Hiring for an open role in your company is often a gamble. A candidate may look great on paper or check off all the boxes in an interview. But how do you know if this person has the personality fit for the job or the skills to succeed?

In today’s competitive market for talent, many companies are turning to a time-tested tool to help them make the best bets when recruiting and hiring: personality assessments. Though these assessments have been around for decades, they are more intuitive and accessible than ever before. And more companies are using them to avoid the headaches and costs of making a bad hire.

Bad hires not only plague your business with lackluster performance and high turnover, but they can also be detrimental to your bottom line and employee morale. “Candidates may have the skills for the job, but if they don’t have the personality fit it requires, it will eventually drain their energy, affect productivity and potentially cause them to start looking elsewhere for work,” says Craig Jacobus, president of Jacobus & Associates, an executive coaching and business consulting firm that manages personality assessments and other assessment tools for clients.

It costs companies an average of six to nine months of an employee’s salary to replace a hire, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. For someone with an annual salary of $60,000 a year, that equates to a $30,000 to $45,000 hit in recruiting, training, and opportunity costs. The stakes and costs climb even higher “as the complexity of the job increases, and you get into the CEO ranks,” Jacobus says.

Personality Assessments for Hiring: How Do They Work?

So what makes personality assessments effective, and how do they work? If you’re thinking of subjecting prospective hires to a time-consuming type of assessment, think again. Look for assessments that are easy to administer and are based on innate principles known as the “big five”: extroversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. These principles, agreed upon by psychologists and behavioral scientists, are measured on a sliding scale and help employers identify the natural tendencies that drive and motivate employees and affect their ability to fit into a particular role. For example, those who score high in extroversion are energized by being around people and working in teams, while those who score lower on that scale are just the opposite.

“High drives are like hunger,” Jacobus says. “When you wake up in the morning, those are the drives you want to have fulfilled. If you’re in a position that uses your high drives, you are more likely to be happy, more engaged, and truly enjoy the work.” Conversely, low drives are behaviors people have learned are necessary to survive in a job and do it effectively, but these don’t come as naturally and take more energy, which can lead to exhaustion at the end of the day.

The goal of personality assessments, Jacobus says, is to match a person’s high drives with the key attributes the job demands. An accountant, for example, must show a penchant for detail, or conscientiousness, while a salesperson needs to be more extroverted and assertive. A candidate who scores high on openness to experience might thrive better in an entrepreneurial role than someone with a higher drive for agreeableness and less of a tendency to take risks.

Employers can best implement these results by developing a target success profile that includes the top attributes necessary for the role they are hiring for, along with the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the job. Then they can send assessments to candidates to evaluate them against the type for the role. Candidates don’t have to match a profile perfectly to qualify as a good hire, but “you need to make sure the critical high drives are present, and that person is in the zone,” Jacobus says.

Best Practices for Using Personality Assessments as a Hiring Tool

One of the biggest mistakes companies make when using personality assessments is treating them like the “Holy Grail” of hiring and leaning too heavily on them at the expense of other important factors, such as reference checking, cognitive and writing skills, and work ethic. “It’s an important piece of the hiring puzzle, but it’s not everything,” Jacobus says. To most effectively use personality assessments for hiring, follow these best practices:

Assess early and often. Don’t wait until you’ve started interviewing candidates to give them personality assessments. Use them to screen candidates with impressive resumes or experience early in the hiring funnel. That way, you won’t waste time and money bringing in people who aren’t the right fit or risk having your leadership team fall in love with someone who might not be the best pick for the role.

Choose the right tool. Personality assessments are easy to find, but make sure you use a validated tool that is based on current behavioral science research, continually updated, and meets the relevancy and reliability standards of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the American Psychological Association (APA). Whether self-serve or managed through a consultant who can help you evaluate and implement the findings, assessments should also be easy to administer. “You want one that takes under 15 or 20 minutes with easy throughput that people aren’t going to be intimidated by,” says Jacobus, who uses the MPO assessment platform by Ngenio for his clients.

Fair warning: After doing personality assessments, you may end up with fewer candidates, but they should be better qualified—and the value you get from these surveys extends well beyond the recruiting and hiring phase. More on that in our next post!


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