Is It Okay To Use Personality Tests Prior To An Interview?

HR Question:

Is it okay to ask candidates to take online personality profile tests before they interview with anyone from our company? Only those candidates who “pass” the profile will move forward in the process. I’m concerned that using such a test to screen candidates could be legally questionable.

HR Answer:

Generally speaking, it is not recommended to conduct a personality assessment as the first step in the recruitment process, as personality fit is only one factor in the hiring equation. Any assessment used for hiring purposes needs to rely on the bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQ) of the position. Additionally, the test itself needs to be proven reliable and valid for testing those BFOQs. There are many pre-employment tests sold that are loaded with inappropriate questions – questions not necessarily linked to the necessities of the job. If the assessment can be shown to be related to the skill needs of the position and it is administered to all the applicants equally for that position then it should be okay. But when talking about personality assessments, that’s another matter.

How personality profile tests can lead to disparate impact

While many large corporations use such tests as part of their initial online screening, if the test has not been vetted and causes a disparate impact (i.e., has a detrimental impact on one group of applicants versus another group), this can cause major legal headaches. What happens, for example, if the test results are deemed voided? Should the employer not rely on them at all? If the employer does not rely on them, what about the applicants that did well on the test – do they have a possible legal claim along with the applicants who did not get hired? These instances often give rise to very expensive lawsuits with lots of publicity – the New Haven firefighter case decided in 2009 by the Supreme Court is a great example.

What is the preferred timing for a personality profile test?

If a personality test “must” be done, it would be best to do so only after hire, as a tool to help guide management in building a relationship with the new employee, or it should only be administered to final candidates as a tool to help distinguish between candidates; not select a final candidate. A personality profile isn’t something that should be used as a tool for hire unless it can be shown to be job-related. And it should never be THE tool to determine if a candidate is hired or not, but one of many tools.

Regarding the legal risk associated with using such a test, this is a very complicated legal area, and can easily give rise to litigation. You should check with your legal counsel before using such a test.

Strategic HR understands the complexity and pitfalls of hiring. From applicants to candidates to prospects, we know the ins and outs of sourcing, screening, and selecting your next new employee. For more information on how we can help you fill your job openings efficiently and cost-effectively, visit our Recruitment page.