Sunday, January 28, 2007

Assessing Candidates

Personality Testing

The use of personality testing is something that I have encountered in management-class settings before. Typically, we discussed the possibility of using personality tests in order to evaluate employees' ability to work together, and to assess the ways in which different types of people could be molded into an effective organization. In these cases, personality types, quirks, and values were not considered to be part of what makes someone "good" or "bad" for an organization. The discussions of personality testing this week seem to have indicated that there are "right kinds" of people to hire. I'm not sure where I come down on this issue, to be honest.

It is difficult to imagine how the five-factor tests I've taken before could be effectively used in a hiring situation. Inventory items like "I shirk my duties" and "I feel comfortable around people" seem obvious and easy to game, cheat, lie about, or whatever word would be most appropriate. While I certainly agree with Hogan's and Ross' perspectives that accurate measures of conscientiousness, openness, or extraversion could certainly be valuable, a good personality test for a work setting would have to mask its items' intent very well to actually measure the factors it targets.

To be completely honest, I feel like personality testing is a pretty poor substitute for interviewing. Interviewers can ask similar questions to those on a personality test, and also evaluate the ways in which people communicate about themselves, which is relevant to all different kinds of items that personality tests have to measure anyway. In a large organization such as the credit company from the case study article, though, the relatively non-intensive nature of personality testing can save the organization time, money, headaches, and effort, and could be a valuable tool. It seemed even more valuable that the assessment that was instituted here was based on assessing competencies and skills, though; these are harder to fake.

A good personality test, or interview designed to target personality attributes, might begin with scenarios to see how people reason through them, how they identify the key factors, and how they would go about dealing with problems. Scenarios are already commonly used to measure moral reasoning, which is very similar to the "conscientiousness" personality factor as it is. Scenario items, because they do not provide much guidance as to what a "good" answer would be, could be effective and (helpfully) qualitative measures of personality type and reasoning level at the same time. These seem more helpful than personality inventories, because they add a richer dimension to the candidate's profile.

Checking References

Reference checking is extremely important. As crass as this may sound, all other aspects of candidate assessment are completely in the hands of the candidate, and so it is difficult to get a picture of much other than the side of the candidate that they want you to see. While this side is likely to be the most commonly seen side in the workplace, aspects like bad tempers, laziness, and being generally difficult won't show up in the guarded situation of applying for a job. Finding out others' assessments of candidates' work is the best way to find out more. To effectively check, I think it is important for managers to learn the skill of reading between the lines; "they were good" is very different from "they were outstanding," and I think learning to distinguish a solid reference from an outstanding one is an important skill.

The lecture posed the question, "What do you think you can do to make this easier and more efficient?" I believe that one solution is a willingness to solicit references via email. I am aware that many people prefer to make phone calls, but I imagine that phone-tag situations happen quite often, to the detriment of the hiring organization. If I were a manager who hired frequently, I would develop some sort of form letter in which I ask certain key questions about job performance and character assessment, and use it to solicit email-based answers from listed references. This might cut down on conversation time and be more convenient for all involved. Then again, some people might hate these; I think it seems reasonable to use this as a backup if the phone doesn't get picked up, however.

No comments: