The Dangers of Relying on Personality and Skills Assessment Tests
My name is Ben Schrenzel. I am President Emeritus of DyNexus Recruiting, a company that has recruited, placed and hired hundreds of ERP and CRM (IT) consultants for VARs, ISVs and ERP & CRM end-user companies.
While it’s not uncommon for skills tests to be used in the hiring process, especially in technical positions, many of my clients make use of programs (tests, surveys, assessments) to help them better select and direct employees based on their strengths, preferences, style, and other “personal” factors. Some swear by them, some don’t. These tools can be helpful, but they can also be dangerous depending on how they are thought of, and how they are used by hirers.
I’ve seen different companies try different things. Strength Assessments and Personality profiling tools are most common, and they come in different forms and focuses. The Myers & Briggs Foundation being one of the most common.
Full disclosure – I was a psychology major, and in some contrarian way I have developed a negative bias against most of these practices. I realize that some very smart and dedicated scientists developed these tools, and as I said, many of my clients use them. So, what are my objections?
Here are my issues with testing for these personal traits:
- The validity of the test itself – As I mentioned earlier, while I respect the scientists who create these “psychological” tools, a nasty little part of my brain still has doubts about whether these tools actually measure what they say they do. I realize that these kinds of doubts aren’t based on scientific reasoning, but none the less, I definitely have my doubts.
- Understanding what the test is telling us – Also, while the creators of these tools may well understand what they are telling us, I’m not at all sure that those who use these tools have enough of a background to really understand what they are telling us. If we misunderstand exactly what they are telling us, there is no way we can effectively use them.
- Substituting statistics for observation – Many of these tools work by matching responses of individuals against those of people who are successful at certain tasks/fields, and making the assumption that the individuals will be the same. Here I am reminded of something Harry Truman was reputed to have said: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
- Making shades of gray black and white – People are complex, and often have confusing and conflicting manners and natures. A concern I have with these tools is they tend to create concrete, black and white pictures of what really are fluid shades of gray. I find that while definitive statements about these qualities give a definite roadmap for selecting and directing employees, they may over-simplify things and lead us down a wrong path. Judgement is always required, and that tends to be a more subjective measurement than the objective findings of these tools.
- Knowing how to use the information – THIS IS THE BIG ONE. Even assuming that we can properly deal with all the above issues, there is the major issue of now that we “know” these things about an individual’s personal nature, what do we then do about it? Do we with blind faith put in place practices that the tools indicate are best for such people? Most importantly, do we abdicate our management responsibilities to a test, and let this substitute for our own judgement and experience?
There you go. I’m for using whatever tools and techniques you can to do a better job of selecting and directing employees, but like any such tool, you have to know what it’s really telling you, and what to do with that. If not, the tool will just encourage laziness in management, and defeat their whole purpose. But once again . . .
IF IT WAS EASY, CHILDREN WOULD BE DOING IT.