Psychological Testing in Personnel Selection, Part III: The Resurgence of Personality Testing

Article excerpt

In the first article in this series, which was published in the Spring 2008 issue of Public Personnel Management, we noted that while the utility of some selection instruments, particularly cognitive ability testing, has been widely accepted, the usefulness of personality testing in selection has not faired nearly as well. (1) Logic dictates that personality should influence performance, and research has revealed that successful managers share a large number of personality traits regardless of time or organization. (2) However, reviews of the research exploring the validity of personality testing has generally not supported the validity or utility of personality testing. (3) Nevertheless, recent research in personality testing has been promising, and there seems to be considerably more optimism about the role of personality testing in selection. (4) It is to these issues we now turn.

Contemporary Personality Testing in Employee Selection

In recent years, the use of personality testing as a human resource selection method has been heavily criticized because personality tests have historically had low criterion validity, low predictive validity, high development and use costs, and considerable risks for adverse impact. When coupled with the risk personality tests present for invasion of privacy and their generally lack of acceptance by test takers, their application as selection instruments is sanctioned only with a fair amount of caution by staffing experts. (5)

Certainly, however, all personality tests do not share either the same limitations nor strengths. Individual instruments are developed using methods, and each test assesses a unique set of psychometric properties. Also, each will have been validated for use in either quite narrow or broader populations. Certainly, the personality tests developed for discriminating between people with a mental disorder and people without a mental disorder have only very specific utility in highly specialized personnel selection activities. On the other hand, personality tests developed to assess test takers' possession of certain traits or personality-related abilities may be useful for predicting employees' behaviors and outcomes across a broad array of positions. (6)

Despite a significant amount of research, there remains considerable disagreement about the value of personality testing in employee selection. While a majority of the selection research of the last 30 years has called the value of personality testing into question, the search for predictors of job performance that have less adverse impact than cognitive ability tests has renewed interest in personality testing. (7) Some have suggested that using personality testing in conjunction with cognitive ability testing can enhance the validity of employee selection decisions while also reducing the adverse impact of the decision-making process. (8) However, confusion over the definition of personality, how to measure personality, and what exactly personality tests measure has hampered such efforts and kept the controversy over personality testing alive. (9) In part to answer critics, the focus in personnel psychology in recent years has been on developing theories of the psychological processes that underlie and determine job performance, and this work is opening new doors for the use of personality testing for selection purposes. (10)

Proponents of general mental ability (GMA) as a solid predictor of job performance are aware that the core components of this predictor seem to relate to the acquisition of job knowledge: People with demonstrated high levels of GMA seem to acquire job knowledge with greater speed and depth, and this boosts job performance. At the same time, is well known and well accepted by experienced psychologists that certain personality traits enhance a person's ability to actuate intellectual capacity and that other personality traits dampen that ability. (11) It is likely, then, that using efficient and valid tools to measure a person's GMA and assessing his or her personality traits that influence receptiveness to information, interference of cognitive and affective states, and willingness to ally and interface with others would lead to better personnel selection decisions. …