Best Practice Guidelines for Personality Tests

The use of appropriate tests can help to increase both the perceived and actual fairness of the selection process. However, there are two issues to be considered in this area, Firstly, the same tests should be used in testing for the same position and secondly, consistent of treatment for all applicants.

Where tests are being used for selection purposes they must be used to support other evidence and must not form the only basis for decision making. In addition, only professionally developed tests supported by research and kept up to date should be used.

Employment law means that organizations need to be confident that there is no intended bias or discriminatory impact on the basis of gender, race, religion, disabilities etc. For a company to legally defend its test use, it must prove that it is measuring important skills or aptitudes for effective performance in the job.

The United States Supreme Court has decided several cases which have clarified the place of employment testing in the context of discrimination law, in particular, for the discriminatory use of tests when considering employees for promotion by requiring tests beyond the education that may be required for the job. A central finding is that the employer must be prepared to demonstrate that their selection process is job-related.

Personality tests must be job related

Personality tests may potentially be useful in personnel selection: of the Big Five personality traits, only conscientiousness correlates substantially with traditional measures of job performance, but that correlation is strong enough to be predictive. However, other factors of personality can correlate substantially with non-traditional aspects of job performance such as leadership and effectiveness in a team environment.

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is a highly validated test generally used in a clinical psychology setting that may reveal potential mental health disorders. However, this can be considered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as the employer having knowledge of a medical condition prior to an offer of employment, which is an illegal basis on which to base a hiring decision in the United States.

Notable situations in which the MMPI may be used, and is sometimes mandated, are in final selection for police officers, fire fighters, and other security and emergency personnel, especially when required to carry weapons. In that context, an assessment of mental stability and fitness can be argued as "reasonably related" and necessary in the performance of the job.

At the point of test delivery, or where test feedback is being given the organization should ensure that the administrators are suitably qualified and experienced.

In the UK this takes the form of ‘Level A’ and ‘Level B’ Occupational Test Users. Only personnel qualified to Level B can provide feedback on personality questionnaires and even then they need specific training to use each separate test.

Invitations to attend the test session should include a request for candidates to say whether they have a disability that may require any special arrangements or equipment. This is to ensure that their needs can be catered for and that they will not be disadvantaged. All candidates should be sent practice questions so that they can familiarize themselves with the types of question they will be expected to answer.

Before the test session candidates should be told why the company are using the tests, how the scores will be used and who will have access to their results.

All candidates should have an opportunity to receive feedback and this should be conducted either face-to-face or over the telephone and should (must in the UK) be provided by professionally trained personnel.

All test results must be stored within a secure location and should be retained for only 12 months, after which the test results will be redundant. Confidentiality of test data must be maintained at all stages of the process.

Test results are only to be used for the specific purpose that was originally indicated and agreed with the test taker. For example, an organization will need the candidates permission to use their original test results if they apply for a subsequent job.

The HR department should continually monitor the tests being used to ensure that they remain relevant and that updated versions and norms are adopted as they become available.

Where does this leave You?
With over 2,500 personality tests available, most of which do more or less the same thing in more or less the same way, there is every incentive for the companies that sell them to make exaggerated claims to try to differentiate their own product from their competitors. These claims are usually promises to do more with less. For example, to produce a more detailed reports from fewer questions or to produce more accurate results from the same number of questions.

Common sense dictates that there is a limit to how much information can realistically be obtained from 20-30 minutes answering simple multiple choice questions. The danger is that the human resources personnel who buy these tests fail to apply the necessary degree of skepticism and job candidates have their futures decided, in part anyway, by a test which has little or no validity or reliability.

Personality tests present a challenge to those employers who want to use them fairly and well. Primarily, they need to have HR personnel, preferably with detailed knowledge of personality questionnaires, who can make realistic evaluations of the various offerings from test suppliers and then administer the tests properly and professionally.

You may also be interested in: Personality Tests Introduction, Why You Need to Understand Them, How They Work, How Many Personality Traits Are There?, The Big 5 Aspects of Personality, How Personality Profiles are Used, Your Personality at Work, Testing for Honesty, Integrity and Stress, Negative Aspects of Personality, Motivation, Extraversion and Leadership, Can You Beat the Personality Test, Understanding the Personality Test Industry, Even Popular Tests are Controversial and Best Practice Guidelines for Personality Tests.


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