Personality testing of potential employees is one tool to ensure the right appointments are made for the long term.
The costs associated with recruiting the wrong person are always high, in both financial and emotional terms.Therefore the prospect of administering a personality test that accurately indicates how well an individual would suit a job is a very attractive proposition for any business.
Imagine being able to administer a test and hire the right people. Yet very few businesses actually use these tests, despite some evidence that they do produce better recruitment outcomes than interviews, with the caveat that interviews also have poor predictability as a selection tool.
While relatively few companies use personality testing, those that do are often avid fans. These are likely to be operations with a very strong corporate culture, as well as very clearly defined – and presumably accurately identified – employee traits.
The right fit
It is important that any person recruited into an organisation can function effectively within its culture. They must be able to work effectively with other staff and contribute enthusiastically to the achievement of its goals. The best method for achieving this appears to be employee referrals, as there is evidence this method produces more successful recruitment outcomes than any other stand alone method.
Employers want staff who demonstrate the characteristics that will enable them to work effectively to achieve the organisation's goals. They seek employees who will 'fit' the organisation and the job. They may or may not utilise employee referrals to attract the right candidates and assess them via personality or other forms of testing.
However, anyone aware of companies with significant cultural and other employee problems knows too well what can go wrong. An obvious problem lies with any process aimed at measuring the fit of a potential employee in terms of its existing staff. Is change needed?
The population is changing, as is the client or customer base of an organisation. A more culturally diverse and ageing population, for instance, has implications for an organisation's recruitment of staff both in terms of the characteristics of individuals available to work and the personal attributes, which will make their staff effective in their jobs. Older investors may not trust the advice of a young and seemingly less mature adviser.
The effectiveness of the selection process will ultimately be determined by how accurately the desired characteristics, behaviours and competencies of the job have been identified.
Managers keep getting it wrong
Businesses require employees who fit, but how that is defined is often problematic. At the extreme end, consider the organisation seeking an individual who is a motivated self-starter and is given a job with no opportunity for individual discretion or decision-making. Or imagine the person, recruited because of their great team skills, who finds themself working alone on a project.
Companies so often seek to avoid conflicts and desire 'can do' individuals. But what if the business desperately needs people who will upset the status quo and challenge an inefficient but harmonious equilibrium?
Identifying future needs
The big challenge in using tests to assess an individual's appropriateness for a position is in accurately identifying the needs of the organisation – not just today but into the future. Things change. Organisations change, their environments change and their staff change.
A clearly defined job position with perfectly identified and measured personal traits might not suit future needs.
Cloning today's employees to fill the needs of tomorrow is not an adaptive strategy. Nor is it realistic to imagine that an employee recruited now will demonstrate the same behaviours, needs and aspirations into the future.
Many organisations find themselves stuck with employees who were once terrific but no longer meet the needs of the job.
Businesses need to be adaptive and they must endeavour to nurture adaptiveness in their staff. Great businesses achieve this by recognising that recruitment is not a one-way process. The employer must meet the employee's needs as much as the reverse.
As organisational and individual needs change over time; what are most needed are strategies for facilitating adaptation. A capacity for innovation and creativity lies at the heart of organisational and individual success. Organisational policies that facilitate employee flexibility and personal development are important.
If personality tests are to be useful in successful recruitment they should focus on 'soft' skills, including good interpersonal skills, communication and emotional intelligence. Some independence and dissidence might also be a valuable contribution to a business's future.
The problem with recruiting a 'can-do' workforce is that it cannot necessarily do it, and you might learn this too late.
• This article was first published in The Conversation: www.theconversation.com/au
Keri SpoonerSenior Lecturer in Human Resource Management at University of Technology, Sydney