Jessica Kolber, right, shakes hands with a job seeker at a job fair in Burbank, Calif., on March 19. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
Picking employees who are right for a job opening can be a tricky task. An interviewer must have an eye for the intangibles of a candidate’s drive, personality and social skills — and make a call on the candidate’s fitness for a job after just one or two meetings.
What if you could automate that process?
Companies such as Arlington-based CEB have sold firms on electronic aptitude tests for years, but some of the region’s biggest employers — including hospital giant Inova and at least one federal agency — are now adding personality tests to their screening process.
Infor, a New York-based cloud analytics company, sells employers a 45-minute personality test called “Talent Science” that “exposes a candidate’s behavioral DNA” by testing 39 behavioral, cognitive and cultural traits and comparing the results with those of the high performers already in the door. The company claims that it has assessed a whopping 11 percent of the total U.S. workforce, and in March it announced a new suite of services for federal employers.
Here’s how it works:
When an employer signs up, a critical mass of workers already at the company take the test. After a brief page of logic games resembling a fifth-grade math test, applicants are forwarded to 210 personality-based questions asking the applicant to agree or disagree with a presented statement. Some of these statements are more obviously intentioned, tinted to recognize how someone will interact with co-workers, such as, “It is best to withhold unpopular opinions,” “It is frustrating when companies change existing work procedures” or “I set my work aside to assist co-workers with their work.”
Other questions are more vague: “I am very skilled in the arts,” “I spend much of my leisure time imagining” or “I prefer a position that has power.”
The test plots the individual’s personality based on the answers, and Infor’s analysts compare the results with some form of performance measure to spot the high performers and the low performers — say, a measure of deals closed, or houses flipped, widgets produced — however success is measured for the job opening. Merging the personality and the performance data allows the company to create a “performance profile” pinpointing the unique personality traits that define a high performer for a specific role at that specific company.
The idea is that when job applicants take the test, the employer can see whether he or she has the personality of a high performer or a low performer.
Josh Bersin, principal and founder at Bersin by Deloitte, a talent-management advisory service, says matching employees to those already in the system isn’t necessarily positive.
“Let’s suppose you’re an engineering company and you have a lot of introverts, and then you test
Bersin says that personality tests are better used for coaching, not for screening people at the door. “There are much better ways to use big data for selection than this,” he said.
“The best way to use these tests is to try to characterize the high performers and say, ‘What is it about them that can be replicated?’ ”
But the company says it’s about more than just finding people who fit in.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter process to see how can I fit people in and make sure everybody’s a robot. It’s about figuring out how to put people in roles they’re going to appreciate,” said Jason Taylor, Infor’s chief scientist for human capital management.
Taylor said that the hiring managers use the software not just to give an applicant a thumbs up or thumbs down for a particular position, but to pinpoint where someone will be happiest among a range of positions.