With technology making it easy to get thousands of candidates for one position, more and more employers are turning to personality tests to determine which job seekers are best suited to the position.  How can you use these tests to help you identify the best candidates and still stay on the right side of the law?

  1. Employ a test that measures stress management skills, judgment under pressure, habits, and traits like extroversion and conscientiousness. Do not use tests designed to measure depression, anxiety, or certain compulsive disorders, and do not use tests that are routinely used in a clinical setting to identify a mental disorder or impairment, such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory or the Beck Depression Inventory.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission opined that such tests could be considered “medical examinations” prohibited by the Americans With Disabilities Act.  (See EEOC, Enforcement Guidance: Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of Employees Under The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), available at eeoc.gov; EEOC, Informal Discussion Letter, ADA: Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations (May 4, 2001), available at eeoc.gov.)
  2. Consider whether your test is tailored to reveal the skills and attitudes that will make the candidate a successful hire. For example, if you’re hiring a salesperson, you’ll want to use a test that measures outgoingness or assertiveness.  If you’re hiring firefighters, police officers, or anyone else in a public safety position, you might want a test that measures emotional stability, judgment, and the ability to perform in dangerous situations.  It is particularly important that the test assesses skills and attitudes that equate to success on the job and are consistent with business necessity.
  3. Understand the effectiveness and limitations of personality testing. A hiring decision should never be made on the basis of a personality test alone; instead, it should be one of the many factors you consider in evaluating candidates.
  4. Never attempt to construct your own test without legal or professional guidance. There are several companies that produce these tests, such as Kaplan and Berke, and they ensure the tests are constructed to avoid implicating state or federal anti-discrimination law.  When deciding which company to choose, ask for a list of their clients:  look for Fortune 500 companies and other well-known entities, since they are typically very careful about legal compliance.  While contracting with one of these companies may be expensive, it’s not nearly as expensive as litigation.
  5. To avoid the specter of discrimination based on sex, color, race, religion, or national origin, administer the same test to all candidates for a position.
  6. Finally, evaluate the effectiveness of the personality test. Is the test helping create the workplace and workforce you hoped it would?

Ensuring a candidate’s personality and soft skills match up with the job at hand and your organization’s culture increases productivity and lessens the chance of expensive turnover.  However, personality tests open up a slew of potential liability issues.  Employers and HR departments should proceed with caution.