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Pre-Hire Personality Testing?

October 21, 2010
by Tim Tolan
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How psychometric testing can help with candidate selection

How do you test candidates to find Mr. or Ms. Right for your IT organization? Many of our clients are always trying to find the 'secret sauce' when hiring talent. Well, there's no real 'secret sauce', but hopefully a distinct hiring process - one that's standard and used consistently for each hire - will give you solid results. No short-cuts. We use a variety of tools to assess candidates, and a few years ago even integrated psychometric testing into our vetting process. At first glance, you might think these online tools are a fluke. A closer look at the results and you might be surprised at how close they come to explaining the DNA of your personality. I have taken several of them and it’s scary close!

We sort through lots of data-points based on the requirements of the role we're working on. We try to understand key performance indicators (KPI’s) of a candidate’s approach to competitiveness, sense of urgency, interactions with others, the way they analyze data and a number of other behavioral drivers in an attempt to see how they're wired. Another benefit of the personality tests is the ability to identify candidate’s potential leadership ability and define their work habits. The results can (and should) be used by the hiring manager to coach and mentor the individual into maximizing their potential. The more a hiring manager understands about the candidates we present, the better they'll understand the candidates' behavior in the workplace. Besides helping us/our clients avoid making the wrong decision, the KPI's also keep the search from dragging on forever!

Some of our clients live and die by the results of the psychometric tests, while others simply see it as just another part of the organization's hiring process. When recommending a candidate, I never put too much emphasis on the results of a psychometric test unless the functional role requires certain analytical skills or other criteria that's important to the client. Many industrial psychologists question the validity of the tests in predicting success, while others have reservations about the reliability of the results, because test takers may try to answer the questions in a way they think will be viewed most favorably. Neither psychometric testing, interviews, reference checks, nor outside search consultants (or any other tools available to the hiring team) will make a difference if the search criteria are not clearly defined.

Some companies use psychometric tests to screen candidates – that’s a mistake. They might be missing the mark on candidates who have the requisite experience. We're all wired differently, and just because a candidate is naturally introverted or extroverted doesn't necessarily mean that he or she cannot be successful in a particular role – nor does it guarantee success. It should be used as one of many tools to assess candidates and not as a stand-alone decision support tool. We all need to remember that psychometric tests attempt to quantify very subjective qualities and traits. Some of the test answers could completely send the wrong message about a candidate’s personality – it happens.

I am a big believer that successful people repeat themselves (unfortunately, that works the other way as well). I like to review candidate’s success metrics, as that really tells a story. The more granular, the better for me! Psychometric testing tells just one piece of the puzzle - nothing takes the place of previous experience, actual accomplishments and strong references

At the end of the day, these online tools are great but should be used collectively with the other components of your hiring process to narrow your slate and find the very best talent in the land.

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Comments

Tim,
I really appreciate the discipline that you and other great retained search professionals bring to the table. I agree with your perspective. Here are a few related observations:

1. Look for candidate self-awareness in the "personality testing" space. If a candidate can tell you that, for example, they are an ENFP (Meyers Briggs or MBTI, of course) and for them, that means that they love and are good at long term, complex cultural change necessary for effective clinical knowledge management, you can believe them. To your point, their resume will provide the tangible accomplishments to drive the behavioral interviewing questions. If what you hear all fits, you've got a non-tamper-able temperament assessment, vital to predicting role success.

2. On the other hand, if they tell you that, they are an ISTJ but in follow-up questioning, have no awareness of how that translates into how they can deliver value, you'll at least know that this person shouldn't be managing others. In my experience, a team-level DISC assessment will be a good chemistry test for situational fit.

3. Per my recent "Epic" post, I have participated on faculty and as a mentor to an organization, SEAK, that coaches physicians through transitions to non-clinical carers. In the pre-conference session, we offer the Birkman Method standardized assessment. This is designed to lead to a degree of introspection vital to ing a career move concordant with temperament. If a candidate has no self-awareness and hasn't sought it through reading, conferences or coach/mentoring, this candidate is clearly not a self-starter and probably not a lifelong learner.

4. As I've alluded to, in my experience, the single, strongest interview tool is the behavioral question. In my experience, the preparation and delivery of a strong answer to a question that is related to a resume accomplishment will always sort out the true professionals. People cannot help but to speak at the level they think. This reflects their skills, knowledge and talent in one, convenient probe. There are lots of great resources available on behavioral interviewing.

Tim, part of why yours was a great blog topic is that it took the "pop" out of pop psychology. Personality testing is important, it's not a party game just for team building exercises, and it needs to be part of an adequately comprehensive executive hiring assessment. As I've described above, it can often be achieved implicitly by an accomplished recruitment executive and hiring manager.

Joe

Thanks Joe. Finding great people to "put on the bus" is a lot like trying to piece together a puzzle. Psychometric tests attempt to quantify very subjective qualities and traits and are just a piece of the puzzle. Experience and real world accomplishments are a better barometer of future success. In my mind - nothing replaces a face to face meeting with the hiring manager and others on the search team. This, along with a complete detailed reference summary allows the organization to get a better read on a candidate - instead of just reading the results of a personality test.

I totally agree with this "many of our clients are always trying to find the 'secret sauce' when hiring talent. Well, there's no real 'secret sauce', but hopefully a distinct hiring process - one that's standard and used consistently for each hire - will give you solid results. No short-cuts". In order to select the best candidate for a certain position in the company, one has to go through a standard procedure of hiring. You do not have to rush things when it comes to selecting the right person. Each organization has its standard procedure to follow and in your case you are using psychometric testing as one of your tools; I personally like to use a disc personality test but there are many different options out there. I am interested in knowing on how effective this tool when you need to look for candidates in the field of Sales and Marketing.

Happy to discuss this offline. Email me at tim@timtolan.com and we can schedule a time to talk.

Thanks!

Tim Tolan

Senior Partner, Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice

@@TimTolan

http://sanfordrose.net/thetolangroup/

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