Jim CollisonTesting applicants: (Almost) everything
you ever wanted to know about testing
but haven't had time to ask

By Jim Collison, President, Employers of America
Coach to America's Employers


Someone asked Sun Features columnist Joyce Lain Kennedy how to react when asked by an employer to take a personality test, specifically a 200-item questionnaire written by L. Ron Hubbard, the Scientologist religion founder.

In her response, Kennedy gave the case for personality testing and the case against personality testing. Her column ended with a quote from Wendell Williams, an Atlanta-based selection expert: "The (Scientology) instrument was a large-as-life clue to what you can expect in that office. If you're not in agreement, keep on walking."

That answer side-steps the important questions, though. At least, the important questions that employers, managers and supervisors have. Questions like these:

Q. What's wrong with using a 200-item questionnaire by L. Ron Hubbard?

A. I can't think of a valid, work-related, business-related justification for giving job applicants a Scientology test. L. Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer. He wasn't qualified to design a valid, non-discriminatory personality or behavior test. Using a Scientology, or another religious-based test, to screen applicants would expose you to the risk of illegally discriminating against applicants based on their religious beliefs.

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Q. What's wrong about using personality tests?

A. An applicant's personality is the sum total of all the qualities and traits that distinguish the individual from others. Giving a personality test to applicants, for most types of jobs, is overkill. It takes too long for an applicant to complete taking the test and it attempts to measure too many characteristics.

Also, most of the instruments people call tests aren't tests. Strictly speaking, most are measuring devices or instruments. They measure how one person's characteristics or traits compare to other people's. They don't test a person's knowledge, skills, or achievement. But we'll use the commonly accepted term test when, in fact, we're really talking about measuring instruments.

Q. Is Wendell Williams correct, as quoted in Kennedy's recent column, that personality tests are "hogwash"?

A. That depends on what is meant by personality tests. If you're talking about a full blown personality test, giving you a report on the sum total of all the qualities and traits of an individual's uniqueness...then for purposes of selecting an applicant to fill a specific job, the results for you probably will be mostly hogwash.

Q. What's better than using a personality test?

Use tests that measure specific qualities or traits that are important in the work world and important for success in a particular job. Do you want to know if an applicant is reliable, has a good work ethic? Use a test that measures reliability

Do you want to know if an applicant is honest? Use a test that measures the applicant's attitude toward honesty.

Do you want to know if an applicant has the will to do the job (not just the ability to do the job)? Use a test that measures the applicant's willingness to work.

Do you want to know if an applicant's behavior style (one facet of personality) matches the ideal behavior style for success in a specific job? Then use a test that measures the applicant's behavior style.

Do you want to know if an applicant will fit in on an existing team? Use a behavior style instrument to identify the styles of the present team members. Then use the behavior style instrument to identify the qualified applicant who has the behavior style that's needed to fit the team and give added strength to the team.

Do you want to know if the applicant can enter data into a computer accurately and quickly? Then give the applicant a data entry test.

Q. Isn't it illegal to do testing, or at least isn't it legally dangerous?

A. It isn't illegal to do testing, but using tests that aren't valid or using valid tests in ways that result in discriminating against applicants and employees protected by civil rights laws...can get you into legal trouble.

Q. What do you mean by valid tests?

A. A valid test - one that is legally safe for you to use - is one that (1) provides measurements or results that are related to the demands and requirements of the job...and (2) does not result in discriminating against individuals protected by civil rights laws.

So to avoid accusations of using tests to discriminate against individuals in protected classes...use only tests that are validated. The creators and publishers of validated tests have documentation to prove that their test results do not discriminate against individuals in protected classes.

Q. Okay. So give some examples of tests an employer could give...for valid results and without risking illegally discriminating against applicants and employees.

A. I'll tell you of some of the tests we use at Employers of America. For entry level jobs, we give otherwise qualified applicants one of three different reliability tests. These tests help identify an individual's work ethic, how reliable the person will be as an employee.

For more responsible positions, we also give otherwise qualified applicants a behavior style test. Since we know the kind of behavior style that is best for success in the position, we look for applicants with behavior styles that come close to fitting the job's needed behavior style. Does the job require steady, highly-accurate performance? We look for the individual who has a steady, detail-oriented behavior style.

For all positions we give a "positive outlook on life" attitude test. Results of this test tell us whether an applicant looks at a glass that's 50% full as half full or half empty. We want people here who look at life and at work situations and opportunities as at least half full rather than half empty or empty.