Using personality tests for potential hires has a long history of mixed results and damaging legal allegations.
If you want a job at this financial firm, you’ll have to answer a few questions first.
Starting in 2018, Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs will give candidates “personality tests” as part of their second round of interviews. Applicants for positions in the banking, trading and finance, and risk divisions will take them, Reuters reports, but Goldman will first pilot the tests on summer internship candidates next year.
“We’re shifting from a world where you just used to look at a GPA and resume and walk out with a feeling about an individual that you might want to hire,” Goldman’s global head of recruiting, Matt Jahansouz, told Reuters in an interview. “We can now capture characteristics and data that might not be as obvious to make smarter hiring decisions.”
While there is no way of judging for certain what kinds of questions Goldman will ask, clinical psychologist Dr. Curtis Reisinger of Zucker Hillside Hospital has a few predictions. Candidates might be asked to rank how much statements like “I love interacting with people,” “when at a party, I prefer to eat by myself,” or “I read the editorial in a newspaper every morning,” apply to them, he said.
“The sky is the limit on what you can get asked,” Reisinger told Moneyish, adding that the test format is typically computerized and consists of multiple choice questions. He cautioned that test takers can’t simply make up whatever answers they think will sound best, though: “Social desirability — the desire of anyone who is taking the test to look good — is a vulnerability of the tests, [but] control scales can tell if a person if exaggerating, [or trying to] look really good.”
For instance, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory — what Reisinger calls the “gold standard” of personality tests — incorporates “four validity scales,” PsychCentral.com says. The scales “assess the person’s general test-taking attitude and whether they answers the items on the test in a truthful and accurate manner.”
Goldman will try to match candidates’ personality traits to those of existing employees to predict out who has the right characteristics for the job. Whether or not a candidate possesses those qualities — including teamwork, analytical thinking, and judgment — will be just one of several factors in the firm’s hiring process, Jahansouz said.
Goldman is far from alone is using personality tests: Organizations from the State Department and the CIA to 89 of the Fortune 100 companies use the Myers-Briggs test — one of the best-known personality tests, taken by around two million people a year — in their recruiting efforts. The military also uses personality tests, as do an estimated 90% of US law enforcement agencies.
What’s more, we’re likely to see more organizations adopting them in the future, says Anna Tavis, a clinical professor of human capital management at New York University. “It’s a broader trend. More and more companies are creating their own,” Tavis said.
However, these tests have their issues and critics. For one, “employers have increasingly faced claims that the tests are medical examinations impermissible under the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act], which prohibits employers from subjecting applicants to preselection medical examinations,” Law360 wrote back in 2006.
More recently, in 2011 the Americans with Civil Liberty Union accused drugstore chain CVS of asking for improper information relating to the mental health and physical disabilities of candidates on its personality tests. The ACLU claimed that, in online pre-hiring tests, CVS included statements like, “People do a lot of things that make you angry,” and “There’s no use having close friends; they always let you down,” which discriminated against “applicants with certain mental impairments or disorders.”
In response, CVS removed the statements from its tests, but did not cease the hiring practice.
To avoid making similar mistakes, Reisinger advises that Goldman should draw the line at questions that “cross the boundary between personality and medical information.” Asking questions like: “‘I have difficulty sleeping at night,’ or ‘I feel a tight band around my hand’ … the Americans with Civil Liberty Union or Americans with Disabilities would essentially find fault with [that],” he said.
Tavis suspects that the hiring methods companies employ could become more advanced in the years ahead. “I think the future could be ominous depending on how [tests are] used. The future of assessments is not in taking tests — it is going to be digital. Our footprints, our patterns of behavior are being collected from the Internet,” she said, hinting that leading companies could employ more sophisticated data-gathering techniques to collect information on candidates.
Ultimately, the question in the near term is whether personality tests can actually predict a candidate’s success, or if they leave too much on the table. “Nothing is a hundred percent,” Reisinger concluded. “It’s like the stock market — there’s so much variability and unpredictability. Personality is a lot like that.”
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