Fairness of Workplace Personality Tests Focus of Wall Street Journal Front Page Story

The value of personality assessments for hiring was the focus of a prominent piece on the front page of The Wall Street Journal yesterday. The piece stems from an Equal Employment Opportunity commission investigation on whether some personality tests discriminate against people with disabilities. Judging by the number of comments (more than 80 in just one day) the article has hit a nerve.

With the cost of a bad hire and turnover/retention among HR executives’ top challenges today, many companies are looking for easy solutions to filter through the sea of candidates applying for positions. But as the article points out, “the rise of personality tests has sparked growing scrutiny of their effectiveness and fairness.”

I posted a comment myself, especially after reading about a young engineering student and job-seeker with bi-polar disorder who made the ethical choice not to lie on personality tests to seem more “agreeable,” and then later learned after he answered honestly that he failed to get many jobs because of these tests. He noted that his disorder was never an issue in past jobs, stating that prospective employers “would’ve known that if they contacted any of my references.”

Our validated research here at SkillSurvey has shown the predictive power of reference feedback in the candidate assessment and screening process. We should move on from the many different algorithmic and methodological approaches used by personality assessments that at best can only predict how an applicant might perform. In fact, what continues to stand the test of time as the best predictor of future performance is an applicant’s past performance – how the applicant actually has performed –reported via reference assessments.

“Too often the hiring manager reads narrative reports and makes a subjective judgment instead of combining scores mechanically or setting a cut score,” wrote Dr. Neil Christiansen in one of the comments. Dr. Christiansen is an eminent I/O scholar and editor of the recently published book, Handbook of Personality at Work. He added, “And lots of the common tests are just plain bad.”

Putting aside the fact that the use of poorly designed personality tests can lead to legal issues – are they really helping you get the best employee for the job? Many are not measuring job-specific behaviors that really matter.

It’s a lot to consider – and good job to the Wall Street Journal for prompting a dialogue on these issues.

Ray Bixler is CEO of SkillSurvey.

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