Psychometric tests are not unanimous. Useful for some, of questionable utility for others, they have been used in executive recruitment for quite some time. For headhunters, they are above all complementary tools because these professionals have developed an enviable expertise in structured job interviews. Let’s see why psychometric tests can be useful for recruiting executives.
Do personality tests predict behavior at work?
Psychometrics is the science that studies all the measurement techniques used in psychology. These techniques attempt to objectively measure the human mind from different angles. Thus the psychologist can measure intellectual aptitudes, skills, technical knowledge or personality, all according to the needs of the employer. But does a personality test have predictive value for an executive’s future behavior in the performance of their duties?
Often, the biggest users of psychometric tests are large organizations that have a high staff turnover rate. They use these tests to quickly assess specific knowledge, regardless of degrees received, experience, CV or LinkedIn profile and this with a large number of candidates who apply for specialized and less decision-making positions.
But can a personality test have predictive value for the future success of a senior executive who will assume important responsibilities?
Personality, key to performance?
Obviously, success in business is not correlated with a single personality type. If you think of company presidents like Bill Gates, Pierre-Karl-Péladeau, the Lemaire brothers who founded the Cascades company or Elon Musk, they all have different personalities. But they all succeeded.
An already existing company that is recruiting and needs a specific personality type for a senior management position will be well served by a psychometric test that enriches the research and interview work already done by the recruiter. In the spirit of collaborative hiring, one of the key roles of the recruiter is precisely to understand the needs of the company and to highlight them in the selection interviews.
Psychometric tests, especially personality tests, offer a grid for reading the human mind that allows us to better identify its strengths and weaknesses. That’s why no one likes it. This is normal, this aspect of “scientific objectivity” is sometimes difficult to accept for the human subjects that we are, candidates as recruiters.
And of course, psychometric tests are not perfect. Nor the recruiters for that matter. One could almost say that executive recruitment is not a science, but an art. That’s it, it’s said! Psychometric tests have their limitations; human intuition also has its limits.
In psychometrics, a test is said to be valid when it specifically measures the characteristic it seeks to measure. To assess a candidate’s personality, the Myers Briggs Self-Assessment Questionnaire remains the most commonly used psychometric test. In this test, the candidate himself evaluates different aspects of his personality. For example, being “conscientious at work” can be measured by a series of questions that explore the different facets of this personality trait.
But does being conscientious at work have predictive value of competence at work? One might think so at first glance.
A meta-study that has become classic
The best known meta-study on the predictive value of psychometric tests is that of Schmidt and Hunter (1998) who published a review of all previous studies on the predictive validity of different personality assessment tools.
The authors have managed to identify the following table, which is also very well known. This table presents the existing correlations between different selection methods used by employers, recruiters, headhunters or human resources departments and the results obtained.
A score approaching 1 shows a better correlation than a score close to zero. In other words, the closer the number is to 1, the more valid the “selection tool” is to predict a candidate’s future performance.
|Number of years of experience||0,10|
Reading this table, we see that the personality trait “conscientious at work” does not appear among the best selection tools. Selection tools such as work samples (achievements), intellectual skills, structured interview, even unstructured interview and knowledge tests score higher. Only references and graphology do worse.
Personality tests do measure how different an individual differs from the average, but cannot predict (or with less certainty) how an individual will adapt to a specific context.
This may explain why employers rely more on headhunters than psychometric tests to recruit high-performing executives and executives! Myers Briggs-type personality tests, one of the most commonly used personality tests in the world, paint a general picture of an individual’s personality, classifying them into “16 personality types.” Is this enough?
In recruitment, we mainly use the structured job interview, the best selection tool available to the headhunter to advance the hiring process.
The structured job interview is a flexible, user-friendly and dynamic tool that allows you to review a candidate’s achievements, define the specific needs of the employer and the candidate, see if the corporate culture will suit the candidate, etc. For headhunters, psychometric tests are one tool among many and not necessarily the first on the list. Besides, they would not be part of the list of 5 tips to increase your chances of recruiting the best candidate.
Scenarios speak volumes
In an executive hiring process, we want to know how a candidate will act in their new role and whether they will like their new work environment. Scenarios are much more used than personality tests. These everyday scenarios are very useful to make an inventory of the candidate’s soft skills . It’s closer to reality. For their part, knowledge tests do well when it comes to assessing a candidate’s skills for a technical position.
In reality, personalities who do well at work know how to overcome their “weaknesses”. They have experience and this is often the case with executives or leaders, because they have had several years to get to know each other in real situations. They can perform very well by compensating for their shortcomings. A good reserved seller, yes, it exists. And a good reserved salesman turned vice president of sales too. In a way, it’s more important to know each other well than to have “ideal” personality traits.
So why do psychometric tests be used?
Because psychometric tests are useful in certain situations. Here are three examples.
Case #1: Test to decide between two excellent candidates
If a company is experiencing certain problems at the management level for relational issues such as “leadership style” or “integration of the candidate into the management committee”, a personality test could be useful, even decisive, to help decide between the profiles of two candidates already interviewed.
To give a concrete example, suppose the mandate of a headhunter is to recruit a vice president of sales. First, the cost of a bad choice can be quite high at this hierarchical level of the company.
Suppose the main problem was that the person in this position was too authoritarian with his managers and with the sales team, which was otherwise considered very successful. The very rigid personality of this senior executive raised criticism internally, the performance of the sales team began to suffer and after losing some good representatives, the president of the company decided: the vice president of sales had to leave.
It will be understandable that this employer is particularly sensitive to the leadership style of the new candidate for the position of sales manager. He will look for a more conciliatory personality type. Let’s say an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Suppose that the management of this company wants to highlight the aspect “diplomat” or “good team motivator”, this point appearing to him as a cardinal quality for the new candidate. Let’s also assume that neither the headhunter nor the employer can make his choice to decide between two excellent candidates at the end of the hiring process. Well, in this case, a bespoke personality test looking at specific aspects of personality related to relationship skills might be useful in trying to make a final choice.
Psychometric tests can therefore be used towards the end of the recruitment process with the aim of deciding between two excellent candidates. In other words, the scientific objectivity of the psychometric test can complement the background work of the headhunter.
Don’t forget the “time” variable
Generally, after two meetings with the headhunter and two others with the employer and a situation where we can not decide, we can ask the two final candidates to take a tailor-made personality test.
It will take half to a full day to complete the exercise. Indeed, unlike an aptitude or knowledge test, there are no right or wrong answers in a personality test. There is also rarely a time limit, as those responsible for analyzing these tests want you to answer the questions honestly, without additional stress.
It will also be necessary to wait for the evaluation of the test results by the psychologist, the only professionals duly authorized to evaluate the psychometric tests. This can take up to a week. The results may also prompt explanation or discussion with the potential employer. Add a few more days and the account is there.
So there is a “time” variable to add to the equation.
Case #2: Testing to develop a candidate’s skills
The other good reason to give a candidate a psychometric test could be to develop their skills. In this more proactive than reactive approach, the employer does not seek to recruit the ideal middle manager, but the one who has the most potential to grow in his company.
This approach can be a good strategy to counter the current labour shortage and develop talent, provided that good employee retention strategies are promoted. Recruiting a candidate who does not yet have all the desired skills, but has certain skills to acquire them and a great motivation to do so can pay off.
This middle manager who is being recruited could one day rise in the hierarchy. He has good social skills, but he needs to develop certain management skills, such as his ability to plan. We also see that he will be able to lead by example, but that in the current state of affairs he will have difficulty controlling the work. That is not the most important thing. Here, we think long-term.
Indeed, some candidates have personality traits that make them excellent employees expected to progress in the medium term. The employer who decides to measure this potential not for the purpose of selection, but for the development of skills, so that this promising employee can one day access a position of great importance for the company, makes a good choice. It recruits with a view to developing human resources.
A psychometric test can help make a “picture” of a candidate’s potential.
Case #3: Self-test to feel in the right place
For the candidate for a management position, “taking a psychometric test” is also a good way not to be disappointed by his new responsibilities.
To the extent that he is informed by the employer or recruiter of the management style and personality sought, the candidate may be tempted, especially if the offer is attractive at the salary level, to play the game by biasing, knowingly or unknowingly, the answers.
Yet this strategy is not a winning strategy.
Everyone wants to be as happy as possible at work and this requires being in tune with the culture of the company, with the responsibilities that come with the position, but also with the team for which you are responsible, not to mention the management team to which you must report regularly.
No executive wants to become the elephant in the china shop a few weeks or months after a new hire. Generally, when an employer starts a hiring process at the top level of their company’s hierarchy, they know what they want and what they don’t want.
Every candidate who takes a personality test has every interest in being honest with himself in order to find the best possible “marriage” with a position that suits him. “Know thyself,” said Socrates, who would probably have been one of the first followers of psychometrics!
An experienced headhunter will guide you through your hiring process. Thanks to his unique expertise, he will be able to help you find the framework you need and whether or not to use a psychometric test to select it. Do not hesitate to contact us.