The way we present ourselves when completing a personality questionnaire is subject to the same distortion and manipulations deployed in real life encounters. We all prefer to present ourselves in the best light possible, especially at an interview.
But questionnaires usually include ‘impression management scales’ to pick up on this and ‘validity scales’ to identify sabotage or random responding. The best tests also minimise the transparency of the questions, drawing on the rich pool of psychological research to make inferences from less obvious items. In any case, the expertise required for manipulation – ‘steering’ questionnaire responses to achieve a desired profile – would be considerable and more likely to result in bizarre or undesirable distortions.
Based on many decades of research, the potency, accuracy and comprehensive nature of personality assessment inevitably means that you can get the full picture, warts and all. But, intrinsically, there is no good or bad personality for a career in finance. Certain characteristics are sought after for some roles, of course, but everything you have got in personality terms means that there is something else that you haven’t got. Short people don’t get the benefits of being tall, but they don’t get the disadvantages either. It’s the same with personality.
One area that can cause concern for those responsible for recruiting in financial services organisations is how they explain a profile to the person assessed if it appears unflattering. We are usually quite fond of our own characteristics and also quite forgiving of them (whether other people are is another matter), and we all tend to project those preferences onto others. Experienced personality test users will be wary about making value judgments when giving feedback, avoiding the situation where they may seem to be consoling someone about something that individual sees as their greatest asset.
The value of personality assessment to the person assessed is that it offers a fresh and dispassionate viewpoint; a chance to take stock and re-evaluate. To the interviewer, it suggests issues to be explored. Self-awareness is a very important element because, whether or not our personality gives us an advantage in relation to a particular role, we are all capable of extending our comfort zone and raising our performance. The question is whether the effort this might require is recognised by the candidate and whether, once they appreciate the challenge imposed, they decide they are up for it. On the other side of the interview table, it depends whether the interviewers are convinced about the candidate’s capability and motivation.
Good quality personality assessment has an almost uncanny ability to capture the salient characteristics of those assessed. But there is a dynamic aspect to human psychology; a tension between what people are, what they want to be and what they feel is expected of them. All these shape behaviour and performance. It is important, therefore, to only consider evidence from such assessments alongside more traditional measures such as past experience, training, qualifications and work history. While personality profiles help to set an agenda for a structured interview, some of the answers will come from this wider pool of information – and from the interview itself.
Geoff Trickey is managing director of Psychological Consultancy