HR Newswire sign up
Follow us on twitter

Feb 25, 2014

The trouble with psychometric testing

HR professionals should put a photo of Paul Flowers on their walls – he's exhibit 'A'

By Todd Humber

It’s easy to have a love-hate relationship with personality tests. On one hand, they’re absolutely fascinating — who doesn’t like to find out detailed information about someone’s inner workings? And, even better, finding out about your own strengths and weaknesses and what makes you tick?

But on the other hand, there’s a lot of potential to misuse or misinterpret the results of psychometric testing. One of the best examples of that comes in one of the cover stories senior editor Sarah Dobson is working on for the March 10 issue of Canadian HR Reporter.
It outlines the almost unbelievable story of Paul Flowers, a Methodist minister turned bank chair who led a bank in the United Kingdom into a multibillion dollar capital shortfall and was ultimately forced to resign amidst allegations of buying illegal drugs.

So how did Flowers, who had limited banking experience, attain his lofty position? You guessed it — he aced the psychometric test. Every HR professional in this country should have a poster of Flowers on their wall so they can point to him and say, “This. This is why you don’t use psychometric testing to make a hiring decision.”

This isn’t to say the only value personality tests have is for curiosity and giggles. Far from it — they can be extremely valuable tools in the development of employees, and can give leaders vital information about how best to handle their staff.

I’m a firm believer that leaders need to adapt their management styles to what works and doesn’t work for their individual employees — at least as much as reasonably practical. For example, if you’re dealing with an introvert, don’t call them out (for better or for worse) in front of others, and don’t ask them to make quick decisions on the spot.

Or if you’ve got an extrovert, don’t give them tasks that leave them isolated — put them on team projects as much as possible. You want to play to the strengths of your team, and psychometric tests can be invaluable — and surprisingly accurate — in uncovering what works and doesn’t work for employees.

That’s what good leaders must do: Adapt to their teams, and not vice-versa. You can tweak your management style and how you approach direct reports to get the most out of them. The flip side of that strategy — asking your reports to completely change their working and personality styles — is a recipe for failure. They simply can’t do it.

There are a few, limited scenarios where a personality test can play an important role in the hiring decision. For example, if you’re looking for an energetic salesperson who is required to give a lot of public presentations and build strong relationships with key partners, you’d probably want to confirm that person is extroverted. (Though, it’s hard to imagine many introverts wanting that job in the first place, so it’s a relatively safe bet nearly all the candidates for that gig will tend toward the extrovert side of the scale.)

Some people tend to forget that there are no wrong answers in personality tests — one type is not inherently better than another. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses, but all types have something to offer employers.

Testing for skills is a different cup of tea. Every hiring manager should be doing that, with tests customized to the tasks of the position.

But let’s play to the strengths of personality tests, and use them to help leaders determine the best management styles and to coach employees to play to their strengths, while working on weaknesses. Do that, and you won’t run the risk of hiring a Paul Flowers and later have to explain, rather uncomfortably, that you choose him because he aced a psychometric test.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.
Headline for your comment (Optional)
Name (Required)    
Email Address (Required, will not be published)
Comment (Required)
All comments are moderated and usually appear within 24 hours of posting. Email address will not be published.
Tool vs Solution
Thursday, February 27, 2014 8:58:00 AM by Joe Nunes - ENTJ
I think that personality tests can increase self awareness. I also think that they can facilitate discussion with candidates during recruiting. I do agree however that it is unwise to simply use these tests as pass/fail metrics in hiring.

I suspect I am still the extreme 'E' that I was when I first took Myers-Briggs nearly 25 years ago - what has changed is that with my increasing self awareness I have learned how to better manage my natural instincts when the situation calls for less extroversion and more introversion.
Accurate psychometric testing requires proper application
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 5:55:00 PM by Ji-A min
I completely agree with your statement that psychometric testing results can potentially be misused or misinterpreted. However, the same can be said for any hiring practice. Case in point, Paul Flowers also passed a resume screen and an interview.

Decades of HR research have demonstrated that a reliable and valid psychometric test can predict key metrics such as job satisfaction, work performance, and employee turnover. Thus, psychometric testing has proven to be a valuable supplementary tool in a fair and objective hiring process.

Human behaviour can never be perfectly predicted. By gathering additional sources of information on job candidates, HR professionals can better equip themselves to accurately identify the right people to hire.
You are right to question
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 6:17:00 PM
Basing hiring decisions on personality types is nonsense. These tests are appropriate to use as tools to increase individual self-awareness, not screening tools for job selection. Individuals are complex, and although personality traits may be relatively stable, people learn to play to strengths and compensate for weaknesses. Also, introversion and extroversion are relative. Some people are strong extroverts, others are weak. Some are fairly balanced between introversion and extroversion. So what? What matters is whether they can successfully do the job. It is ridiculous to suggest that introverts cannot be very successful presenters and relationship builders.
Can your personality type change?
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 10:44:00 AM by Brian Kreissl
I find personality tests like Myers-Briggs fascinating. For those of you who are familiar with the test, everytime I take it I end up being an ENFP. There must be something to it because there is remarkable consistency in the results, even using different versions of the test.

But I also question whether we should base hiring decisions on personality types, and I don't believe everything that's typically said about my type applies to me. While it is interesting and helpful to understand the various personality types, I also believe you can't always correctly guess someone's personality type just by working with them.

Above all, I am curious if personality types can change. Although the "E" in ENFP says I'm an extrovert, I am not a strong extrovert like many salespeople, for example. I even believe there were times in my life when I was downright introverted. I could be wrong about this, but I do believe personality types can and do change over time.