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How Do We Assess the Risks When Using Personality Tools?

Is our financial-services company treading on dangerous ground if we rely too heavily on pre-employment personality tests? How much reliance is too much? &#8212;<i>Personality Flaws, finance/insurance/real estate, multinational</i>

May 1, 2012

Dear Personality Flaws:

First, this issue is not isolated to personality tests and is a legitimate concern with respect to any tool used in the hiring process. That includes interviews, application blanks, consumer reports and assessments.

Moreover, an employer should not be placing reliance on any hiring tool that has not been professionally developed and is not job-related and consistent with business necessity.

Professionally developed personality tests typically do not exhibit disparate impact on the basis of an applicant's race or gender. Most employers utilize a variety of hiring tools to help maximize the likelihood that they are hiring people who will be productive workers. From administrative, operational and cost perspectives, employers are not able to have all applicants participate in every step of the hiring process.

Applicants typically go through a multiple-hurdle process, whereby they don't progress to the next step in the hiring cycle if they are not successful at the current step. Minimum qualifications, personality testing, consumer reports, initial interviews, interviews by hiring managers and drug testing are common hurdles. Employers expect job applicants to clear them before progressing to further steps in the hiring process.

Typically, the cost of a particular tool determines where it is placed in the hiring process. Expensive tools, such as consumer reports and drug testing, are placed at the end. Requiring candidates to successfully clear the job-based requirements set for each hurdle is not only standardized, objective and legal, but it also saves the organization time and money and maximizes the chances of hiring the "right" job applicant.

Also important to note: If your organization creates exceptions or allows subjectivity to sway its standard rules regarding each hurdle, it could create a perception of unequal treatment and associated liabilities.

Once a pool of individuals successfully completes the hiring process, it is often useful to rank them from most competitive to least competitive, using all of the information that has been gathered. In this step, the relative "job-relatedness" of each hiring tool should determine how much weight is placed on it in making the hiring decision. Personality tests are commonly weighted moderately to heavily, due to their documented effectiveness at predicting job-related behavior.

SOURCE: David W. Arnold, Wonderlic, Vernon Hills, Illinois

LEARN MORE: Especially amid recession, employers that routinely screen for credit and criminal records should take extra caution to sidestep legal trouble.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.