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Personality tests on the rise in hiring

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By Michael J. Mika
Special to Delaware Business TimesF

Employers no longer only consider skill at interviews and solid, typo-free resumes when they’re filling an opening on their team.

More candidates are finding that landing that job may come down to the way they are perceived through an online personality test.

According to a 2014 trends report from CEB, a business advisory company, 62 percent of human resources professionals are using personality tests to vet candidates in the hiring process. That’s compared to less than 50 percent in 2010.

Today’s job candidates are often asked to agree or disagree with specific statements as applied to them. Statements like: “Over the course of the day, I can experience many mood changes.” Or, “If something very bad happens, it takes some time before I feel happy again.”

The use of these types of tests has surged in the past decade as more companies are emphasizing teams and collaboration.

Sarah Brown, a Wilmington speaker, author and consultant helping people to use their personality to be successful, said she used tests when she managed people in earlier career roles. “I used the Birkman Method for career development to help individuals better use their personality to slot themselves in areas that will be most successful for them,” she said.

The Birkman Method, (www.Birkman.com) provides personality and occupational data to help understand individuals’ unique behavior and work satisfaction across different situations and industries.

Brown, who earned a doctorate in psycho-educational processes from Temple University in Philadelphia, said effective testing can help managers hire candidates who will be the right fit for the openings.

For example, a company that uses a specific selling model vs. a consultative selling model would want to know if a candidate they’re considering is naturally inclined to sell first and foremost.

“A colleague gave me an extreme example. It’s the difference between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. You don’t want a Mr. Spock taking a customer service call. You want someone who is naturally empathetic like Captain Kirk to understand the customer. Not someone who is going to just get the problem solved and doesn’t care what you’re feeling.”

“I could teach Mr. Spock to be more empathetic but that’s not where he’s inclined to go so you can, but why try?”

Collaboration and quest for team dynamics that will deliver results is another reason testing firms are signing more clients.

Jeffrey Benson Jr., president of One Direction Insurance in Seaford, said he would use the testing, especially now that he’s dealing with sales and building a new company. “I’m always looking for individuals to be leaders.

Are you a leader within your position and are you also able to be led? We want to find someone we could bring into leadership roles.”

He’s taken similar tests before for various employers. “I think they are decent. You never really know what they are looking for. No right or wrong answer, they are more a guideline; checking to see if you’re creative.”

Heather Shupe, director of human resources at Nickle Electrical Companies, does not utilize personality tests in the hiring process, preferring DiSC and PXT Profiles which provide more specific competency assessments. “I find those types of assessments are helpful but certainly not the only selection method.”

Research firms estimate tests to examine personality and other traits are being used 60 percent of the time. And it’s a $500 million-a-year business and is growing by 10 to 15 percent annually, says Hogan Assessment
Systems Inc. an international authority in personality assessment and consulting.

But using personality assessments as a screening or testing tool also come with risks.

Claudia D. Orr, a management-side attorney, spoke about the practice in a May 2017 report for Bloomberg Law, a national legal research center.

“I’m not a fan of personality assessment tests, which some of my clients use,” Orr said. “If such tests aren’t properly drafted, they may stray into seeking protected mental health or other medical information from a disabled applicant, which could end up triggering liability risks under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” she said.

“Personality assessments can also screen out minorities,” who sometimes don’t answer all of a test’s questions, she added.

Another concern with personality assessments is that even though they may be advertised by the vendor as “validated” for purposes of employment laws, that representation may not offer the employer much insulation from potential liability from bias claims, Orr said.

“If the vendor won’t indemnify you,” that’s a warning its test may be inherently dangerous.
Sarah Brown offers two tips for employers deciding to use pre-screen testing: Make sure the specific product is validated to give you the results you’re seeking, and don’t use testing to get the same types of people.

“You need some diversity to get growth. If everybody has the same interests, you’re stuck. You don’t have anything to encourage the team to innovate,” Brown said.

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