How Effective is Psychological Screening of Contingent Candidates? | DCR Workforce Blog

How Effective is Psychological Screening of Contingent Candidates?

screeningA recent best seller talks about Why Being Your Whole Self—Not Just Your “Good” Self—Drives Success and Fulfillment and tells us about how negative emotions make people focus better and do things exactly right. This research brings the very efficacy of personality testing into question.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), roughly 18% of companies currently use personality tests in the hiring process. For the Fortune 500, that number swells to 80%.   Personality testing refers to the process of measuring a candidate’s relevant strengths and weaknesses. The objective is to assess employment suitability, including company-candidate fit by evaluating the candidate’s cognitive abilities and behavioral style. Companies view psychological testing as another tool for understanding what the candidate has to offer and how they will fit into a company’s work culture. They indicate areas of focus for interview sessions, and hopefully predict whether the candidate will work well in a team environment.

When used effectively, personality testing can improve a candidate’s impression of a prospective employer. Applicants are attracted to modern recruitment and selection processes that are based on objective approaches to assessing their capability.

Detractors of personality testing point to the time and cost associated with administering the testing, potential for violating the candidate’s privacy rights or unintentionally discriminating, and erroneous results that can be generated by an administrator not properly trained in assessing the results.

Much has been written and debated about the reliability of these tests as an indicator of future success when hiring permanent employees or assessing an employee’s potential for advancement. That is not the focus of this blog. We are exploring the implications of using personality testing when engaging contingent workers. For the purposes of this blog, we use a broad definition of personality testing to also include behavioral testing.

Personality tests add value when they are directly tied to established performance metrics. In simplest terms, you must know what work styles and attributes you are looking for and how you would measure their existence in order to select a test that will actually evaluate those characteristics. Many companies require staffing agencies to conduct personality tests as part of the onboarding process of selected candidates. However, they often fail to specify the desired performance metrics and rarely acknowledge that the traits needed in a permanent employee differ from those desired in a temporary worker. Empathy, conscientiousness, honesty, enthusiasm, motivation are all things any worker must have, but what about ambition, desire for advancement, and sources of motivation? These attributes are reflected differently in a contingent worker.

General guidelines to follow:

  • Ensure that any testing instrument is job-relevant. Determine your major concerns, and use a survey instrument that focuses on the actual behavior needed to be successful in the role. Are you testing to eliminate security risks, disruptive behavior, potential of not completing the assignment, or other factors?
  • Determine if the testing is necessary for all positions. How long will the assignment last? Will the job responsibilities require a high degree of interaction with your regular employees? Is the work highly stressful?
  • Avoid tests that lead to potential discrimination. Most testing services admit that that while the tests keep gender and race out of the range of things to be revealed through these tests, they have not been designed to avoid violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. If the psychological evaluation ends up revealing bipolar disorder, depression, and similar disabilities, will the employer be using the knowledge to push them out of the process, even if they have the skills needed? Tests generally need to respect privacy and not endeavor to “diagnose” candidates in any way.
  • Take steps to avoid cheating. Most tests are administered online. Ensure that the person taking the test is the candidate, and that he/she is alone.
  • Look for consistency. Compare impressions gained through the interview process with test results. If it appears that the results are incongruent, the candidate may have attempted to “manage the impression” by providing inaccurate responses.
  • Share test results with candidates. Staffing agencies can use these discussions to clear up any inconsistencies, and to better understand the individual for fit with other assignments. Candidates will value the feedback, strengthening the relationship with the staffing agency.
  • Monitor the effectiveness of the tests. Staffing agencies who use these tests should regularly assess the correlation between test results and actual performance of their contingent workers. This information should be used to provide guidance to their clients regarding the most effective indicators of performance.

Final thoughts

Personality testing is merely one tool available to aid in selecting the best worker for a job. While they provide insight into a candidate’s motives, values, and work styles, a fuller picture is needed. When combined with other screening techniques such as interviews and references, a more accurate picture of the candidate emerges.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.