Use of Personality Tests in Employee Selection

Personality or temperament tests are designed to measure basic aspects of an applicant’s personality, such as degree of introversion/extroversion, emotional stability and motivation. Personality tests are the most difficult tests to evaluate and use in employee selection. This is because the concept of personality itself is hazy and the relationship between performance on the job and personality is often vague or nonexistent.  In addition, the applicant can easily fabricate answers. Consequently, personality tests tend to have very limited value in employee selection and their use may be extremely difficult to justify if challenged by EEO authorities.  Finally, some tests may include questions that could be regarded by applicants as an invasion of privacy.  Questions about religious beliefs and sexual orientation, for example in the USA have been construed as both invasive and discriminatory and have resulted in heavy financial penalties.

However, this has not stopped their use in Australia, with organizations being prepared to pay large sums of money to consultants to test prospective employees.  Personality tests in common use include IPAT Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF); Edwards Personal Preference Schedule; California Psychological Inventory; Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI); Humm‑Wadsworth Temperament Scale; Kostick’s Perception and Preference Inventory and Myers‑Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI).

The polygraph (‘lie detector’) is an instrument used to record bodily changes that take place when an applicant is subjected to pressure.  Stressful questions such as ‘Do you take drugs?’ and ‘Have you ever stolen anything?’ are interposed with neutral questions such as ‘Is your name Smith?’ As a test of honesty, the polygraph has been quite widely used in the USA.  However, with the introduction of The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988, pre‑employment ‘lie detector’ tests have been mainly prohibited.  In contrast, the polygraph has never been a popular screening device in Australia.  Because of its questionable validity and perceived threat to civil liberties, the test has attracted much controversy and employee opposition.  Given the potential legal and public relations costs involved, organizations tempted to use the polygraph need to exercise the utmost caution.

The curtailment of the polygraph in the USA has seen the widespread adoption of written honesty or integrity tests (especially in the retail industry).  Honesty tests are designed to ask applicants about their attitudes toward theft and dishonesty or about admissions of theft or illegal behavior.  Most tests have satisfactory reliability and according to Milkovich and Boudreau have shown validates in the range of 0.50 with self reported dishonest activity, though their relationship to objectively or observed theft or dismissal due to illegal activity is usually lower.

A recent two year study by the American Psychological Association in fact has concluded that professionally developed honesty tests are valid predictors of dishonest and counterproductive behavior in the workplace.  Even so, honesty tests are not without their critics.  Charges that some tests are deceptive, ask questions which are intrusive, have questionable validity and present a real danger that applicants who fail will be labelled as dishonest have all been made.  Consequently, honesty tests should be used with great caution; always in conjunction with a detailed reference check and restricted to those jobs where actual opportunity for serious theft exists.  Similarly, an applicant should never be rejected solely on the basis of an honesty test result.  Although it is estimated that Australian business loses some $2.5 billion a year because of security problems it is very debatable whether honesty tests will gain acceptance.

Source: Modern HRM Concepts_MGU

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