Article : Guidelines For Selecting A Personality Test
Personality tests are effective tools for screening out candidates with undesirable characteristics, such as those with a bad attitude or poor work habits. With many tests purporting to measure these important traits, it can be a challenge to choose the best one.
The good news is that the decision process is similar to buying a car. It's important to consider cost, efficiency, reliability, looks, and safety features. This article gives an overview of personality testing and presents some guidelines for selecting a good test.
Things to Know about Personality Tests
Personality tests are designed to assess characteristics of people that explain why an individual responds consistently across situations. For example, some people are friendly and outgoing, can easily strike-up a conversation with strangers, and enjoy being in the company of others. Other kinds of people prefer spending time alone and enjoy activities that do not require interacting with others.
Psychologists call this characteristic extraversion. Personality characteristics are relatively stable over-time and determine how individuals conduct themselves on the job. They have direct influence on job performance, hence their attractiveness for use in employment screening. For example, research suggests that individuals who are extraverted are more likely to succeed in sales and customer service positions and may not be as effective in a research-oriented job.
Personality tests are especially attractive to prospective employers because they measure characteristics that are not trainable. Hiring an employee with the wrong characteristics can be expensive to the organization. Dissatisfied customers in a service-oriented business can quickly add-up to significant losses. Recruiting and training costs alone can burn up several thousand of dollars per employee. Personality tests are powerful tools to ensure high performance, and prevent problems before they're hired. The key is to pick good measures, and use them as a part of an overall hiring system tailored to the job.
Personality traits cannot be accurately determined through interviews and cognitive ability tests. They need to be assessed using instruments designed specifically to measure the different aspects of personality that are job-relevant. Developing a personality test is a tedious and lengthy process that requires specialized skills. Many items in a personality test seem like simple descriptions of daily activities. Because they seem superficially simple, some charlatans have created so-called personality tests that really don't work. A scientifically developed instrument has items that have been carefully chosen based on a theory of job performance and tested across several hundreds, or even thousands of people. They are subjected to complex statistical analyses to select good questions that validly measure the traits of interest. Using scientifically-validated tests have been shown to payoff for many different types of companies.
Years of research on personality at work have resulted in a listing of personality characteristics that
Unlike "Big Five" personality tests that measure broad job performance related traits, Holland's Career Personality Theory is best known for matching personality types to different jobs. Holland's Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional (RIASEC) model is widely used for career counseling fitting people with interests and compatibilities of over 1300 jobs.
If you are currently using a personality test to assess future employees, answering these targeted questions you can quickly evaluate its appropriateness.
Question #1: Are the items on your test appropriate for work settings?
It should be noted that many personality tests are designed for general or clinical use and often have items that are not job-specific. Even though such test may be of good quality, it is likely to "turn off" many job applicants and may even be considered illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It may also cause applicants to not take the assessment seriously, dismiss the value of the selection process, or question the professionalism of the company they're considering working for.
Question #2: Are the assessment scores "reliable"?
Reliability information is noted as a statistical measure called Cronbach's alpha. Scales that have adequate reliability should have an alpha value of about .70 or higher which indicates that all the items in the scale are measuring one characteristic as opposed to many different things.
Some publishers may also report test-retest reliability information, which is another form of reliability. Personality characteristics do not change very much over time. Test-retest reliability measures the stability of scores across time. A reliability of .70 or higher is good. This value is computed by taking test scores of the same person measured at two different times. For the measure to be accurate the time difference showed be at least six months or else it is likely to be artificially inflated.
Question #3: Has the instrument been validated?
The linkages between test scores and performance must be scientifically determined for a test to be considered valid. Personal testimonials or anecdotal evidence are not sufficient to know whether or not a test is good. More importantly, anything short of scientific evidence will not hold up in a US court case if the test is part of litigation. Here is an example of a typical validation statement - "…the relation between extraversion and sales output was .30 (p<.05)". The probability (p) value of .05 or less is a standard set by statisticians and psychometricians. It suggests that the chances of finding no relationship between extraversion and sales output is less than 5 out of 100 times. A finding of this strength gives us confidence that the test measures a characteristic that is related to job performance.
A test that has no validation information should not be used, since there is no reason to believe that it measures anything important. Using such as test is a waste of time and money. If the test scores were the only assessment you were using to make a hiring decision you will be better off selecting candidates randomly.
Question #4: Who was the test validated on?
It is also important to note the reading–level of a test. For most jobs, it is best if the test is written at a high school reading level. This reduces the likelihood of the test wrongfully weeding out qualified candidates who may not have a higher education.
Question #5: Is it an unbiased test?
The good news is that personality tests are generally unbiased (although it is important to verify this for any particular test). Additionally, when combined with other forms of testing it can considerably reduce adverse impact. So if you are using a cognitive ability test and an interview, including a personality test to the selection process can help you pick better performers and also choose more diverse candidates. However, test publisher must document that their personality test is unbiased by showing that the test scores of women and minorities are not markedly different from the majority group.
Question #6: Does it contain an embedded truthfulness scale?
What 's Next?
Just like machines that need periodic maintenance, and obsolete parts replaced, a selection system too requires tweaking if necessary. From time to time it is important to conduct a validation study to see if the tests are discriminating between good and bad performers. If not, the job is likely to have changed and the assessments are no longer tapping the requisite skills and characteristics.
Combining Tests to Improve Hiring Accuracy
Test security is important.When using any test it is important to address security issues. Test material should be stored under tightly controlled lock and key; and precaution should be taken to avoid theft. There have been many instances, especially in union environments, where test items and scoring keys have been leaked to the test takers. These concerns are greater for ability tests that have a single correct answer. To avoid such problems companies have resorted to using multiple versions of the tests, or sophisticated computer administration strategies.
Test score databases should be password protected and it's access restricted. They should not be used for purposes other than for which it was designed. For example, if a test was designed for making selection decisions it should not be used to negotiate salary.
About the Authors
Dr. Shreya Sarkar- Barney, a Ph.D in industrial organizational psychology, is a contributor to the Furst Word. She currently lectures at Illinois Institute of Technology. Dr. Wendell Williams, a technical advisor to FurstPerson, also contributed to this article.
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Published: Tuesday, November 5, 2002