Psychological testing: an Unfair Hiring Practice

Two years ago I applied for a minimum wage retail position for which I was required to take a personality test. Despite my previous retail work experience and university education I didn’t ‘pass’ the test and I wasn’t offered the position. Although I wasn’t disappointed to have not gotten the job, it made me very distrustful of the validity of a 10-minute psychological test that supposedly distinguishes good candidates from bad candidates. More importantly, the experience made me realize the devastating consequences that incorrectly performed psychological testing can potentially have on the outcome of a person’s career.

The validity of personality testing in the hiring process is crucial given the growing importance that employers place on their results. According to a recent article by the Wall Street Journal, the use of online personality tests by employers has surged in the past decade; Hogan Assessment Systems Inc., a Tulsa, Okla., testing company estimates it is now a 500 million dollar industry. (Weber, L., & Dwoskin, E. 2014). The tests that are typically used by employers are those that assess personality, cognitive abilities and other traits of potential employees. The responses to a personality test are fed into an algorithm, which then determines whether the applicant is a good candidate for the job.

Although many companies, such as McDonalds and Lowes put lots of faith in these tests, Academic studies have concluded that individual personality traits have at most a small connection with performance. The validity of personality tests is typically quite low, for 12 meta-analyzes of personality tests used in the hiring process, the median uncorrected validity was .10 (Judge, T. A., & Cable, D. M. 2004) Due to the low validity and content of some items, many published self-report personality tests should probably not be used for personnel selection. Due to the low validity and content of some items, many published self-report personality tests should probably not be used for personnel selection.

Another reason to question the validity of personality tests is that job performance is “situationally specific,” so even if the tests accurately measure a personality trait the assumption underlying the use of personality testing of job applicants is that personality tendencies are transferable from one environment to another. This assumption is simply incorrect.

Not only is the validity questionable, personality tests can often be faked by motivated applications because the ‘right’ or most positive answer is apparent. As of 2005, there have been 39 studies finding that answers to the type of personality tests asked by employers can be easily distorted.(Judge, T. A., & Cable, D. M. 2004). Another reason to question the application of these tests to the workplace is that a significant factor affecting behavior and performance on the job is motivation, which may be insufficiently reflected in personality tests. Even an applicant’s mood may affect the result of his or her test.

Finally, how tests are administered should be of increasing concern. To ensure validity, testing should be done by or under the supervision of a professional. Many of the traits being tested for are very subjective and the tests require a great deal of interpretation, which will not be correctly done if administer by someone without training.

Overall I am highly skeptical about the use of personality testing in a firm hiring practices. Under the right circumstances these tests may reveal something about a candidate that makes them great employees however I think for the most part firms shouldn’t put as much emphasis on these results.

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Judge, T. A., & Cable, D. M. (2004). The effect of physical height on workplace success and income: preliminary test of a theoretical model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(3), 428.

Stabile, S. J. (2001). Use of personality tests as a hiring tool: Is the benefit worth the cost, the. U. Pa. J. Lab. & Emp. L., 4, 279.

Weber, L., & Dwoskin, E. (2014). Are Workplace Personality Tests Fair? [Editorial].Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/are-workplace-personality-tests-fair-1412044257

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