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How Personality Assessments Can Help—and Hurt—in the Recruitment Process

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The increasingly popular tools come with real benefits and some pitfalls.

When hiring executives and managers, every recruiter wants to find the right candidate: a highly qualified leader who is also a good cultural fit. The costs of hiring someone who isn’t right for the job are high, ranging from financial losses to a decline in team productivity.

HR Magazine reports that C-suite hires most often don’t work because of mismatches in behaviour and personality. It makes sense, then, that more and more businesses are turning to various personality assessments to evaluate fit prior to making an offer. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, two-thirds of human resource professionals today use pre-employment testing as part of their candidate screening process. These tools can provide valuable data and increase your chances of making the best hire.

Psychometric tests are designed to determine an individual’s strengths, weaknesses, character, and working style, which can be difficult to assess through interviews alone. Ideally, the results of such tests can provide insight into how an individual will work with others and behave under certain conditions. The standardised nature of such assessments can also give recruiters a quantifiable way to compare candidates with one another. Several firms in Kenya offer psychometric testing services to businesses in the region, and at Kenyans Come Home we’ve also included it in several recruitment processes.

Some personality tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the DISC assessment, and the Caliper profile, have been in existence for more than fifty years. Their usefulness in building self-awareness and supporting employee development has been proven over time. But their ability to predict employee behaviour and performance can vary.

Even though MBTI is used by 89 of the Fortune 100 companies, its publisher is careful to warn companies against using it for hiring. MBTI can communicate an individual’s inherent tendencies but is limited in its ability to describe how that individual will interact with others or respond to work situations.

According to Forbes, tests that focus on professional characteristics—motivations, skills, and strengths—tend to provide more helpful data in the recruitment process. Gallup StrengthsFinder, for example, assesses strengths that have been linked with success. The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF) asks candidates how they will respond to specific work situations rather than evaluating broad personality traits. A recent study found that a general abilities test, combined with an integrity test, could be particularly effective at predicting job performance.

Businesses that choose to use pre-employment testing, however, should do so carefully. Some organisations have been accused of violating privacy laws; others have unwittingly engaged in discrimination through psychometric tests that are biased against women or those of different backgrounds. An overreliance on standardised assessments can cause hiring managers to overlook strong candidates who don’t fit the mould. There is also the possibility that candidates will develop a negative impression of your company if they find the test to be too invasive or cumbersome.

If you are considering including an assessment tool in your hiring process, it’s important to remember that not all tests are created equal, and not all tests will work for your organisation. You may want to consider what matters most to you in evaluating candidates: personality, character, skills, team interaction, or something else? Each organisation has its own unique culture; each position within the organisation requires distinct skills and traits for success. To optimise your evaluation process we suggest using the assessment that gives you the most relevant and useful data.

As the use of pre-employment testing spreads, the consensus amongst HR professionals is that these assessments can be valuable but should only be considered one tool in a more comprehensive screening process. At Kenyans Come Home, we believe that interviewing a candidate, having them meet team members, checking references, and other practises can still provide you with valuable insights that psychometric and personality tests cannot. Taken all together, however, you will hopefully be able to establish an effective process for selecting the best candidates for your business.