What Are They Probing For?

Ms. Ehrenreich criticizes the testing of prospective employees.  She wonders why Winn-Dixie has to drug test people who stack Triscuit boxes or why Wal-Mart has to test its people greeters. “You may have a brilliant resume and a unique set of skills” she states, “but all these can be trumped by your pee.” 

She has a point. In Canada, provincial and federal rulings have generally supported her position as far as doing universal “pee tests” on all candidates/employees; however, bona fide testing in the workplace is accepted and for good reasons. Ms. Ehrenreich goes on to question the rise in personality testing and states there are 2,500 tests on the market that supply a $400 million-a-year personality assessment industry.  Her article gives pause for reflection. “What are they probing for?” “Is there a need for personality testing?”

What Are They Probing For?

Organizations have goals. Obviously, this creates jobs and the need for people to staff these jobs. A job should not be seen simply as a “robotic” task to be performed. It must be seen in the context of being part of “the whole”. It interacts with other parts of “the whole”.  It contributes to “the whole”. If this is true, then the organization must go the extra mile and beyond what Ms. Ehrenreich implies in order to ensure that there is a good “job fit” between candidate and job. In going the extra mile, an organization should assess a candidate’s “job fit” from various perspectives, including technical skills, cognitive abilities, personality (behavioral and emotional) and cultural  compatibility as well as an ability to share a vision. This “job fit” assessment is applicable to all, from those packing boxes and greeting to those managing the overall direction of the organization. A real synergy occurs when all of the jobs (the sum of the parts) are working – and working together. It isn’t just that legal entity called an organization that benefits, it is all of the stakeholders – investors, fellow employees, customers, suppliers, government, and society. In reply to Barbara’s question, organizations are probing for a good “job fit”.

Is There A Need For Personality Testing?

Yes. If it is a case of hiring, the difficulty with assessing personality – in the absence of testing – is that the process often relies too heavily on the interviewer’s skill, the candidate’s immediate responses and the references. We all have stories on references!  If it is a case of coaching or training, there are still difficulties in the absence of testing.  The coaching or training program may not be “employee specific”, take too much time before issues are understood, and be sidetracked by mistaken perceptions. What testing does is complement the existing process.  It brings additional information, objectivity, clarity and efficiencies.

Personality  Testing, What Is It?

There are tests available to measure interest, intelligence, skills, and personality. For the purposes of this article, the focus is on the personality test. These tests are designed to assess habitual behavior (e.g. assertiveness) as well as how an individual deals with situations. Such personality tests fall into two distinct types – ipsative and normative. It is essential that an organization understands the differences between these test types because the improper application of either type not only negates its worth but also exposes the organization to potential litigation.

Ipsative tests are based on forced choice responses. Each choice is scored. These scores can only represent the relative strengths of the person being tested and cannot be compared to any other individuals. Such tests can typically be identified in the marketplace by the test asking the person to “describe himself or herself”. Ipsative tests are normally used by consultants as developmental or coaching tools.

Normative tests measure quantifiable characteristics on individual scales.  These scales can vary independently. Also, the scores can measure such characteristics of an individual against confirmed patterns of statistical normality (e.g. bell curve). Such testing allows people to be compared to particular groups, populations, or jobs.  These tests can also be used as developmental and training tools.  For more information on the benefits of the normative type of test, see Psychological Testing by Paul Kline.

What To Consider When Using A Personality Test?

If you are looking to use a personality test, consider the following questions: What type of test is it? Is it ipsative or normative based? Does it meet your needs? Is the test supported by a technical manual (you may need it!)? Is there training and on-going support for the test? If it is software-based and you plan to purchase the system, what are the front-end and hidden costs? 

Author David Daugharty is President of Daugharty Group Inc., a consulting firm focusing on human resource and labour relations issues. Daugharty Group Inc. is an authorized dealer for Prevue Assessment™, a software based psychometric assessment tool measuring cognitive abilities, motivation / interest, and personality traits. Visit David at www.daugharty.ca.