Byline: Jackie Switzer
IN difficult economic conditions it is essential to recruit people who have both the experience and the personal strengths to lead an organisation through challenging times and emerge strongly out of the recession.
Personality testing, just one means of identifying who these candidates are, is now used by 35 per cent of organisations surveyed in the 2009 CIPD Recruitment, Retention and Turnover survey.
Professor Peter Saville, international chairman of Saville Consulting, who developed the Wave personality questionnaire, says: "We look at personality in recruitment because it drives motivation, which drives performance. Changing people is very difficult and your personality tends to be stable as an adult unless there is a major life event that can change it.
"Therefore, it helps if you select people on what they can do and what they are motivated to do. Personality questionnaires are objective and fair. In interviews you can have a bad interviewer or a candidate who exaggerates their experience. Equally research shows that educational qualifications are not good predictors of job success.
"The risks are there. A pharmaceutical company that recruited academic chemists found that once in a commercial environment they could not handle the pressure. Most left within six months. This was distressing for the applicants and their families, some of whom had relocated. Equally, it presented a cost to the company. Using a personality questionnaire can pick up risks early."
For senior roles, personality profiling involves completing a questionnaire (usually online) and an interview with a psychologist or assessor to explore your responses. Most questionnaires focus on five main dimensions - extraversion, openness to experience, emotional stability, conscientiousness and agreeableness. The British Psychological Society sets the standards for tests and has registered 30 different questionnaires.
Many questionnaires have built-in scales to pick up if a candidate is not honest. "Research suggests people can elevate their scores to appear better," says Dr Nigel Guenole, lecturer in Work Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. "But if they consistently respond in this way on a dimension it implies they understand its importance and will do it on the job.
"Often we are looking at more than one dimension, at patterns of personality, so you may be able to raise your profile on the obvious ones but not be aware of the other areas that are required."
Julia Porter-Robinson, head of recruitment at T-Mobile says: "We use personality questionnaires as part of a wider assessment to find out as much as we can about a person. We can see from the questionnaire the areas we want to go through in detail at interview rather than just relying on competency questions, where you can miss things. It can be a powerful way to open up a conversation with a candidate and gain insight."
Dr Guenole adds: "Using a personality questionnaire can tell you how a person will do the role. It shows if a person will go beyond the behaviours in the job description and do more - such as remaining positive in difficult times and taking on extra responsibilities."
Karen Moran, head of human resources at law firm Eversheds, says: "We would never make a decision on the personality questionnaire alone. We use Wave to look at leadership ability, especially in senior roles.
"If this area is not strong we ask the candidate for examples to test if they can do what they say. Also it is useful for looking at someone's emotional intelligence, how they manage their workload, how they manage risk and if they delegate or closely control their work."
"Our top people are bringing in busi-ness and are often expert networkers. But we can have people who have just one very strong client relationship, they may not be extravert but their approach works for them. …