Personality assessments open the doors to smarter hiring

January 11, 2017 Aon's Assessment Solutions

People Management

Today’s tests move far beyond Myers-Briggs, helping employers to identify candidates with the right traits to cope with on-the-job challenges, writes Dr Katharina Lochner. Whereas an ‘ability’ test – such as a verbal, numerical or logical reasoning test – will show whether a candidate is capable of performing well in a role, a personality questionnaire will reveal how they’re likely to perform. By combining these assessments, recruiters can gain a greater insight into each applicant, enabling them to make a more informed selection decision. But the advantages of personality testing go far beyond this.

Myers-Briggs, the first mainstream personality tool, was first published in 1943. But in the decades after this, psychologists and researchers began to favour the so-called ‘big five’ personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and emotional stability. These were seen as desirable workplace traits; conscientiousness, for example, implies that an applicant will want to perform diligently, that they’ll meet deadlines and deliver high-quality work. Extraversion suggests strong social interaction skills, such as the capacity to influence and work well with others.

The use of tests to assess these five traits in recruitment gathered pace in the 1980s, driven largely by a desire to select employees who fit the organisational culture – and  to avoid bad  hiring decisions – despite concerns that candidates were able to lie and give what they thought were the ‘right’ answers.

Assessments have since become more sophisticated; questions are more meticulous, scoring models and algorithms are more complex, and adaptive testing has helped to improve the applicant’s experience and cut test times. All of this means it’s now not only much harder to cheat on – or fake – a personality assessment, it is also less likely that good candidates will drop out of an employer’s selection process because the tests are too long and boring.

Today’s questionnaires can also measure the finer details of job-specific competencies. For example, you can assess subtler aspects of extraversion, such as the ability to interact with others, or to deal with risk. But it is not always one ‘pole’ of a trait that is desirable. Extraversion has been shown to be a predictor of job performance but, in some roles, introversion may be a more desirable quality. New traits can also be assessed. ‘Integrity’, for example, has grown in importance following recent corporate scandals. Organisations now want to determine whether their employees are at risk of acting irresponsibly, dishonestly, unethically or unreliably. Safety – and the predisposition to follow rules and procedures – has also become a key concern for some employers.

The demand for ‘situational judgement’ has grown, too.  Assessments that measure this focus on the decisions a candidate makes, or how they react, when they’re faced with a specific work scenario. Situational judgement questionnaires not only give employers an insight into an applicant’s likely behaviour, they also help to inform the applicant about the issues and challenges that can arise in the role. Assessment reports are now more detailed; some enable you to create an interview guide for line managers that dynamically generates relevant and probing questions for each candidate, based  on their assessment results. Feedback reports, and reports that explain the developmental implications of results, can be generated as well.

Whatever the future holds, the impact of a person’s personality on their work will not diminish. As a result, personality assessment will always be a vital and desirable aspect of organisational recruitment.

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