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      The Ethics of Personality Tests in the Hiring Process

      You’ve likely taken a personality test at some point in your life. Whether the test was part of a classroom assignment, taken with friends, or given during an employer’s hiring process, you probably learned a few things about yourself. 

      Personality tests aim to give individuals insight into their behaviors and actions. For instance, you might learn that you score highly in introversion traits, meaning you prefer to be alone or in the company of a few very close friends or relatives. Other tests can provide information about your relationship strengths and similar characteristics.

      Employers typically use personality tests as an extension of the interview process. Test results help hiring managers determine whether a candidate will assimilate well within the workplace culture. However, personality tests may introduce bias into the hiring process. 

      Typical Pre-Hiring Personality Test Types

      Personality tests for the hiring process are a booming business. According to one firm that administers the Myers-Briggs test, 88% of Fortune 500 companies use personality tests as part of their screening process. Other entities, such as the SHRM, believe approximately 22% of companies use personality tests when hiring.

      Companies that use personality testing typically select from several different tests, including the following:

      Myers-Briggs

      The Myers-Briggs analysis is among the most popular personality tests. It assigns each test taker one of sixteen personality types based on eight traits. The traits include:

      • Extraversion
      • Introversion
      • Intuition
      • Sensing
      • Thinking, feeling, judging, and perceiving. 

      Interestingly, the Myers-Briggs Foundation indicates that using the test for hiring is unethical. However, the Foundation does believe the test can help employers resolve communication issues between people of different types. 

      DiSC Inventory

      The DiSC test separates people into one of four different personality profiles: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. The DiSC inventory aims to help organizations improve teamwork, reduce workplace conflict, and effectively manage employees.

      Traitify

      Traitify is a relatively new type of personality test that uses images to discern a test taker’s personality traits. Traitify claims image-based tests provide a better candidate experience since the tests are quick and don’t involve dozens of written questions. 

      While Traitify makes the test-taking process shorter, it gives human resources a ranking of applicants according to their personality traits. Individuals with desirable features rank higher, which can lead companies to reject candidates based on their personality, even if they have the requisite skills and experience to handle the job. 

      Personality Test Results Are Misleading

      Personality doesn’t remain static throughout our lives. Instead, our experiences and relationships with others tend to change character over time. For instance, some people have higher levels of extraversion in their younger years but turn more introverted later in life.

      Another limitation of personality tests is a person’s self-awareness (or lack of it). Personality tests typically require the test-taker to indicate how they’d respond to a specific situation or how they believe they rank for a particular trait. Someone who lacks self-awareness may respond in a manner that doesn’t reflect their actual behavior or beliefs.

      People often respond to situations based on factors besides their personality, like external variables. For instance, someone who tends to be critical of another’s work may minimize their critiques if the boss doesn’t like it. 

      Similarly, if an organization prioritizes team-building activities that require lots of communication, introverts will adapt to the situation even if they’re not the most bubbly of people.

      Finally, some personality tests include questions that may introduce bias into the hiring equation. Hiring managers should be cautious to ensure any tests they use are completely free of discrimination, especially for members of a protected class.

      Companies Have Faced Regulation and Fines for Using Personality Tests

      A few organizations have faced lawsuits and scrutiny by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for using personality tests during hiring. 

      For instance, Best Buy relied on personality tests and assessments for its hiring process between 2003 and 2010. A complaint from a candidate led to a full-scale investigation of the company’s methods for hiring. The EEOC found that Best Buy’s usage of personality tests ran afoul of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

      Subsequently, Best Buy agreed to stop using personality tests and implemented new minority-friendly hiring practices. It also created training manuals for its hiring managers.

      CVS faced similar problems with the EEOC for its usage of personality tests between 2002 and 2010. Following an investigation by the EEOC, CVS agreed to stop using personality tests and implement new hiring processes. It also created a comprehensive training curriculum focused on diversity and inclusion for its management team.

      Finally, the EEOC fined Target $2.8 million for using three employee assessments that screened exempt employees based on race and gender. Another assessment Target used violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) since it required applicants to undergo a medical evaluation before being offered a job; this requirement is illegal. 

      Aside from the hefty fine, the EEOC forced Target to stop using assessments during the hiring process and provide two hours of annual training from outside consultants to all personnel involved in employee selection. 

      Alternatives to Personality Tests

      If assessing applicants for culture and personality fit is vital to your organization, you don’t have to rely on a test to tell you what you want to know. Instead, implement questions during the interview process that help you learn more about your candidate’s behaviors and beliefs.

      Asking situational questions can provide the insight you need without requiring your applicants to go through a formal test. Examples of situational questions include:

      • How would you handle a team deadline if your team members were out sick and the task was due the next day?
      • How would you react to another team member who regularly interrupts your workday?
      • Do you prefer working on your own, or do you like group activities?
      • What’s one thing that you would change about yourself if you could?

      Each question is open-ended, so applicants can think through the inquiry before deciding on their answer. You’ll gain more information about their suitability for your department without requiring them to undergo a personality test that might not offer accurate results.

      Personality Tests May Introduce Bias or Lead to Governmental Scrutiny

      In most cases, personality tests are more troublesome than helpful. If you use them in your hiring practices, you may inadvertently discriminate against applicants, even if your actions are unintentional. 

      A person’s test answers don’t necessarily indicate how they’d behave in real life. Instead of using personality tests, use interviews to learn about an applicant’s behaviors and attitudes.

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