If you’re a hiring manager, you might be tempted to use personality tests and psychological profiles to screen candidates for a job. After all, they seem like a quick and easy way to assess if someone’s fit for the role and the company culture. But do they really work? And are they fair and ethical?
Here are several reasons why personality testing and psychological profiling for candidate selection doesn’t work and what you can do instead.
Personality tests and psychological profiles are not valid predictors of job performance. There is little evidence that these tests can accurately measure how well someone will perform in a specific job or situation. In fact, some studies have found that they have no predictive validity at all, or even negative validity (meaning that they select the wrong candidates). For example, a meta-analysis of 15 studies found that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), one of the most popular personality tests, had no relationship with job performance or satisfaction.
Personality tests and psychological profiles can be unreliable or inconsistent. These tests are supposed to measure stable and enduring traits that don’t change over time or across situations. However, many factors can influence how someone responds to these tests, such as mood, motivation, context, expectations, social desirability, and test-taking strategies. A person might answer differently depending on whether they are taking the test at home or in an office, or whether they are trying to impress the employer or not. This means that the same person can get different results on different occasions or with different versions of the test.
Personality tests and psychological profiles are not fair or unbiased. These tests are often based on normative data that reflect the characteristics of a specific population or group, for example, white males from Western countries. This means that they may not be appropriate or relevant for people from different backgrounds, cultures, genders, ages, or abilities. Some tests make sweeping assumptions, for example, that might favour candidates who are seemingly outgoing and sociable, while ignoring those who are introverted and reserved. This could result in the exclusion of highly skilled and diverse candidates.
Personality tests are not transparent or perhaps even ethical. These tests are often administered without the informed consent or feedback of the candidates. They may not know why they are taking the test, what it measures, how it will be used, or what the results mean. They may also not have the opportunity to challenge or appeal the results if they disagree with them or feel that they are inaccurate or unfair. This violates the principles of respect, autonomy, and justice that should guide any assessment process.
Psychological profiles can be irrelevant. These tests are often designed to measure general traits that are not specific to any job or situation. They may not capture the nuances and complexities of human behaviour and performance in real-life contexts. They may also not reflect the dynamic and changing nature of work and organizations in the 21st century. For example, a test that measures openness to experience might not account for how someone adapts to new technologies, markets, or challenges.
Tests can be easy to fake or manipulate. They are often based on self-report questionnaires that rely on the honesty and accuracy of the candidates. Many candidates may try to guess what the employer is looking for and answer accordingly, rather than being truthful and authentic. They may also use online resources or coaching services to prepare for the test and learn how to give the “right” answers. A candidate who wants to appear as a leader might choose answers that indicate high levels of confidence, assertiveness, and ambition for example…
Tests can often be used as a shortcut or a substitute for more comprehensive and rigorous assessment methods. They may give a false sense of security or certainty to the employer, while overlooking other important factors that affect job performance and fit. For example, a test that measures conscientiousness might not consider how someone works in a team, communicates with clients, or handles stress.
So should you bother with psychological testing?
What can you do instead of using personality tests and psychological profiles for candidate selection?
There really is no substitute for professional and thorough assessment and interview.
These can be structured and conducted to ensure consistent and comparative review of the candidate’s suitability from both a technical and personality standpoint.
Behavioural-based questions in interviews can ask candidates to describe specific real-world examples of how they handled relevant situations in the past.
Depending on the role being recruited, work tests, samples or simulations that ask candidates to perform tasks or solve problems that are similar to those they will face on the job can be very useful. A phone or face to face interview for a chef, is really not going to tell you if they can actually cook!
Sometimes, having interviews conducted by different team members will provide different perspectives, so ensuring all bases are covered and any conscious or unconscious bias can be minimised.
There is ultimately no right or wrong answer to the use of these assessment tools, but making hiring decisions based on these alone may be a questionable decision.