Vocation-specific versus standard personality tests in hiring

Vocation-specific versus standard personality tests in hiring

Assessing a candidate’s personality is one of the major challenges you ‘ll have to deal with during the hiring process; especially when you’re not an HR expert. That’s why using ready-made assessment solutions may sound tempting, as an option. But, the bitter truth is, such approaches — using standard personality tests in hiring — will not guarantee the success of your final decision on the new hire. But why is that?

Vocation-specific versus standard personality tests in hiring

Well, that’s exactly what we’ll be discussing below. In short, we’ll show you why you should be skeptical — to say the least — when using such tools. And, why you should instead opt for vocation-specific personality tests. 

What is a standard personality test

By this term we are referring to seriously, scientifically developed personality tests. We emphatically exclude tests and theories that were developed about a century ago that contain very few dimensions to arrive at a typology of personality; such as the many flavors of MBTI or DISC. To their credit, most providers of these tests do not include employee selection as one of the possible uses of these tests. If the people that want to sell them don’t do it, neither should you.

A standard personality test would consist of about 16 – 40 dimensions. It usually requires training to use and understand and it creates a detailed profile of a person.

Why using standard personality tests in hiring may be misleading

Suppose you’re a startup or small business owner — with no HR department in place; at least, not yet — trying to build your sales team from scratch. That is to say, you’re clearly attempting to hire your first salesperson. And, to cut a long story short, you’ve created and published a job post for the specific role, have received a list of applications and are ready to start the screening process. No doubt, it’s relatively easy for you to evaluate “hard” skills; but, what about personality? 

To get it out of the way, you probably thought it would be a great idea to use a standard personality test; it would make for better filtering. And, say, you went through the training. And, to achieve that, you’ve probably made a shortlist of all the personality traits you believe are suitable — or required — for this particular role. Most people would base that off of Googling and/or just their common sense. Either way, you’re now ready to make your judgement, based on this list. So far so good, right? Well, not exactly.

Here are a few reasons why using standard personality tests in hiring may not be that successful; contrary to vocation-specific ones: 

The context in which you’re evaluating personality traits is not pertinent to the work environment

Keeping to the scenario of hiring the salesperson mentioned above, you’re probably looking for an extrovert, right? For simplicity’s sake, let’s not debate that point. 

But, the truth is, evaluating that personal trait within a personal context, exactly the way standard personality tests do, is actually completely different from the work context you’re trying to focus on. 

Simply put, take a person that is characterized as an extrovert in his personal life, the life and soul of the party. They may not be able to promote business sales at a conference. Or, to mention another example, it is one thing to be persuasive in your personal life and quite another to convincingly present the features and benefits of a complex product to a prospect.

The vagueness of standard personality tests 

The problem with standard personality tests is in their nature; that is to say, they’re generic. In other words, they cannot aptly help evaluate specialized personality skills and traits. For example, “detail focus” is required for a carpenter, an accountant or a doctor that has to examine a patient record and reach conclusions. The carpenter needs to care for the details of physical objects. The accountant should double check for errors and omissions. And, the doctor should take into consideration many small pieces of information to make a correct diagnosis. By using questions like “I pay attention to details”, the test is being as vague as possible; so we can use the same question in every possible context. But do we equally assess positively a doctor that takes serious notice of how pages of medical exams are stapled?

Standard personality tests cannot capture the “observable” behavior within an organization

Now, let’s focus once again on the aforementioned vagueness of standard personality tests and let’s examine it from a different perspective. Standard personality tests evaluate typical personality traits; and, in doing so, they’re not able to uncover personality aspects pertinent to a specific organization. Let’s take leadership, for example. In a standard personality test, leadership may be the combination of two or three dimensions. But what does “leadership” mean in your company? How would you define it? 

Well, the truth is that most desirable leadership behaviors may be tied to the work culture in a specific organization. Should a leader reinvent the rules, or make sure the organization stays within the bounds of the law and respects some hundreds of regulations? How much risk is acceptable? Should they inspire or demand compliance? Should a leader be independent minded? Or should a leader widely consult with all stakeholders before making a decision?

Neglecting personal traits worth focusing on

Last but not least, let’s focus on another aspect. There may be personality traits that you may have not considered evaluating as “desirable” for specific job roles. Put differently, the personality attributes you have selected for that particular role may not be enough for the final evaluation. Think honestly; How much room do you allow for individuality? No doubt, initiative is great; but, are you really willing to accept it from the people you manage, even if they take actions that you would never do or think of? That goes to say, it’s easy for you as a non-HR expert to get the wrong end of the stick as to which traits you should focus on. 

Final Thoughts

As a non-HR person, when it comes to evaluating a candidate’s personality, you definitely need a hassle-free and dependable way of achieving it. The interview process alone entails a certain amount of guesswork. In a similar fashion, using standard personality tests in hiring will be equally disappointing, for the reasons we mentioned above. Evaluating the behavioral styles and mental capabilities of your potential employees, using vocation-specific tests, guarantees that you’ll manage to reliably measure the right parameters, the right way.