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Personality tests at work: Beware of dumb decisions!

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Want to avoid dumb hiring decisions? Slow down and learn to read personality test signs.

Want to avoid dumb hiring decisions? Slow down. Read personality tests carefully.

A front-page Wall Street Journal article on workplace personality testing inspired today’s post. I’ve been fascinated by this topic since my first MBTI assessment, in the early 1980s.

As a big fan of learning and growth through self-awareness, I love tools designed to reveal strengths and talents! I’m also a skeptic, wary of how people jump to conclusions about test results. Today’s WSJ article addresses problems with assessments used for hiring.

In service of better hiring decisions (and an excuse for using my photo, because I found the “dumb dogs” sign irresistible), I’ll share random thoughts on intelligent and dumb usage of personality tests.

I’ve already written about the limitations of a “one size fits all” leadership development tool. Likewise, it is not smart to rely on a particular test, taken once, to predict work performance or potential. On the other hand, it can be helpful to use a variety of tests, repeatedly, over time, to identify stable or consistent traits and talents.

Through working with executive development, human resources, and other leaders responsible for hiring decisions, I’m familiar with instruments offered by organizations including the Center For Creative Leadership (CCL), DDI, Korn Ferry, and others. I learn of new assessments often, as consulting firms or coaches create proprietary profiles because they are inspired or feel compelled to keep up with others doing the same.

A sampling of tests I’ve taken includes: Big Five, 16PF, DISC, VIA, Clifton StrengthsFinder, True Colors, Enneagram Type and Emotional Intelligence indicators, and the MBTI (six times, resulting in ENFP three times and INFP three times). I’ve kept a results file to identify themes, strengths and issues. As I advise my clients to do, I look for signs I’m using my strengths and am on the right path. I may seek evidence of growth (comparing today’s results to how I responded at age 25), or motivation to work on weaknesses.

Tests affirm I’m a collaborative, creative, curious communicator, a natural leader, and an ambivert who loves learning. People value my “big picture” perspective and practical, immediate advice. I am known for empathy, fairness, and integrative solutions (respecting complexity and diversity). I recognize and appreciate excellence, acting as a persuasive catalyst to bring out the best in people. (I’m also easily distracted, I procrastinate, fear conflict, avoid taking stands on controversial matters, am challenged to finish what I start, may have difficulty getting to the point, and have issues with time management… but will not focus on my growth areas in this post.)

After experiencing and studying at least 60 psychometric instruments, personality tests, and the like, for more than 30 years (including a graduate school course on Leadership and Managerial Assessment), I’ve concluded:

  • Some have stood the test of time and are well designed (e.g., instruments with reasonable “reliability” and “validity,” considering they measure unreliable human beings who may not give valid answers).
  • Others are poorly written, trendy and/or shallow.
  • All should be used with caution!
  • Well-intentioned recruitment professionals become attached to one or more psychometric measures as a way to streamline the hiring process, often without understanding the limitations.
  • People tend to perform differently on tests, depending on mood and unpredictable human factors ranging from being tired, stressed, distracted, or ill, to over-thinking answers, misinterpreting questions, or trying to manipulate for most “likely to succeed” responses.
  • Assessments are best considered along with numerous other ways of measuring talent, performance, and potential.

In sum: Don’t be dumb in how you use personality tests to inform important decisions. A slow, thoughtful, inclusive approach to collecting information about performance, talent, intelligence, and specific attributes appropriate to the job leads to a better fit and improved outcomes.

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Author: Julie Mitchell

Julie Mitchell is an executive coach, facilitator, professional speaker and senior consultant who can help you create more positive working relationships, improve your performance, and achieve goals through understanding and practicing effective communication on every level.

One thought on “Personality tests at work: Beware of dumb decisions!

  1. Pingback: Creating leaders? Use a flexible, diverse toolkit! | Julie Mitchell's CoachNotes

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