By Paul M. Connolly, PhD, 11/24/2003
Screening candidates through personality testing with
Let's say you're asked to
improve your recipe for hiring success. What ingredients
would command your attention? Some of the "master chefs"
of the selection business are paying special attention
to the new chemistry between personality tests,
competency requirements, and behavioral interviewing.
The elements of the formula may sound familiar --
even obvious. All three have been around for a while.
But evolution in the testing industry has created some
new connections. Add a personality assessment to a
behavioral interview and you can substantially raise
your chances of identifying competencies that predict
performance. According to some test publishers, the
chances can be raised by 20%. Given the cost of hiring
and training managerial talent, that 20% improvement can
save your firm thousands -- even hundreds of thousands
-- of dollars in hiring mistakes. You might say you
could have your cake and eat it, too.
Christine Fahnestock is a consultant specializing in
talent assessment for managerial and executive
positions. "The combination of personality tests with
competency-based behavioral interviews is invaluable,"
she says. "Without the personality assessment, it is too
easy for a candidate to position themselves to look good
in a behavioral interview alone."
Personality tests have come a long way since the
early days, with a number of good ones written
specifically for the workplace. They shed light on
personal competencies, such as approachability,
ambition, or interpersonal sensitivity, that translate
to performance in the workplace. The testing industry
has shown they can assess job-related personality
factors without adverse impact.
Fahnestock's Glastonbury, Connecticut firm manages
assessments for several large Northeast employers. She
says the motivation for connecting competencies with
personality test results is clear. "Quite simply, it
saves employers a lot of money and time." According to
Fahnestock, "coaches and consultants are catching on to
this connection. It's an investment up front, but the
ROI is so worthwhile."
Case study: personality tests in action
One example is Seabrook Station, a New Hampshire
nuclear facility of Florida Power and Light. Since they
were licensed to operate in 1990, Seabrook has enjoyed
13 years of safe and reliable operation producing power
for one million homes and businesses. The people they
select and promote are responsible for the safe
operation of the facility.
A leadership talent pool was identified in their
Operations Group. From this "feeder pool," they planned
to staff a management team over time. "The people who
are assessed as having potential to advance into
leadership receive approximately 18 months of licensing
training at a cost of about $200,000 per person. This
enables them to obtain a United States Nuclear
Regulatory Commission Senior Reactor Operator License,"
says Fahnestock. "The ROI of careful selection becomes
clear rather quickly."
"Seabrook used to select people for leadership
positions based on experience and behavioral interviews
alone. Interview scores would be placed on a grid to
compare candidates." The competencies they sought were
derived from a job analysis. The table below shows a
sample of actual interview scores (names and some
data have been changed to protect confidentiality):
Based on Interviews (1 = low, 5 = high)
When Fahnestock recommended the addition of
personality test results to the assessment grid, she
chose the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), a validated
instrument designed for the workplace.
"We added the test rankings to the grid on the
factors that matched the employer's competencies. We
were stunned at the information this added to the
process," she says. "We were amazed at the degree to
which the personality assessment added third party
verification for some of the interview results and
caused us to reevaluate others."
In the following table, Fahnestock shares the actual
assessment grid. It has both the ideal and actual
candidate scores on personality test factors that
coincide with the core competencies targeted by her
client. In addition, the end of the table lists the
candidates' ratings on the three occupational scales
relevant to the position:
Actual Individual Scores on Personality
Factors Measured by the Hogan Personality
HPI Factors Ideal Scores for Position To Be
HPI Occupational Scales
When interview scores were viewed alongside test
scores, Pete Petersen won clear confirmation as the top
candidate. The next two candidates, Steve Stone and
Louise Lane, had equal interview scores. Their standings
changed, however, when test scores showed that Learning
Approach and Ambition were issues for Louise Lane. These
personality factors were both especially important for
the job. Instead, test scores helped Sara Paul emerge
with strong potential, though the interviews would not
have predicted this.
The hiring team thus had two sources of input to
their decision making, each source adding information
that couldn't be obtained with either method alone.
Fahnestock finds the tests useful in another way.
"Sometimes you get a feeling during an interview, but
can't quite get at the issue. You may have heard the
'what' that bothers you, but you don't know the 'why.'
Personality tests will give you a reason why."
Conversely, she adds, tests can cause you to ask probing
questions during the interview that you wouldn't have
thought to ask.
Seabrook Station uses this approach for all
management and supervisory candidates. The personality
tests were part of an executive assessment of internal
and external candidates conducted for the position of
Station Director of the entire facility. The confidence
they add has convinced this employer that personality
testing needs to be a part of their total hiring
process. They have broadened the application.
"The investment is well worthwhile," says Fahnestock,
"because the cost of failure is so high."
If you're ready to sharpen your hiring practices, the
competency connection is one well worth pursuing. Used
fairly with a job analysis, you can now shed light on
areas that formerly had to remain in the dark.
Paul M. Connolly, PhD, is president of
Performance Programs, Inc., and a NEHRA member. He can
be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-388-9422.