Personality assessments

Jul 17, 2017

While the lure of them is understandable, there are probably better, more human ways of evaluating candidates before you hire them.

Some people are enamored with personality tests. But despite their popularity in certain circles, they don’t always reveal the truth about people.

I’ve lost count of the number of tests I’ve taken over the years. That, in and of itself, should say a lot about their merits. If I’ve forgotten which tests I’ve taken, how could I possibly remember what I scored, ranked, or where I placed on any particular assessment?

Some will tell you that you’ll get along great with some types, but not with others. Given my type, I’m supposed to interact with other types in certain ways, using certain language. If I were to follow that kind of advice, I would never have married my wife more than 25 years ago, because we’re conflicting astrological signs.

I’ve been labeled things along a continuum, across a spectrum, in quadrants, in colors, and even as an animal. Seriously, what do you do with that information? I’m disappointed I was not classified as a Honey Badger – at least that’s something I would remember!

Like many of you, I took a career aptitude test when I was in high school that was supposed to recommend a career based on my likes and dislikes. It was total bunk. I successfully influenced the outcome by answering the questions the way I thought someone in my desired field would answer them. It recommended that I should pursue a career in the medical profession.

At that time, I wanted to become a physician. I had taken advanced anatomy and biology classes and had participated in a local Medical Explorers program. When it came time for the aptitude test, I answered the questions purposely trying to achieve my objective, so I could show everyone, “See! I AM supposed to be a doctor!” In reality, I was forcing a result that didn’t reflect what I really wanted to do in adulthood.

I’m amazed people continue to contribute to this multi-billion-dollar industry to reveal results that may be inaccurate and are rarely, if ever, used. When was the last time you reflected on your personality test results and proactively changed how you interact with people?

Ask most researchers and they’ll tell you that an instrument is deemed reliable only when the results can be repeated within a given margin of error. I’ve been labeled an introvert and a borderline extravert on the same test given over multiple years. Which assessment is correct?

If your company is interested in hiring a candidate, how are you to assess whether they’ll be a “good fit” without subjecting the person to a battery of personality tests? In my experience, the old-fashioned ones work best, are much cheaper, and anyone can use them.

  • Take a potential recruit golfing. If the other two in your foursome can stand the candidate for five hours, the person might be a good fit. Golf is also a good test of integrity. Does the person fudge their score, use a foot wedge, or have a pocketful of mulligans?
  • Invite the candidates to a company social event. Do they mingle and talk with others, or do they keep to themselves? Are they a decent conversationalist or are they a social cipher? Quiet people can be great employees, but you may eventually need them to talk with others.
  • The beer test. Ask yourself and others in your company: “Would you like to spend two hours with this person at a bar?”
  • Conduct a “bro-check.” That’s a term we used in the Air Force to describe a phone call to a peer, asking for an informal opinion about someone. With social media and a close-knit industry, it’s likely you know someone who knows the candidate. Call them. Ask for their unvarnished opinion about the person.

Most of us don’t work in a fully homogenous company. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to. The breadth of experience and personalities make us better. Don’t waste the effort trying to classify someone as this or that. Embrace the differences in all of us and enjoy people for who they are.

Bill Murphey is Zweig Group’s director of education. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.