How to Use Personality Questionnaires in Employee Selection

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Personality questionnaires have long been an HR staple, providing valuable information on individual differences to aid talent management initiatives. However, until recently the majority of the personality questionnaires completed were done so in the name of personal development, coaching, onboarding, and career development. The use of personality questionnaires in employee selection, however, is becoming increasingly popular, and many organisations now use personality questionnaires primarily as a selection tool and is one of the best pre-employment assessments.

But how should employers use personality questionnaires in recruitment, and what are their advantages over other selection tools?

What are personality questionnaires?

Personality questionnaires are psychometric assessments, designed to capture and quantify an individual’s propensity towards specific behavioural dispositions. For example, personality questionnaires designed inline with the big 5 model of personality will measure a person’s level of extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to experience, and neuroticism (or emotional stability). Assessments developed in line with Jungian personality types will often measure extraversion (vs introversion), sensing (vs intuition), thinking (vs feeling), and judgement (vs perception).

Typically, personality questionnaires will use a Likert scoring system, or some similar derivative. Behavioural statements will be provided to those completing the questionnaire, along with a corresponding rating scale. For example, personality questionnaire questions could take the following format:

I prefer to work in a large team:

  • Strongly Agree
  • Agree
  • Neither Agree nor Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Strongly Disagree.

Assuming this question is designed to measure Extraversion, if a candidate selects “Strongly Agree”, this would imply a high score for Extraversion. If the candidate selects “Strongly Disagree”, this would imply a low score for Extraversion (or a high score for introversion). A personality questionnaire will comprise hundreds of these questions, typically with 5-20 questions evaluating a specific personality trait.

The underlying scores are then compared to a relevant benchmark, also known as a “norm group”. Norm groups are collections of previous scores, usually hundreds / thousands of previous scores from a specific population. For example, a graduate norm group will comprise a large sample of scores only from graduates. This allows you to compare your candidates’ scores against the relevant benchmark, helping you ascertain whether they have score high or low compared to others from that relevant population.

Why use personality questionnaires in recruitment

Personality as a construct has huge implications when it comes to performance, job satisfaction, employee engagement, and turnover intention. When employees are a good “fit” behaviourally speaking for their role, team, department, organisation, and overall environment, this typically results in improved overall performance and satisfaction. When misfit occurs, and employees are hired who are not a good fit, they will often underperform and will be disproportionately likely to leave the organisation.

For example, imagine the ideal behavioural profile for a sales executive. Naturally, sales professionals need to be comfortable talking to people, be able to take control of social situations, as well as being resilient and target driven. Candidates that exhibit these personality traits are more likely to enjoy sales roles, and thus perform better than those who are not suited to that kind of work. Ensuring that candidates match the role from a behavioural perspective is an effective way to avoid mis-hires and maximise the chances of finding applicants who are well suited to the role.

Conversely, if a candidate is uncomfortable talking with people, working in high pressure environments, or working towards high-stakes goals, likely they will be a poor fit for sales roles. As a result, they are likely to underperform in a sales role and / or leave the role within a short period of time. These candidates would be better suited to other forms of work, where they would likely perform better and find more satisfaction.

Although many HR professionals and hiring managers believe that personality traits can be measured using employing interviews, the evidence does not support this hypothesis. This is particularly true when attempting to measure very intra-personal traits, such as resilience, work ethic, and integrity. A person’s ability to convince an interviewer that they are, say, resilient, has very little to do with their actual level of resilience, and are thus largely unrelated constructs. Instead, well designed personality questionnaires should be used to measure personality traits in recruitment.

What the best way to use personality questionnaires in employee selection?

As with all psychometric tests, there are two main approaches for using personality questionnaires in employee selection and assessment. Firstly, employers could use personality questionnaires towards the end of the recruitment process, usually alongside a late-stage interview or an assessment centre. This ensures that valuable personality questionnaire data is incorporated into the overall selection decision, rather than just using it to short-list candidates. The major advantage of this approach is that it allows employers to test a relatively low number of candidates, saving money on assessment unit costs.

Alternatively, employers could use personality questionnaires at the beginning of the recruitment process, helping them to create short-lists. Personality questionnaires are particularly low-stress assessment tools, making them ideal for early stage sifting without increasing candidate attrition. The major advantage of this approach is it reduces the administrative burden on the HR team, as sifting using the personality questionnaire is very easily automated, replacing excessive CV sifting or telephone interview.

Both approaches have their merits, and the best solution largely depends on the nature of the recruitment process.

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