Personality tests: a trial of common sense

Last month I performed a psychometric test with Candle IT&T Recruitment, called the Kolbe. The test went pretty well. I was asked 36 questions and, by and large, was given an accurate assessment of my personality and what jobs I am most suited for.

Last month I performed a psychometric test with Candle IT&T Recruitment, called the Kolbe.

The test went pretty well. I was asked 36 questions and, by and large, was given an accurate assessment of my personality and what jobs I am most suited for.

But choosing a US-made test miffed the Auckland-based Selector Group, which offers locally developed alternatives. Selector runs tests including CareerStep, which assesses competence and compatibility for certain jobs; e-Profiler, an online psychometric assessment; and Selector PA, a PC-based equivalent. The technology was developed in Auckland and written by Wellington-based industrial psychologist Keith McGregor.

Since I bared my soul in the Computerworld March 5 issue (see No, I'm not mad - I'm a fact finder) , another colleague, unknown to Selector, agreed to do e-Profiler and CareerStep. CareerStep similarly asks dozens of questions with multiple-choice answers and takes about 20 minutes.

The assessment took less than an hour using computer analysis, but psychologists are available at Selector to offer further guidance.

My colleague says it accurately interpreted her as being interested in a wide range of jobs and occupations. “It also got right the areas I have a reasonably strong interest in — picking that I enjoy working with people, developing new ideas and methods — and my high interest in collecting information, solving problems and processing information.

“But one thing I had answered ‘no’ to —working physically outdoors or in a workshop — appeared on the list mistakenly.”

The assessment also picked up on her wanting less stress in her life — but then it was written on a deadline day when journalists are under pressure.

The test said she’d be suitable as an editor or a journalist (at which she already does a sterling job). She liked many of the 46 other career options suggested, but says she’s “too squeamish” to take the nursing recommendations.

“Overall, I liked this test because it tells you what to do now, and brings in sports psychology about banishing negative ‘subconscious messages’. It then gives you a time frame to identify your direction, potential markets, carry out research interviews, prepare your CV and begin applying for jobs. It also tells you to expect lots of rejection letters and to think of it as ‘marketing and sales’.”

Selector’s e-Profiler psychometric assessment took significantly longer and at times, our candidate found it was “quite stressful” as it timed responses in one section, and these questions dealt with tricky maths, problem solving and language questions.

“I started to stress over the maths questions. This was what the test was looking for, of course — which questions you answered fast and which ones you agonised over. It left me feeling a little slow and stupid; not something you want to foster when someone is looking for a job and at their lowest point in their morale.”

Overall, however, she feels the test was worth it.

“The profile generated was detailed and quite precise. Also, I really liked the fact it told you the make-up of the sample you are compared to — over 848 people — and it has easy-to-read pie graphs. This [latter] one does not include job descriptions, so, for people looking for ideas, CareerStep is better. E-Profiler is probably best for learning how to describe yourself to potential employers.”

As a colleague, I might add some of the computerised judgements were a little unkind and inaccurate, but I could be biased.

But how good are these tests for assessing staff in a real situation?

We think they have some validity, and after reading my Kolbe piece, David Palmer, general manager of IT recruiters De Winter International, wrote to say he agreed. But he comments they are not infallible, and says anyone who uses them and thinks they’ll never make a hiring mistake is wrong.

“Fortunately, most reputable people in the testing industry don’t adopt this view.

“Typically they say that testing should not amount to more than 10% of the decision-making process and our test should be used in this way. Testing is a useful tool when used in context,” he says.

Palmer also refers us to a recent article by US-based Dr Wendell Williams, who wrote recently for a recruitment industry newsletter.

Successful people do not have the same personalities and not all dominant people are successful, Williams says. Personality factors are nice for understanding people, but seldom correlated with job performance.

“Every single personality test sent to me has looked the same — nice for the training arena, but worthless as a selection tool. Personality tests can be a valuable part of selection, but you need the right tool, the right performance factors and a detailed study that confirms the validity of the test. If you are doing anything less, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale,” Williams says.

Greenwood is Computerworld’s human resources reporter. Send email to Darren Greenwood. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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