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What is the future of personality testing?

March 25, 2014

What is the future of personality testing? As the Director of Research and Development at Select International, there is not a single week that goes by where I am not asked by a client or a prospect about whether or not personality test items are too transparent.  This is an important and logical question and, even though I have had this discussion literally hundreds of times, I always enjoy it.  There are certain responses that I have that I believe to the core of my psychologist-being.  I enjoy providing points about our approach to evaluating the variance and response patterns of items over time, and pointing out the fact that people do still fail our assessments even though items may seem transparent to an organizational decision maker who isn’t applying for the job.  I really like getting into discussions about socially desirable responding and making controversial statements such as “Hey, people who know how to respond to these items in a favorable way, like you, probably also are able to adjust their workplace behaviors to be appropriate.” 463003735

These are fun conversations and I am certain that every I/O psychologist working in an applied setting has well-practiced responses to these inquiries      … BUT ... what if our responses are wrong?

I do worry about the future of personality testing.  I am not worried so much about items becoming less transparent per se.  But I do worry that as assessments become more commonplace in our labor market, candidates are beginning to learn and share test taking strategies.  While I will not go into those strategies in this public blog, but it should suffice to say, some of those strategies work!  As the word gets out, candidates will be able to ‘fake’ their way through pre-employment assessments in ways that will decay our ability to predict future behaviors.  To be clear, I have not seen this decay start yet, but it is a problem that concerns me.

So, what am I doing about it? 

I absolutely view it as my team’s responsibility to deal with this potential problem.  There are a few different approaches that have value in combating these test taking strategies that I see discussed more frequently across job boards and such.  First, Select International employs a strategy I call “Triangulation”.  This is not something that Select invented, but it is a best practice that I don’t always see followed by test developers in the market place.  This approach refers to capturing multiple measures of critical competencies both within an assessment and across the selection process.  If a competency is important, you should measure it through as many modes of measurement as are practical in your selection process.  For example, Attention to Detail is important for many jobs.  Measuring this competency through personality tests and interview questions can help the recruiter better understand a person’s true level on this job related trait.  In addition, however, a well developed assessment can measure Attention to Detail in multiple ways within a single assessment.  Select International will often configure assessments that measure ATD with personality items, as well as, behavioral simulations.  By measuring the construct in multiple ways, our assessments are able to triangulate on a person’s true level on that construct and provide a score that is more accurate and less prone to impression management than an assessment relying only on personality.

This approach is effective and will prolong the life of personality testing as we know it, but I don’t think it is the cure.  Rather, we are now focusing on writing and scoring personality items in innovative ways.  We are working on research looking at ‘ideal point scoring models’ where we are able to statistically establish that the ‘most correct’ answer may exist anywhere on the response scale.  We find that this approach is nearly impossible to fake.  It eliminates the candidate’s ability to see through the purpose of a personality item. 

Can you imagine it?  A personality inventory that has zero transparency?  It is possible.  It relies on very complex statistical modeling procedures and while we are still only in preliminary research stages, it is clear that this methodology may be the savior of the future of personality testing.  I believe that assessments that do not use this technology in 15 years will be obsolete.  Select International is committed to being among the first to crack this nut.  I am cautiously optimistic that the future of personality testing is bright thanks to innovative approaches to test development like these. 

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Ted Kinney, PhD Ted Kinney, PhD is the VP of Research and Development for PSI. An Industrial/Organizational psychologist, Dr. Kinney leads a team of selection experts and developers in the creation and on-going research into the most efficient and effective selection methodologies and tools. He is a trusted advisor to many international companies across all industries. He has particular expertise in behavioral interviewing, turnover reduction, effective selection strategy, and executive assessment.