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Expert Roundtable — Personality Testing in the Hiring Process: Brilliant or Birdbrained?


In the business world, hiring trends have come and gone. Companies have tried behavioral interviews, group interviews, competency based interviews, and case interviews. Many prominent companies have used brainteaser interviews–among them Google, which recently admitted that they were a waste of time. 

Put simply: hiring is hard.

But eHarmony, the online dating site that claims to be responsible for approximately 438 marriages each day, is trying to change that fact. The company has certainly facilitated quite a few engagements in its own right, but now it’s seeking to ensure that employees are engaged…at work. As Grant Langston, VP of Customer Service at eHarmony said in an email interview, “Knowing the positive impact that eHarmony has had helping more than 565,000 people find the right person for them, we thought this was the right direction for eHarmony.”

The company announced its plans to enter the recruiting world earlier this year, and will be using its personality matching specialty to ensure that potential employees and employers are a good fit. While little is known about the details of the algorithm, a barrage of articles ensued touting the novelty and prospective uses of an eHarmony service retooled for the professional world. 

But while some may laud the company’s move into the recruiting field, others are more skeptical of the use of personality testing in the hiring process. And what’s a bold new business move without an accompanying debate?

In the spirit of fostering discussion, I reached out to HR industry consultants and the CEOs of companies offering career personality assessment services to see what they thought eHarmony’s announcement might mean for hiring practices. While it’s apparent that the experts disagree on the effectiveness of personality assessments in the professional space, they do all agree on one thing–the age of algorithms is changing the way companies hire.

Is eHarmony’s brand of personality matching in the recruiting and job-seeking space a good or a bad thing? 

Birwadker, CEO of Yes, I think it’s a good thing. Today, millennials are coming into the workforce in droves, and they’re putting more importance on cultural fit workplace happiness than any other generation before them. Understanding professional personalities and corporate culture is a useful tool for building more dynamic, productive, happy teams, and it’s going to be especially important to attracting and retaining these younger candidates.

Roberts, CEO Talent Analytics Corp: Not a good thing–at all. eHarmony is a consumer tool, focused on consumers. It's a big leap to jump to being a business tool. A business analogy would be an organization tracking how many people they end up hiring as their "metric for success"–i.e. how many couples get married. They don't track how many are successful beyond the altar. 

Dr. Presser, CEO of The Gabriel Institute: Predicting relationship success, whether at work or in a personal situation would be a good thing, but only if the way you are doing it works for both halves of the relationship. 

During the past 50+ years, dozens, if not hundreds, of different ways of applying personality testing in business have appeared and circulated. eHarmony’s personality test has had success in matching one person with a significant other, but matching teams, or entire cultures, is an entirely different matter. What’s important in business is a person’s orientation to positive, collaborative teamwork, and the internal drive to make meaningful contributions to organizational needs. These are not things that personality testing was designed to measure. 

Some have called eHarmony’s entrance into talent acquisition a disconcerting development. Do you agree? 

Birwadker: I can see how this could be a scary thought to some. Denying someone a job simply because they’re not a perfect match, personality-wise, is quite scary. There are too many other variables to factor. But being able to create better environments for all employees is a huge opportunity for companies and employees alike.

Roberts: I am concerned with eHarmony’s focus on "happy workers." In a well run business, people are placed in roles where they perform well in the business and as a side effect are also happy. Having happy workers, who may or may not perform well, should be a deep concern. 

Dr. Presser: The presence of eHarmony’s flavor of personality testing wouldn’t be scary, but I think it would very scary if it were to trigger a new wave of trust in the “I like you” approach to hiring and making team assignments. We already have that. It’s called interviewing, and average new-hire failure rates of 25 percent and up are commonplace. 

Who do you think would benefit more from a rise in personality assessments like eHarmony’s as part of the hiring process–the employer or the job-seeker?

Birwadker: It goes both ways. For businesses, time and cost to hire are higher than ever, with almost 46 percent of new hires failing within 18 months. Each of these failed hires can cost a company up to $50K. Improving hiring decisions by embracing the dynamics of group psychology and cultural fit will reduce turnover and save time, money and resources throughout the hiring process. But retaining these employees requires the right tools to manage and understand personalities AFTER they’re hired, as well. Job seekers will always benefit from being happy at work. Improving cultural fit in the workplace is a win-win for everyone.

Roberts: I think it is detrimental to both employer and employee. If a big focus is on matching to the manager, and then a manager changes which happens perhaps several times a year–do they divorce the employee and then match to another manager? eHarmony measures success based on how many people have been married, not on how many people stay married. They are used to measuring one metric. In businesses, the success metric is different for each company, and much more complex.

Dr. Presser: Optimally, what benefits one also benefits the other. When employers are desperate to fill a position and they bring on people who don’t fit very well, both sides are unhappy. But here’s the thing: the answers to ‘job-fit’ and ‘culture fit’ are only partially addressed by familiar methods for identifying personality traits, aptitudes, skills and experience. Only a new breed of ‘teaming analytics’ can add the missing pieces of the organizational puzzle.

So what does eHarmony have to say? Langston argues that the company’s entrance into the recruiting world will benefit employees and, employers saying “We believe that with great information from a candidate and great information from a company, better, more compatible employment opportunities can be realized.” 

In fact, the company is so confident of its algorithm’s ability to improve lives–personally and professionally–Langston hints it may continue to expand even beyond the recruiting space, stating that eHamony “will be announcing several new verticals that address compatibility and will help people live better, more satisfied, content lives.”

What do you think? Is the move toward personality matching in the hiring process a good thing for business? Leave your comment below to let us know!

The experts:

Samar Birwadker, CEO and co-founder of Good.Co, firmly believes that there is no such thing as a bad workplace or a bad employee. Just a bad fit. Having discovered his calling, his “evil master plan” is to help everyone find their “WorkMatrix” – that sweet spot where your job seamlessly fits your personality, goals and lifestyle.

Greta Roberts, CEO Talent Analytics Corp, is also a faculty member at the International Institute for Analytics. Under her direction, Talent Analytics has grown to be a leader in predicting employee performance to improve business performance.Greta is a sought-out thought leader, presenter, and author in the area of using an analytical approach to optimize employee performance.

Dr. Janice Presser, CEO of The Gabriel Institute, is a behavioral scientist and the architect of Teamability® – a completely new technology that measures how people will perform in teams. She has been engaged in the research and development of talent science and team analytics for over 25 years and is the author of six books, including the new @DrJanice: Thoughts & Tweets on Leadership, Teamwork & Teamability®.

Thumbnail image created by madilworth.

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About the Author

Erin Osterhaus joined Software Advice in 2012 after earning an M.A. in German and European Studies from Georgetown University. She focuses on the HR market, offering advice to industry professionals on the best recruiting, talent management, and leadership techniques.

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