How Personality Assessment Helps Predict Performance

March 23, 2017

If all your applicants for a job vacancy have strong CVs, glowing references, and perform well in the interview, how do you make the best decision? We run through the benefits of using a personality assessment and how this helps organisations make better selection decisions.

Personality Assessments - Why should companies care about personality when recruiting?

Personality can be defined as people’s preferred or typical way of thinking, feeling and behaving. Quick and cheap to administer; personality assessments rely upon people answering a series of questions about themselves that are designed to measure an underlying consistent model of personality. This then generates a ‘profile’ that either classifies people into a certain ‘type’ of personality (e.g. ‘Directive Leader’, ‘Creative Team Member’) or places them on a scale (low-high) on a series of personality traits (e.g. ‘Extroversion’, ‘Resilience’ etc). Once personality measurements could be quantified in this way, it became possible to measure how well they predicted future behaviour in a scientific manner.

Predicting Performance - Don't we already know how people will perform from their CV and ability tests?

While someone’s qualifications listed in their CV will tell us that they can do the job and carry out the tasks required of them, their personality will dictate how the person will do the job. Will they smile in the face of adversity, carrying on cheerfully? Will they check over their work multiple times to ensure perfection? Will they enjoy interacting with lots of different clients and customers throughout the day, tailoring their communication style appropriately?

Some jobs are synonymous with extroverted personalities. For example, sales. It’s hard to imagine a successful salesperson who is not extroverted. The qualities associated with this personality trait; cheerfulness, gregariousness, assertiveness, friendliness, and a high activity level are all qualities associated with successful sales people. Indeed, recent research at a technology retailer showed that people with the ‘right’ traits each generated over $5,000 more in sales per month than lower scoring staff, driving $162 million dollars in additional sales per year.

One personality trait that appears to be ideal for success is conscientiousness (being dependable, detail-oriented, organised, and responsible). There are many jobs where possessing high levels of conscientiousness may be imperative, for example within law enforcement, data analysis and computing, financial and risk management, and administrative and clerical roles, to name but a few. But using conscientiousness as a standard of job performance won’t always work. High levels of conscientiousness may be, in some circumstances, detrimental to success. Some research shows that while conscientiousness predicts performance in realistic and conventional jobs, it hinders success in artistic, investigative and social jobs that involve creativity, innovation and spontaneity. It’s therefore important to think about the role you are hiring for and what specifically your successful candidate’s personality should be like, rather than recruiting to fit what you believe is generically likely to be successful.

The Manchester School of Management published research where it was found that things like number of years’ job experience or references were quite poor at predicting job performance, whereas the best methods were ability tests at around 0.6. Personality assessments, averaged out, were better than full-day assessment centres! They were especially powerful when certain combinations of scales were used to predict certain behaviours (e.g. sales, leadership, teamwork) in the workplace.

Cognitive and ability tests can tell us about how quickly a person can learn and think. But we want to know more – what their ability to deal with stress is, what kind of a team member they are, how honest, creative, energetic they are. Two studies report a correlation of .27 between intelligence and leadership, and a correlation of .48 between personality and leadership. Schmidt & Hunter show that measuring both Conscientiousness and Cognitive Ability improves validity by 18% and adding a measure of integrity improves validity by 27%.


And it’s not just performance that can be predicted using these tools. At a major airline, customer service agents who scored highly in relevant personality traits were 87% less likely to leave the organisation and 66% more likely to be identified as top performers. They were also 42% less likely to take sick leave.

This all sounds great - Are there any drawbacks?

Well, the main question people often ask is ‘Aren’t these tests fakeable though?’. It is true that we do rely upon the honesty and self-insight people have in order to get an accurate view of their personality. However, there are ways of making it more likely to occur: firstly by explaining that being honest is for their own benefit and that they will be retested on these areas at interview. The second is to have a follow-up interview with candidates about their answers, in order to probe their truthfulness. Additionally, many such questionnaires have built-in ‘lie scales’ that can tell how much people have tried to distort their answers. They are measures of how much a person presents themselves as “socially desirable”. For example, if you selected “Strongly Agree” to the statement “I have never told a lie” or “I am never late” – it’s unlikely you’ve never told a lie or been late for something at least once! It’s also important to note that successful faking in a personality assessment during recruitment would require the candidate to determine which traits are desired in the hiring process and then how to answer the questions in the assessment to elevate those traits, which would be extremely difficult to find out (and impressive if they did!)

Finally, a recent study by SHL/CEB found that cheating at online tests is far less prevalent than suspected and is actually quite rare: a sign that the messages are getting through!

It’s also important that the organisation can prove that the traits they are on the lookout for are definitely related to the job – but this is always the case when it comes to assessment and selection.

Overall, personality assessment can give real insight into a candidate’s likely fit to an organisation and how well they will perform in the role. What insights could such a measure bring to your recruitment process?

For more information about the ShowTech platform (changed from Technically Compatible/Tungl in 2019), or to discuss your testing needs just contact us.

About the author

Sten10 are business psychologists who design world-class people assessments. Working with those responsible for the selecting and developing process of a company to help understand their people better.

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