May 4, 2021

Should we Cancel Personality Tests?


Episode Highlights

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What if I told you Myers–Briggs’ whole methodology was designed without a single psychologist involved?

Companies always seek ways to make hiring easier and better. While personality assessments seem reasonable on the surface, when you peel back the layers you realize it’s HR Astrology. Pseudoscience, with bias that’s counterproductive to your DEI efforts.

Jeff Smith and James Hornick return for another biweekly tirade in The 10 Minute Talent Rant, Episode 16, Should We Cancel Personality Tests?

Episode Transcript

The 10 Minute Talent Rant is live. I’m James Hornick joined by Jeff Smith and we are on the clock. The 10 Minute Talent Rant is our ongoing series where we break down things that are broken in the talent acquisition and hiring space and maybe even pitch a solution or two, if we feel like it. Before we dig in, remember to subscribe to Hirewell’s YouTube channel and the Talent Insights podcast to get all of our episodes. This week’s topic,


should we cancel personality tests? So let me lay some groundwork on this one. So the reason why we wanted to talk about personality tests and assessments in general, we’ve seen tons of candidates just bail on companies’ interview process, because they just didn’t want to do assessments, like all kinds.


So personality assessments, cognitive assessments, whatever. It’s the thing that’s happening now. We can get into the specific reasons why, but we wanted to dig into personality since that’s a very different animal than cognitive and everything else and whatnot and I also think there’s no real defense of it.


Dumb luck. Later that same day we were talking about this, HBO came out with a documentary on this exact same topic. So I want to give a shout out to the people who made the persona documentary. I posted about this last week. I didn’t think it was that great of a documentary. It was 30 minutes material like stretched over an hour and a half.


So if you watch it,  you’re not going to be blown away, but it saved us some research time. There was some good points made here. So first talk about why they’re bad. Yeah. And why they’re bad in hiring specifically, meaning when we talk about personality tests, we’re talking about like hire decisions, whether or not you’re going to go with someone or not.


So strictly based upon how they did in this assessment. That’s an important distinction here. Important distinction. If you want to go take one on your own, knock yourself out or whatever. First off, personality tests and mental health they’re inherently biased. So everyone’s very aware that there’s a lot of mental health issues.


People struggling with things right now, but whether just giving examples, bipolar, autism, things like that, you’re asking people to give you honest answers and how they would view a situation or what they would do in certain situations and  because of their own mental health issues they might be going through, their honest answers might not jive with whatever profile you determined was super important for you to hire for this test.


And it’s an issue because like, that’s something a lot of people are dealing with right now but more importantly, it has no bearing whether they can be successful in their job or not. So that’s one example without getting – and there’s a lot of different areas of bias kind of covered in this. Maybe Jeff, you want to kind of tee off another one, but it’s just  really is indefensible just right off the top


when you kind of go in knowing that in mind. Exactly. We’re pulling a bit from the actual documentary, which is fine.  The central figure of that documentary is a gentleman that’s been diagnosed with bipolar and I think it’s important also to just distinguish that  the question in the grand scheme of things was I feel happy, generally happy most of the time or all of the time.


I can’t remember exactly how it’s phrased, but you don’t have to have bipolar disorder to not be you know a jolly old fellow all the time, right? Oh, I think some of these questions, you know, and it gets into it later like they sometimes can feel like trick questions and you have no idea what they’re actually looking for.


The second thing and something that I’ve actually experienced with candidates is an ESL bias. So English as a second language. I think we’ve had plenty of examples internally with candidates who struggled with time-based tasks on assessments simply because English is their second language and it doesn’t have to be English.


It’s just the native language speakers are always going to have an upper hand in time to testing. It’s a fact. You can read through things quick enough to have the same amount of speed as somebody who speaks in that native language. I would even say not just time-based tests, but like even context.


You know what I mean? If  you’re taking a test in the language that’s not your native language, you might be reading into the question incorrectly, which again has no bearing on if you can actually do the job. Yeah, and it’s a great point. And even the writer of the test has inherent English slang.


Like I’m not saying slang enters those tasks because they are probably at least somewhat rigorously QA, I would hope. But there are  going to be references that that context is missed. Look, the other thing too is they full stop, they just take a lot of time. Like it’s a hot market and candidates have a ton of options going on right now.


For all the reasons that we just kind of mentioned, if your process has 20, 30, 40 minutes of assessments attached to it before they can even speak to somebody, you’re adding a filter that frankly feels unnecessary. Yeah. And that’s the thing is that companies are still using these personality tests even though there’s not really, they don’t – you constructed a profile you think is going to be more successful than another but there’s no basis in science for this, not to kind of bury the lead on something


else we wanted to talk about it here in a second, but let’s get into it.  So like, this is the other thing I didn’t realize too. So a lot of places use these like the Myers-Briggs is like the gold standard. The one that everyone goes to. It’s the number one used test in the world. Guess what? Go to their website.


They literally say do not use these tests for hiring. The people who made the first test, who sell the most tests, who were like the gold standard that everyone looks to for personality assessments literally says do not use personality assessments for hiring. One of the telling things about the documentary was that Myers-Briggs felt strongly enough about this to represent themselves in a documentary that was inherently going to be negative, negatively contextually


and they allowed them the opportunity to say, “Hey listen, we get it.” Like it’s not supposed to be a precursor for hiring and at worst, definitely not an adjudicator. So look, there’s zero basis in actual science. Myers-Briggs, not psychologists. Yes, their methodologies were based on some psychological writing


but inherently it was two hobbyists in world war II to help laborers get back to work. Yeah. I don’t think people realize how old this test is and how this is not based on anything real. These personality profiles that they constructed, they’re not – can’t really come from anything.


No. It was literally a woman  diagnosing her daughter over a long period of time and her friends. Like look, everyone else at this point that’s in the game is just  copycatting the same kind pseudo science and putting it back out in some other form to these companies.


I mean the best term I heard, because I didn’t invent this one, which I’m sad it’s the first time I’ve heard it is, it’s HR astrology. It’s fun but it’s not useful.  It’s like going back to Buzzfeed 2011, like which Harry Potter character are you, you know? Like you can take these things  on the side and maybe use them to validate certain things you’re feeling about yourself but in terms of trying to find some way to


whether or not you’re going to hire talent or not, I think that people think that they’ve seen too many movies like minority report or DataCo where they think like, “Hey, we’ve got these data points. We can predict who’s going to work out. Who’s going to be like successful in these roles.” It doesn’t work that way.


We’re nowhere near anything like that.  You’re basically taking like I said, a Buzzfeed test and trying to substitute it into some site or some sort of perfect minority report situation where you can predict future behaviors, which by the way, if you actually watched that movie you’d realize even that was flawed.


Anyways. I mean, I know Buzzfeed, personality tests where the jam. So  let’s go to fixes on this one. What do you say? Look, I have espoused this ever since I was in my director seat,  we’re not inherently saying assessments are bad. We’re saying that used in the right context, they can be powerful talent development tools.


I think that they give insights to folks  post hire, opportunities to advance their IQ, to delve into different parts of the business where they felt like maybe  they haven’t unlocked yet. Like case closed, post hire those insights can be really really useful. But when you’re using them to adjudicate, you cannot  predict how somebody is going to behave based on the test that inherently everyone’s trying to game anyway.


Yeah, if you care about reducing bias, if you care about DEI initiatives, it’s real simple. Stop using these things in hiring. That’s it. No other solution. Do not use personality tests in hiring full-stop, end of discussion. Pull them out of the process. There’s no justification for it. I mean you should be trusting –


I would put it this way: if you’re not trusting a panel of four to six individuals during the interview process on your team to successfully vet a candidate for your culture and the job, you have a whole nother problem. Yeah. All right. I think we nailed it. And we are short on clock, so that’s a wrap for this week everyone.


Thanks for tuning into the 10 Minute Talent Rant, part of the Talent Insights series which is always available for replay on Hirewell’s YouTube channel and the Talent Insights podcast on Apple, Google, Spotify, and Amazon. Jeff, thanks again. And everyone out there we’ll see you soon. 

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