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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

A Personality Test is NOT a Validated Talent Instrument

A_Personality_Test_is_NOT_a_Validated_Talent_InstrumentPersonality tests are all the rage!

I recently read that 60-70% of Americans today will take a personality test as part of a job application process. Gaining in popularity, personality tests are even used in career planning for those not in the workforce yet as well. Just last week my daughter was given a personality test by a college professor hoping to help his students better understand their potential and how they might match up with a variety of journalism career paths. 

In general, people like to have information when making decisions, and that’s a good thing. As long as that information is accurate and helpful. Many of the assessments out there are not.

The Wall Street Journal recently printed two articles related to personality tests (see what I mean – it’s a hot topic!). After reading both “Decoding Workplace Personality Tests” and “Are Workplace Personality Tests Fair?” I realized that most people don’t have the perspective and experience to realize the enormous difference between a validated talent instrument and… well… everything else. So I thought I would share a few differences with you.

There are five main differences between most assessments on the market and a validated talent instrument such as the Sales Talent Interview and the Profit Center Manager Interview in which I specialize:

1. The most obvious difference can be found in what each of these instruments measure. A Personality Test is self-reported and gives users insight into a person’s “typical” behaviors and preferences whereas a Talent Assessment measures an individual’s potential or aptitude to achieve optimal or maximal performance in a specific role. 

  • The average assessment describes personality traits, focusing on a psychological model called the “Five Factors Model,” which defines five essential dimensions of personality: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Research has proven that personality traits have an extremely small relationship to performance and experts like Fred Morgeson, a management professor and organizational psychologist at Michigan State University, will tell you that the connection is "much lower than the field has led us to believe."

  • A quality talent instrument on the other hand is built to measure the intensity of natural ability in the areas that are most important to success in a specific job. It will also predict a candidate’s success in that job and provide an employer with detailed coaching strategies to help the individual maximize their talents over time and work around any weaknesses that might get in the way.

2. Another huge difference includes the degree to which the instrument is able to predict success in a specific job or industry. 

  • The average assessment is very “one size fits all” in nature. The same instrument is used to assess suitability across a wide variety of jobs.

  • A quality talent assessment is highly job-specific and built by studying top performers in the industry and comparing their behaviors with those that struggle in the same job. A strong assessment is therefore able to zero in on the specific behaviors that have a proven correlation with success in the position.

 3. The nature of the questions asked in the interview provides our third dramatic difference in these instruments.

  • The average assessment is administered by a computer and offers “forced choice” questions like this one given to McDonald’s candidates: Choose one of the following that best describes you: “It is difficult to be cheerful when there are many problems to take care of” OR “Sometimes, I need a push to get started on my work”

  • A quality talent assessment is usually administered live by a Certified Talent Analyst asking open-ended questions that the interviewee can put into any context they would like. (Although I will say that I was recently very impressed by an interview that is computer - driven but highly customized and surprisingly accurate. I will save that for another time though!) With a strong talent instrument, the Analyst is able to listen to all of the content collected during the interview and look for specific conceptual matches – areas in which the candidate’s responses match those of top performers in the benchmark study.

4. The reporting is also starkly different between these two kinds of assessments. 

    • The average assessment provides an auto-generated report that might be colorful and chock-full of data, but is often unclear and confusing.

    • A quality talent assessment will include more than just a written report. The greater value of these tools lies in the unlimited talent feedback delivered by the experts. The best assessment reviews will include in-depth information about the individual’s strengths and weaknesses, a discussion about their likely fit in a specific position or culture, and strategic coaching recommendations that will guide the manager to help them maximize their talents and continually grow over time.  

5. Finally, there is also a large gap between how useful each of these assessments are in developing people and their talents over time.

  • The average assessments provide a snapshot of an individual’s behavior at that point in time and gives general insight into how they might work with others.

  • A quality talent assessment will not only predict job-relevant performance while reducing unintentional discrimination, but it will also provide meaningful information about the individual’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors which can provide managers with invaluable information on how to grow and develop that person over time.

Finding, selecting, and hiring highly talented employees is as much a science as it is an art, and fortunately for us there are reliable tools based in science at our fingertips today. Of course I will always advise you to follow your instincts and consider personality and likeability in your hiring decisions — but never forget the power of talent!

When they’ve got it, they’ve got it and you want to make sure you can spot it! Choose your talent instrument wisely.

  Talent Resources