Chally: The trouble with personality tests in hiring

By Ken Carroll

Personality tests are a popular component of many organizations’
hiring processes. As these tests contend to measure traits and characteristics that remain stable over time, it is intuitive to believe information about candidates’ individual differences in these areas would be helpful when making hiring decisions.

Yet evidence supporting the usefulness of personality tests in wholesale distribution hiring has been called into serious question. This is due to repeated findings that correlations between measures of personality and measures of job performance are not strongly related. After nearly two decades of enthusiastic support for the use of personality assessments, there has been a call
for talent management professionals to reevaluate the merits of these tests.

How to receognize a personailty test

It is not always readily apparent that an assessment is a personality test designed to describe an individual rather than a work-related measure designed to predict on-the-job behaviors, outcomes, or criteria important to performance.

There are three questions that should help one determine the type of assessment being presented.

1. Was the measure designed to describe a theory or model (usually of personality) or predict future behavior?

2. Was the measure designed for academic or business application?

3. What evidence exists to show how the measure can impact business results?

Perhaps the most generally effective way to identify a personality test is to review the output of the measure. If the assessment produces a description of personality traits, then it can reasonably be considered a personality test.

An article presented by Human Resource Executive Online, entitled “Assessing Personality,” by Peter Capelli, briefly reviews the history of using personality tests for hiring and promotion decisions.

He remarks that the current popularity of this method is reminiscent of its use as a “best practice” in the 1950s, which he notes is curious given the fact that “by the early 1960s, the consensus among researchers was that personality was not a useful criterion for assessing individuals.”

During the decades that ensued (1960s to 1980s) “personality-based assessments ... largely disappeared from the lists of ‘best practices’ in human resources,” however, a resurgence of interest in, and use of, personality testing emerged in the 1990s.

Yet the central issue that led to the disfavor of personality tests 40 years ago (i.e., the lack of predictive validity or extent to which the assessment relates to or predicts job performance) still remains an unresolved issue.

Although research studies have demonstrated statistically significant relations between some personality factors and certain areas of job performance, the overall usefulness of these relations remain as weak as those reported 40 years ago.

This finding led to one question, why are we now suddenly looking at personality as a valid predictor of job performance when the validities still haven’t changed and are still close to zero?

Unfortunately, as Capelli asserts, “The least valid of the personality measures are the ones most employers are likely to use: published tests that individual candidates complete themselves.” The most popular personality tests being used for hiring purposes utilize broad-based approaches, such as the Big Five Personality traits and Emotional Intelligence, but these have had limited success.

For example, meta-analytic research has found that these tools account for less than six percent of variance in sales effectiveness. One of the reasons for this outcome could be that most personality tests are very broad in scope, whereas the areas of job performance are fairly narrow and specific.

Researchers have posited that the specificity of a predictor should match the area of job performance the predictor is designed to predict. It stands to reason that a test designed to predict specific and precise work behaviors and outcomes would predict those specific work behaviors and outcomes better than a test designed to reveal a general and broad sense of an individual’s personality.

However, we can’t make a blanket conclusion that any assessment that measures individual differences is bad. Most criticisms apply to broad-based “off-the-shelf” personality tests. These assessments were designed to be general, apply to a wide range of situations (most were not specifically created for workplace application), and are not amenable to customization. Such measures employ a “one-size-fits-all” approach, which (similar to clothing) does not provide a very good fit in most cases.

On the other hand, The Chally Assessment, measures narrow, job-related constructs.
As opposed to developing a measure descriptive of personal characteristics, Chally’s goal was to develop a measure that best predicted job performance in specific areas. While researchers and practitioners later became interested in the relations among general measures of personality and job performance, Chally’s focus from the company’s founding was to predict success on the job.

Over the years (beginning with a grant from the U.S. Justice Department) Chally has created more than 150 different work-related competencies that are measured through the Chally Assessment.

Chally has long championed research designed to measure the competencies, behaviors, traits and temperaments that predict specific job behaviors. The criterion-related validation approach, which is the statistical demonstration of the relationship between scores on an assessment and the job performance
of sample workers, continues to be at the core of Chally’s selection method.

The Big Five Personality Traits: Neuroticism, Extraversion,
Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness

Many assessments disguise the Big Five personality traits by using variations in the trait names such as Emotional Stability, Emotional Control, Sociability, Introversion, Openness, Cautiousness, Dependability or Responsibility. A reader familiar with a feedback report for the Caliper Profile, the Hogan or the PreVisor Assessment likely recognized some of these variations. Likewise, these name variations are common to many assessments that claim to measure predictors of job performance but are actually measuring personality traits.

Predicting Job Performance Beyond Personality Measures
The Chally Assessment was designed by taking an actuarial approach (or criterion-related approach) to predict job success, whereas the aim of most published personality measures is to perfectly represent a theory of personality.

Researchers agree, regardless of whether they propose using “compound” or “narrow” scales, companies need to measure more than personality traits if they are concerned with predicting job performance. Chally focuses on the competencies, behaviors and temperaments that predict actual job behavior. As a result, the Chally Assessment consistently has greater predictive power than existing “off-the-shelf” personality measures.

They do not consider the possibility that jobs with surface similarities may require different competencies for success. For example, different sales roles require different skills and motivations for success. Although extraverts (outgoing people that like to be the center of attention) tend to make better retail salespeople, they actually perform worse in business-to-business sales.

B-to-B salespeople focus on listening to the customer rather than dominating the conversation. If you want to hire a superstar outside salesperson, why not search for the precise competencies, behaviors and temperaments that job requires?

Chally’s utilization of criterion-related validation studies has led to reductions in turnover of up to 30 percent and increases in individual productivity of up to 35 percent in numerous organizations across most industries. Chally has developed a unique assessment based on literally hundreds of actuarial studies (i.e., the rigorous statistical methods used to assess risk in insurance and finance industries).

Chally’s research, and the research of others, consistently demonstrates that personality tests are not robust predictors of job success. Now, top researchers in the field are proclaiming this same conclusion. The value to distributors in the real world is clear — it is the difference between hiring a competent worker and a star performer. CS

Ken Carroll is CEO of Chally Group Worldwide. Ken Carroll is CEO of Chally Group Worldwide. Chally’s history of predictive assessment science, coupled with extensive consulting expertise in sales and leadership performance, makes it a leading authority on navigating the challenging course of successful merger and acquisition transactions.

For more information about how Chally’s talent analytic tools can help make those critical human capital decisions, call (800) 254-5995 or visit