I recently watched a friend fill out a personality survey for a minimum wage job. These surveys generally have a few dozen to as many as a couple hundred statements with which the applicant must agree, disagree, or stay neutral. The survey is designed to filter candidates. What puzzles me is what basis they use for this filtering.
Some of the questions are obvious correlates with negative employee qualities:
- Sometimes I shout at customers to get my point across.
Well, gee, I wonder if I should "strongly agree" with that one? Others, however, are not so clear:
I will work hard to get a job as an executive at a large company.
My former bosses all say I'm the best employee they've ever had.
I spend a lot of time thinking through about a problem before solving it.
For example, being a self-starter might help or hinder a job behind a cash register. Exercising leadership is great until you're one of 40 people restocking the shelves. Thinking through problems is a useful skill unless the problem facing you is trivial, in which case "consideration" might be construed as "procrastination". Based on examples like these, it's not inherently obvious if these questions measure positive or negative qualities, or what the model response might be.
Moreover, the size, type, and prevalence of these questionnaires suggests a level of sophistication in the selection process that I'm not convinced it is due. Supposing they test 5-10 core competencies, qualities like leadership, professionalism, and decorum, there are more than enough responses to establish inter-survey response validity. Of course, that assumes these employers spent millions of dollars developing valid, proprietary psychometrical measures, or co-opted something in the academic domain.
So what are these surveys really testing? Tongue-in-cheek, if faced with such a test, what would agreeing, disagreeing, or remaining neutral with the statement, "Employer personality tests correlate with success or failure in the workplace?" reflect about an individual?