Six tips for better hiring through personality tests

Mention the MBTI, Big Five, or other personality assessment tools and passions are quickly set alight. Hiring managers want every opportunity to find the right fit, and even in a lower-unemployment environment, candidates still look for ways to distinguish themselves from the herd.

Personality screening in the hiring process is best practiced with discretion and deliberate planning, and as an enhancement rather than a replacement for conventional evaluations.

“I would never recommend you substitute a personality assessment for understanding a person’s background, education, and experience level,” says Jackie Sahm, senior consultant at Hogan Assessment Systems. “But if you have two candidates who are equally qualified, it can help you differentiate which will be best for the organization.”

Whether you’re already making high-level hiring decisions from a Myers-Briggs template or just thinking about adding a little science to your artful interview process, keep these six tips in mind.


Warning: personality tests can actually reinforce bias

Personality screening, formal or informal, can actually weaken your judgment. In any endeavor, you need to ask the right question before you know you’re getting the right answer. In this case, a scientific approach to personality evaluation may simply be reinforcing a misguided intuition which shouldn’t have been trusted in the first place.

There’s a well-documented human flaw that rears its head often in the hiring process: “just-like-me” bias. All else being equal, people tend to favor hiring other people who most remind them of themselves. A hiring manager or committee already susceptible to this flaw can take a personality assessment as scientific backing of their own subjective prejudice. That is, once a third-party test or report confirms that a particular candidate is “just like them,” then they must be the right hire.


First, know the job

Before racing to select screening systems and tools for incoming candidates, first do a comprehensive assessment of the role itself. Speak with high performers and their managers about the behaviors and tendencies which have predicted success in that role in the past. Then and only then can you start finding the right fit.

Also, be willing to accept the finding that for some jobs, you won’t be looking for the sunniest, most welcoming personalities. Sahm points to a Hogan project to find ideal TSA agents, which found that the kind of sticklers who made great airport guardians were not the type likely to make fast friends during an interview.

“They don’t do as well in interviews as an extrovert who makes conversation easily, but they are also less prone on the job to make a mistake,” she says. “Ask what you expect these individuals to do in order to do well, and choose your battles on the personality front.”


Don’t hide behind your notes

“Just-like-me” bias aside, one of the most powerful and flexible personality assessment tools in the business remains the power of human judgment and experience. So in an interview setting, keep your head up.

“So many structured interviews these days are about writing a lot of notes, but not really observing the candidate,” says Steven Lindner, executive partner at The WorkPlace Group. “The questions in an interview are far less important than where they lead us, which is to understanding how this person thinks.”


Keep a big-picture view

Adam Robinson, CEO of Hireology, recommends a four-dimensional approach to assessing a candidate for perfect fit: attitude, accountability, track record, and cultural fit. Sizing up someone’s willingness to be held accountable isn’t difficult: just ask them about the last time they set a goal but failed to achieve it.

“Someone with an internal locus will say they should have done a better job or asked the right questions. Someone with an external locus will say that the economy was bad, or absolve themselves of the outcome by assigning it to someone else,” he says. “People with an internal locus are much more likely to be a top performer in the workplace.”


Make sure your process reflects your organization’s personality

Candidates take note of the way a potential employer introduces and applies a personality assessment. If your organization is a very black-and-white, by-the-numbers, process-based place to work, then a sterile and impersonal set of questions will set expectations wonderfully. If that’s not the message you want to send, consider newer alternatives which pepper the process with a healthy dose of gamification, or which offer live simulations which evaluate tendencies and personalities in a real-time roleplay setting. “You have to configure it to your specific work environment and culture,” Lindner says.


Redirect great candidates with ill-fitting personalities

Personality assessments give you more opportunities to screen out candidates who are an ill fit for one particular position. Take a collaborative internal approach to hiring. If you have a terrific, conscientious, diligent, and eminently employable candidate whose personality is just not the right fit for the job at hand, work internally to keep them in the mix. “Someone who is very skilled, but unlikeable, is not going to do well in a sales job, but they may have capabilities as an analyst,” Sahm says. “Find ways to bring their business expertise to another place in the organization.”

Post by Jason Compton

Jason Compton is a writer with over 15 years of experience covering marketing, sales, and service. Based in Madison, WI, he is a regular contributor to Direct Marketing News, previously served as executive editor of CRM Magazine, and has been published in over 50 outlets.