Aids in the Hiring Process
Using Personality Profiles and Intelligence Instruments

By George Violette and Jeff Shields

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MARCH 2007 - Quality employees are essential to the success of any business. Finding ways to identify those who will be most effective within a company’s culture is a difficult task. One of the key goals in the recruiting process is to enhance success and retention by identifying competent individuals who will also fit a company’s “personality.” Hiring employees who don’t fit is expensive and leads to increased turnover. The Society of Human Resource Management estimates this expense can range from 50% to several times the employee’s annual salary. As a result, most companies use a variety of hiring methods to increase the probability of making good hires, including personality profiles and intelligence tests.

 

Personality Profile Testing

Assessing how a candidate’s personality and aptitude fit with a company’s own personality is difficult. One way to learn more about potential hires is to administer a test to help identify certain personality traits.

There are several personality profile tools to assist in assessment, including the widely known Myers-Briggs model and the DISC method. Another tool available, which may not be as familiar, is the Predictive Index System (www.piworldwide.com). The Predictive Index (PI) can help a company with the recruitment, hiring, training, and management of employees by identifying individual learning and work styles. It can also identify existing employees who may work together more efficiently.

The PI is a simple one-page questionnaire that can be completed in about 10 minutes. On each side of the questionnaire are identical lists of adjectives. On one side, respondents select the adjectives that they think describe the way others perceive them (self-concept), and on the other side respondents select the adjectives that they think truly describe them (self).

The scoring of PI produces a pattern with elements: self, self-concept, and synthesis. The self measures the individual’s basic pattern of behavior, “doing what comes naturally.” The self-concept measures the way individuals try to modify personal behavior to satisfy the demands placed on them. The synthesis measures how individuals behave in their environment.

The PI assesses four primary and two resultant personality traits in individuals. The four primary traits are dominant (Factor-A), extroverted (Factor-B), patient (Factor-C), and formal (Factor-D). The two resultant traits are response level (Factor-M) and subjectivity level (Factor-E).

Factor-A measures the drive for self-expression or level of assertiveness ranging from “submissive” to “arrogant.” Factor-B measures the social drive or level of introversion or extroversion from “withdrawn” to “gregarious.” Factor-C measures emotional tension or urgency in an individual from “volatile” to “lethargic.” Factor-D measures an individual’s level of detail or style in approaching work from “sloppy” to “perfectionist.” The resultant Factor-M score is used to identify the “norm” relative to the measurements of the other factors. It is referred to as the “response level” and is used to measure an individual’s stamina and capacity to adapt and handle stress. Finally, Factor-E measures the tendency for an individual’s judgment to be subjective versus objective (or emotional versus logical).

The PI literature proposes that every personality and every PI pattern is always composed of the four primary factors. The pairing of these four factors is called factor emphasis combination. Particular combinations emphasize or modify aspects of behavior and can be analyzed to predict expected influences on performance. The scoring of each PI survey form yields a pattern or profile for each individual, and a resulting score from eight through 96 integrates the four primary factors. The PI literature provides a brief profile for each score and identifies several scores by attaching a descriptive name, such as “scholar” for pattern 22 or “altruistic service” for pattern 46. The profile provides a comprehensive description of the individual’s expected behavior and potential. The PI literature suggests that a well-balanced business organization needs employees with a variety of different personalities to effectively complete the many different jobs that must be done.

One accounting firm that has used the PI as an important piece of its hiring process is Berry, Dunn, McNeil, and Parker (BDMP), a regional CPA firm headquartered in Portland, Maine. The authors spoke with Edward Asherman, a principal and director of recruiting at BDMP. Asherman believes that PI is a “cost and time effective means” to obtain information that BDMP should know about prospective employees to help determine how well a candidate will fit with the firm’s culture. BDMP likes to see a certain level of all four dimensions, but not too much or too little. It seeks to hire a wide range of personality types to meet the needs of its diverse client base. BDMP prefers to administer the PI instrument prior to an on-campus interview “to help identify areas [we] may want to explore in the interview.” The PI results help “confirm information gathered in the interviewing process.” While the PI is just “one piece” in BDMP’s recruitment process, Asherman calls it an “excellent piece.”

Another accounting firm that has had success using the PI is Clifton Gunderson LLP. Its experience is documented in a case study at www.piworldwide.com. The firm has used the PI for employee development and retention, and also in due diligence to assess company leadership and culture before potential acquisitions. The firm reported that it cut employee turnover in half since adopting the PI and has had great success with mergers and acquisitions.

Several other uses of the PI are presented online in about 20 case studies of various businesses that have had success using the PI, resulting in increased revenues and positive returns on investment. The case studies present businesses ranging from financial institutions to medical centers to automobile dealerships.

Intelligence Testing

The ability to learn, understand instructions, and solve problems quickly under time pressure are often keys to success in the accounting profession. While college grade point averages (GPA) provide one measure of general intelligence and ability, the reliability and meaningfulness of a GPA can vary by school and degree. Employers might consider whether a short intelligence test could provide an additional useful measure in the interviewing and hiring process. One widely used, quick and effective general intelligence test is the Wonderlic Personnel Test (WPT; www.wonderlic.com).

The WPT is a short-form test of general cognitive ability that has been used worldwide since 1937. The WPT quantitatively measures an individual’s ability to learn, adapt, solve problems, and understand instructions under time pressure. The test contains 50 questions of increasing difficulty that must be completed within 12 minutes. Some questions test the ability to follow directions, compare numbers or words, identify sequences, analyze geometric figures, and use logic or math to solve problems.

The WPT is considered a valid predictor of future job performance, providing insight into how easily individuals can be trained to learn particular job functions, understand related instructions, and solve problems. Individuals with higher learning ability generally are able to draw inferences, adapt, and learn more easily from on-the-job experiences than individuals with lower learning ability. Higher-scoring individuals tend to interpret instructions and understand broad implications, whereas lower-scoring individuals require more detailed instruction and closer supervision.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of job applicants in assorted lines of work take the WPT. For example, the National Football League (NFL) has given the WPT to potential NFL draft picks for many years to provide additional insight on players’ ability to think and make sound decisions under time pressure.

Data from decades of use provide insight into the typical ranges of scores that have been acceptable and successful for various job classifications, including accounting and auditing. Minimum scores refer to a basic level of intelligence considered necessary for success in a job. People scoring at the upper end of the range may become bored quickly and dissatisfied with the job unless demands or challenges are added.

While the WPT measures general mental ability, it does not measure how well a person will use that ability. A more motivated or determined person can often outperform an individual with higher mental ability. Thus, even someone who scores below the suggested minimum for a job may still be an effective employee if he has a high degree of motivation or determination.

Possible Implications

Employers should be aware of some of the legal aspects of using these tests.

In June 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that any personality test (the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, in that case) which can be used to diagnose a physical or psychological disorder (e.g., depression) is a medical examination that could be used to screen out individuals with disabilities. The use of such tests prior to a job offer is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Personality tests that measure only personality traits (e.g., extroversion) are not a medical examination.

The company providing the personality test should demonstrate that the test has been subject to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s validation procedures, which demonstrate that the test measures job-related qualities and does not have adverse affects on any of the protected classes identified under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The results of the test should be kept confidential from those not involved in the hiring decision.

Companies should include in their employment documents a statement that they are “at-will employers” and that a job offer may be contingent upon submitting to the personality test. All applicants should sign a written acknowledgment that they have been shown this policy in writing. Finally, personality tests should only be used as part of a portfolio of hiring techniques and never as the sole basis for a hiring decision.


George Violette, CPA, PhD, is a professor of accounting, and Jeff Shields, PhD, is an assistant professor of accounting, both at the University of Southern Maine, Portland, Maine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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