Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Screening on personality: Legal loophole or pothole?

In a recent post over at ERE, the author mentions a website that provides employers with the ability to screen candidates based on a measure of personality that applicants complete online.

My reading of this article prompted the following internal debate:

Me #1: Boy oh boy, is that ever a bad idea. The Uniform Guidelines clearly state (Q&A #75) that a measure of a trait or construct cannot be validated based on content validity, which is what most employers are likely to rely on in this situation.

Me #2: Ah yes, but because personality tests typically result in much less adverse impact than traditional cognitive tests, are the Uniform Guidelines even likely to come into play?

Me #1: Maybe not, but you never know until you go through a selection process, so why take the risk?

Me #2: What about in cases where the numbers being screened are so small that adverse impact analysis is likely to be wonky? (that's a technical term)

Me #1: Well that may well be different, but you're missing the point.

Me #2: What is the point?

Me #1: That employers should use caution before screening based on constructs such as personality. They need to take validation seriously.

Me #2: But isn't it good that they're using an instrument that's at least based on an evidence-based theory of personality (the Big 5)?

Me #1: Absolutely, and props to them. But it is still incumbent on employers to realize the legal risks as well as the implications of using a self-report personality screen as a first hurdle.

Me #2: Fine, but aren't you being a little hypocritical? Haven't you said one of your goals is a giant database where applicant information can be matched with employer needs?

Me #1: True, but I was thinking more along the lines of verifiable skills testing, not self-report inventories.

Me #2: Actually in that post you specifically refer to Big 5 assessments.

Me #1: Hey! This isn't about me. This is about warning employers to make sure they know what they're doing when they screen based on personality measures.

Me #2: Aren't you making an awful lot of assumptions about the website's process without having actually used it or talked to the owners?

Me #1: Well, yes, but I'm a blogger. That's what we do.

Me #2: Ugh.

1 comment:

G said...

I too get very nervous when organizations use personality assessments for selection purposes, or even during their selection process. We certainly have some evidence to suggest that some elements of personality can predict job performance, but the conclusions are not universal, nor are they universally understood.

It is way too easy to get this wrong. All too often personality data tells us something different than we intuit. I simply do not trust the usual decision makers to limit their decisions to conclusions supported by the data. Check out this post where i talk about a similar issue: