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Many employers use personality profiling as part of the recruitment process – but are they giving you the right results? Geoff Tricky, Managing Director of Psychological Consultancy, asks if they’re all they’re cracked up to be.

Until recently, personality profiling was seen as the exclusive domain of psychologists and confined to assessment for senior roles. Tests were usually conducted as an intimate and thoughtful one-on-one experience between the psychologist and the individual. Today, occupational therapists, HR professionals, recruiters, executive coaches, trainers, careers advisors and others, all with very varied backgrounds, manage these techniques.

The technological revolution has driven much of this change. A few clicks can shepherd tens of thousands of candidates through a wide range of online psychometric assessment portals. Personality testing is now almost a routine part of any recruitment process.

Is this revolution a good thing though? While no one wants to turn back the clock, nor could they, it is constructive to evaluate the situation and consider whether and how personality profiling can be improved.

Personality profiles are potentially incredibly powerful. Recruitment decisions and career progression can be strongly influenced by psychometric tests, but both users and takers of these tests need to be very clear about the pitfalls of personality profiling.

1. Exactly what is personality?

This could almost be falling at the first hurdle as the term ‘personality’ means different things to different people, to both psychologists and to others.

It is a conceptual minefield with the approach and the content varying considerably. The critical thing is that you are clear what the author of the test means by ‘personality’. Personality provides the behavioural consistency that differentiates one person from another. A persistent behavioural bias impacts on job performance.

2. Do you know what you’re looking for?

Some assessments are essentially fishing exercises, using tests with no definite criteria in mind. This just generates confusing amounts of distracting information, raising more questions than answers. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re not likely to find it!

3. Can you differentiate between a good test and a bad one?

The Internet allows just about anyone to put a test or questionnaire online so you need to know enough technically to be discerning. Look for reputable publishers and the validity and reliability data. Use the reviews published by the British Psychological Society (BPS) and others.

4. Are you able to interpret a personality profile?

Profile interpretation is inferential, highly nuanced and draws from test content, research, personal experience and expertise. Most personality assessments are unfocused and cover the entire panoramic range of personality, leaving you to pick out what’s relevant for your own assessment.

5. Can you explain and expand on the report?

Reports generated online can be helpful but even the best are limited. When explaining your hiring decisions or giving feedback to candidates, you need to be able to elaborate and describe, in readily understood work place terms, what the implications of the results are likely to be.

The challenge for psychometrics

In our plug-and-go world, with people expecting technology to deliver even when they know nothing about it, psychometric test publishers are at a crossroads.

After clinging to tradition and mystique and resisting more exciting possibilities, the industry is beginning to recognise the potential of the technology.

The future is one of greater creativity, functionality and cloud- based internet platforms from which to manage and store assessments. Users will be able to tailor the process to suit their requirements, be it selection, development, or 360 degree feedback, and they will be able to select from a range of report options.

Having configured the assessment, the rest will be automated so that assessments are analysed, interpreted, and delivered ‘fit for purpose’ to interview panels and decision makers; expressed in the every-day language of work-place behaviours and competencies, highlighting strengths and limitations of a candidate and providing specific advice. All of this will take much of the ‘dark art’ out of psychometrics interpretation and leave less to subjective interpretation.

For those that still prefer the traditional ‘do it yourself’ route, courses are available from BPS verified trainers. This approach is challenging but very rewarding for those prepared to devote sufficient time to become truly expert at personality profile interpretation.

Both these routes avoid the pitfalls, and get the best out of advancements in technology. The problem lies with those who are stuck in the middle. Personality assessment is a complex process with many potential pitfalls. It is said that “a little knowledge is a bad thing”, something that clearly applies to personality profiling.

This article was originally published by the Institute of  Leadership & Management in Dec, 2014. Click here to view the original article.