Personality testing for better hires

Personality TestingMy career now spans over 25 years in eight workplaces, and I’m counting the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business as one of those eight because personality testing was part of the MBA curriculum. During that time, I’ve participated in the following testing programs:

As I’ve said before, I don’t have any insight into the psychological underpinnings of any of these methodologies, but the StrengthsFinder assessment came back with what I think is the most accurate description of me. Regardless of the methodology, the point from a corporate performance perspective is that the results of these tests can help managers in two ways: better teams and better hiring decisions.

High Performance Teams

In a pick-up basketball game, the captains use their first picks on the best players. Starting with the second pick they begin to look for the best complements to their earlier picks. If you already have a good shooter, you’re not necessarily picking another shooter – you’d get more team value by picking a rebounder. With each consecutive pick, captains are evaluating players not on their individual basketball ability, but on their ability to contribute to the players picked before them. The team that wins isn’t necessarily the one with the best players, it’s the one with the players that play best together.

The difference in a professional workplace is that personality traits aren’t nearly as easy to identify as basketball skills. Managers should use tests to take inventory of the personality types of their existing staff. The results can be used as an excellent team-building exercise to help people understand their teammates’ strengths and weaknesses. As their manager, it’s your responsibility to put your players in a position to succeed, and you’ll have a much better chance of doing that once you understand how they best fit together.

Great Hires

Let’s start with a definition. A “great hire” is someone whose performance after they are hired meets or exceeds the expectations that were developed during the recruiting process, and they stay in the position long enough to make a meaningful contribution. Personality testing can help make this happen.

The basketball analogy works here as well, but let’s move from the school yard to the NCAA. The collegiate equivalent of picking teams in the school yard is recruiting. Coaches are looking for high school players that complement the players he already has. The best recruits are those that fill a need, establish chemistry with the existing players, meet or exceed expectations, and remain in school long enough to make a difference (before declaring for the NBA draft).

Professionally, it’s not possible or convenient to go watch someone else perform on the job the way a coach would go watch a high school recruit. Managers do the best they can through interviews and references and, if they’re smart, personality testing. The better the fit, the better the odds of a great hire.

The Hidden Benefit of Personality Testing

Another benefit is the message that it sends to candidates. The fact that you are taking the extra step to learn more about the candidate, and you’re learning things that typically aren’t found on resumes and don’t come out in interviews, shows that you recognize the importance of getting the right employee. It’s a powerful message that positively influences employees’ opinions of the company and often leads to better employee retention.

And the smaller the company, the more important it is to get a great hire. The negative consequences of a poor hire are disproportionately large in a small company. A recent post by Dan Schawbel on the Forbes blog revealed that 46% of new hires fail within the first 18 months. If you can imagine the fallout of hiring a senior manager whose attitude and style causes hard feelings, perhaps even the defection of some good employees, only to leave within 18 months, you can easily see the investment of time in personality testing as worthwhile!


Notice I didn’t say that personality testing should replace more traditional hiring methods. You still need to make sure candidates have the intelligence and skills required for the job. As Kay McFadden at Inc. points out in her article, 7 Tips for Using Personality Tests to Hire, personality testing is just one element of the multi-level match you’re seeking with a candidate.

It can be argued, however, that it’s the most important element. Candidates with the wrong personality type may be very intelligent and skilled, which means the quality of their work will sometimes outshine the wake of resentment behind them. It can take months to determine the root cause of your team’s declining productivity and effectiveness. Better to avoid this situation by taking the time to do some personality testing up-front!


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