The Skills Economy is changing the way organizations identify and evaluate job candidates. One thing is clear: The traditional resume is no longer adequate. In our five-part mini-series, we explore how the resume of the future will help companies win the war for talent. Check out part one, two and three.
Initially, I was dismissive of personality assessments as a hiring tool. They seem oversimplifying and specious, like a horoscope. But I recently took a test designed for recruiting and professional development and found myself spooked by its accuracy.
The 10-minute "Temperament Inventory" I took comes from NeuroColor, a workplace assessment company co-founded by neurochemistry expert Dr. Helen Fisher. Fisher designed this and other NeuroColor tests based on learnings from her years at Match.com, where she developed biological theories of personality and tested them on a sample of 40 million people. After answering agree-or-disagree questions like, "I socialize a lot" and "I think consistent routines keep life orderly and relaxing," the test told me an eerily true story about myself in a 23-page report—including insights like this: "It bothers her when others seem to say whatever they think and don't consider how their comments affect others." I felt exposed.
NeuroColor is just one of a rising class of companies in the testing space designed to help companies hire quality candidates more efficiently and effectively. The more accurate the tests become, the more likely that in the future, personality test scores might be as integral to the resume as job history.
A Growing Field Meets a Growing Need
Personality tests and soft-skills assessments are far from a new hiring tool—but the weight of their results is on the rise, and many major companies are integrating these tests into the hiring process. Banking giant Goldman Sachs, for example, announced it would pilot its first personality test on interns in 2018.
"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," Matt Jahansouz, Goldman's global head of recruiting said in an interview. "We can now capture characteristics and data that might not be as obvious to make smarter hiring decisions."
What's more, personality tests help employers assess soft or "human" skills—a growing need as the working world changes. Employers need to know how well a candidate will collaborate in anticipation of the gig economy. They also need to understand whether a candidate can adapt to the dynamic technological landscape.
Responding to this demand are a range of assessment businesses, including job-matching company SquarePeg, which tests candidates' attributes such as ability to see the big picture or attention to detail. Traitify uses artificial intelligence to prioritize candidates with traits that match those of a company's top performers. NeuroColor offers a questionnaire to assess personality on a spectrum based on four brain systems (estrogen, serotonin, dopamine, testosterone). But so far, many of the tests in their current form aren't up to meeting the demand they're designed to fill.
A Growing Field and its Growing Pains
David Labno, co-founder and CEO of NeuroColor, says he would never advise using his company's tests as a make-or-break factor in hiring a candidate. Rather, he suggests results be viewed as one factor of many.
"We don't think a single aspect of personality should predict how successful someone will be in a role—there's no proof that that works," Labno says. "I've seen companies who've said, 'I need someone who's high ENFP,' (an MBTI personality type). That is really quite scary to me. There's a real concern: Are you hiring only the types of people that have worked in the past? That doesn't mean it'll work in a changing marketplace."
What's more, Labno says there are many dubious tests on the market—and the MBTI is one of them. Research shows the same person taking the MBTI twice within five weeks will get completely different results 50 percent of the time. Many tests can also be easy to game, with candidates giving answers based on what they think employers want to hear, rather than based on their personal inclinations.
Finally, employers should not only select personality tests with care, but also be sensitive about how to apply any findings. All tests run the risk of introducing bias into the hiring process. For example, NeuroColor has found that medical professionals tend to be high in estrogen (a trait in NeuroColor's test that signals someone who is prosocial and empathetic), but that doesn't mean those should be the only candidates accepted into the field.
"It makes sense: Healthcare industries have deep concern about the care of others," he says. "If you're low in these areas, does it mean you won't be effective? Not necessarily."
Neel Doshi, co-author of Primed to Perform: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation, adds that personality tests run the risk of teaching both a company and its employees that character is fixed. This attitude can discourage a "growth mindset" and place blame on workers' inherent qualities. "I would much rather an organization signal there's nothing you can't learn," Doshi says.
A Growing Field, Expected to Keep Growing
For all of their current flaws, personality tests will likely play a growing role in the resume of the future, Labno says. He expects them to improve by becoming more scientific and rigorous, and evolve into the powerful tools employers are impatient for them to become.
"Ten years from now, you'll see a lot more biological, data-driven, AI analysis and additional use of these tools saying yay or nay on a job candidate using algorithms," Labno says.
In the interim, he advises employers seek evidence-based personality tests (tests that have scientific backing), which can offer some important perspective on soft skills. Labno also encourages candidates to use these tests to help them have a sharper sense of themselves and what they're looking for—and sell themselves with more confidence.
"The science will lead to a better quality of interaction and more motivation with people in the workplace and job seekers understanding what they're looking for," he says. " The downside is that [data] could be manipulated against you. We have to be careful—that's a double-edged sword."
After taking NeuroColor's personality test, I understand the double-edged sword of assessments. It shared insights that could help me grow as an employee—but I'd feel out of control of my own personal brand if a hiring manager saw it first.
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