting. “Then they can figure out what to measure in candidates that are correlated with those outcomes they’re trying to predict.”

She says companies often implement assessments without giving enough thought to what behaviors a candidate needs to be successful in that role. “If a health employer wants to impact patient satisfaction scores, they need more nurses with more empathy,” she says. But if your assessments focus just on nursing skills and knowledge, you’re not necessarily hiring people with the behaviors you need.

What’s the Best Way to Measure Those Behaviors?

When you think of personality testing, you may first think of tests like DiSC and Myers-Briggs. But experts say these so-called four-quadrant tests probably won’t help much for assessing candidates.

“If I gave you a Myers-Briggs test every year for 10 years, each one will be different,” says Kelli Dragovich, senior vice president of people at Hired. “People can react differently in a workplace versus personal life.”

That variability undercuts any predictive value, ProActive’s Martin says. “Because of that, the test-retest reliability tends to be lower, so it’s not very effective to use the test pre-hire to predict future performance,” she says.

Using a more holistic assessment — for example, one that includes mental ability scales and interest scales — can give you a much more robust measure of personality, Martin says.

What Kind of Candidate Experience Are You Creating?

The tight job market and competition for top talent mean you need to think more about candidate experience, experts say. “In the testing world, we have shifted our approach to being much more customer-centric, because the realization has finally sunk in for our clients that candidates are your customers,” says Nicholas Martin, director of global products and analytics at Aon’s Assessment Solutions.

He notes that when you’re trying to attract top talent, how you engage with candidates can have a big effect. “There have been case studies showing that if candidates have a bad experience with your hiring practices, that will hurt your bottom line,” he says.

Think through the process. Are candidates enjoying themselves? Are they engaged while they’re taking the assessment? Do the tests and instructions make sense? These questions are a key part of providing a quality candidate experience, Aon’s Martin says.

How Is Gamification Reshaping Personality Tests?

Automation can make many of the routine tasks associated with hiring — scheduling interviews, updating applicants, providing feedback — simpler and easier for hiring managers. This can also lead to a better experience for candidates.

“We’re making it more candidate-centric,” Aon’s Martin says. “We can say, ‘Here’s the link to do your digital interview,’ and they can complete that interview when the timing is best for them, as opposed to saying, ‘Here’s your hour slot in this day; be there or you don’t get the job.’ ”

Gamification — building game elements into assessments — also can help candidates have a positive experience. “There is a lot more interaction and engagement with the assessment itself. So it feels like you’re playing a game while taking a very serious assessment of a particular concept or competency,” Aon’s Martin says.

How Can You Use the Data?

Dragovich says hiring managers also need to consider how to use the data they collect. “You can use it to both help your existing workforce or talent understand their strengths and weaknesses as well as to develop more well-rounded teams and fill in any talent gaps you might have,” she says. “It helps you have a common language across the company around behaviors, which creates a landscape for coaching, development and team building.”

However, don’t get lulled into thinking personality assessments are a cure-all. Dragovich notes that even the best tests should be only one piece of your talent-assessment puzzle. “No company should make yes-or-no hiring decisions based on a subjective personality assessment,” she says.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in June 2016, and substantially updated in December 2018.

When Sizing Up Employees, Don’t Forget Culture Fit

Over half of employees who voluntarily leave their jobs do so within a year of hire. Although some amount of turnover is inevitable, a level this high suggests that employers are collectively overlooking something important. Enter culture fit. Although long recognized as an influential factor in employee retention, culture is still relatively infrequently assessed during selection. Culture can seem abstract at first, but HR professionals need not shy away from it. Culture can (and should) be understood, measured, and incorporated in the hiring process to help maximize selection effectiveness.

What Is Culture?

Organizational culture is really quite similar to societal culture: it is the set of values, norms, and behaviors that are shared across individuals within an organization. It is that intangible “something” that defines an organization, influencing everything from marketing and leadership activities down to how people dress and speak to one another.

Why Should We Care?

Culture is a large, although frequently overlooked, portion of the hiring success equation. Assessing skills and abilities can indicate whether a person can perform a job’s tasks in any organization, but assessing culture fit can indicate whether a person is likely to be successful at your organization. An individual with an eye for detail and strong interpersonal skills could likely fulfill customer service duties for any company. If that individual is lively and thrives in a dynamic environment, though, she will probably be unsatisfied in such a role in a company whose culture is centered around formality and following traditional protocol. Understanding your culture and considering culture fit during the hiring process, then, can improve the probability that new hires will be happy in your company and stick around for the long term.

What Should HR Professionals Do?

Hiring for culture fit requires some self-reflection. Those in charge of the hiring process should thoughtfully identify the things that set their organization apart from others. Look around and ask yourself, “What motivates and drives our employees?” What is it that sets your company apart from your competitors and really defines who you are? Is it a sense of creativity, innovation, and being on the cutting edge? Is it a sense of social responsibility and a concern for the greater good? Is it tradition and pride in reliability and quality? In order to get the best understanding of your unique culture, be sure to reach out to employees at all the levels of the organization. After all, the people make the culture.

After you have a clear picture of your organizational culture, determining culture fit is really as easy as determining skill or ability fit. Modern assessments can measure a vast array of competencies critical to culture fit, from integrity to competitiveness. Once you have narrowed your candidate pool to those with the necessary skills, you can use assessments to pinpoint the candidates who can best fit your culture. Interviews, too, can be targeted to assessing aspects of culture fit, as can less frequently used options such as realistic job previews.

Whatever the method, the goal of assessing culture fit is the same for all HR professionals: understanding company culture and ensuring that selection efforts are aligned with that culture to maximize hiring success. Employees are more apt to feel satisfied in a culture where they feel they are a good fit, and employers are likely to see greater commitment and better retention of their employees. When it comes to hiring, culture really is king.

About the Author: Dr. Katherine A. Sliter works as a Talent Measurement Consultant at Performance Assessment Network (pan), helping businesses to understand how to hire and retain top talent. She holds a Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and has taught, practiced, and published in the areas of assessment design, data analysis, and applied psychometrics.

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