Personality Assessment for Employee Selection

Woman in orange shirt looking at herself in a mirror.

The use of pre-employment assessment is a $multi-billion industry. It is the most popular service that practitioners in my field of industrial-organizational psychology provide for companies because those companies find value in it. They help companies hire people who have the right mix of talents for jobs. Being able to assess whether prospective employees have required knowledge and critical job skills can be helpful in screening out people who are a poor fit for a job. What is often less obvious is how personality assessment for employee selection is appropriate.

Matching Applicants to Jobs

Pre-employment assessments are helpful because they provide an objective way to match people’s talents to job requirements. To get the most benefit from an assessment, you must first conduct a job analysis to determine job requirements. These are the knowledge, skill, ability and other characteristics–the KSAOs needed. Once you know the KSAOs to target, you can design or find assessments to measure them. For example, if a job requires writing skill, you can use a writing test to separate those who are talented writers from those who are not.

Of course, conducting a thorough job analysis for a position is expensive and time consuming. Given the cost, it is not always feasible to conduct job analyses for every position. An option is to rely on the U.S. Department of Labor’s O*NET, an online resource that lists KSAO requirements for nearly 1000 jobs. O*NET is not as precise as conducting your own job analysis because it lumps everyone with a similar job title into the same bucket. It is a reasonable option when a local job analysis cannot be done.

Personality Assessment for Employee Selection

Personality has to do with differences among people in their behavior patterns and how they view the world. For example, some people are outgoing (extrovert) whereas others are shy (introvert); some people believe they are in control of their own destinies (internal locus of control) where as others believe in fate and luck (external locus of control). Such qualities fit under O in the KSAOs of the job and can be linked to job requirements. For example, extroversion is a quality that can be helpful for salespeople who mainly deal with people, whereas introverts might be a better fit for a computer programmer position that involves working alone on a computer.

Objections to Personality Assessment

The use of personality assessments has been widely criticized for a number of reasons. HBOMAX is running a documentary that challenges their use for employee selection and other domains. Some of those criticisms are shared by other forms of assessment and have to do more with the use of assessments than assessments themselves. They include.

  • Failure to Match KSAOs: Sometimes assessments are chosen based on someone’s intuition about what qualities make for a good employee. Such subjective approaches can result in using assessments that have no connection to the job, and do not result in hiring people with more potential for success. In some cases the opposite might be achieved if it results in screening out people who are a good fit.
  • Choosing Poorly Designed Assessments: There is science behind the creation of an assessment. You cannot just write a bunch of random items and expect them to do a good job of assessing something. The development of an assessment requires pretesting and the use of complicated statistical analysis to choose an adequate set of items. Not every test used in organizations has gone through a rigorous development process.
  • Not Clear What a Test Measures: With assessments of knowledge and skill, it is generally obvious how the items are relevant to the job. If you take a test of accounting knowledge, for example, it will be obvious that the items are asking about accounting principles. This is not always the case with personality assessments. The items might ask about odd things that on the face seem to have little to do with a job. Items like “I enjoy going to parties” can leave a job applicant puzzled about why it is being asked.
  • Lack of Transparency in How the Test Is Used: It is not hard for organizations to justify measures of knowledge and skill. It is self-evident that a staff assistant needs skill in using spreadsheets and word processing, for example. With personality, companies will sometimes note that they are using the assessment to find people who “fit” the organization. Failure to link the personality being assessed to to job requirements leaves the door open for bias against people who do not “fit” someone’s idea of what makes a good employee.

Why Use Personality Assessments?

The best reason to use personality assessments is that they can be a valuable tool to match people to jobs. There are many scientific studies that show how properly chosen and developed assessments can predict job success. Many such assessments are available from researchers who make them available for research and commercial companies who sell them for practitioners. This helps reduce the number of hires who are unsuccessful on the job, thus increasing job performance and retention. Furthermore, personality assessments are relatively inexpensive as they are generally administered online to job applicants. But it takes considerable expertise to develop assessments and to match them to jobs. Failure to engage individuals who are assessment experts is one reason that personality assessment efforts can fail. However, when done properly personality assessment for employee selection can result in better hires by matching people’s personalities to job requirements.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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