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Evidence For Using Personality Tests In Business Called Flawed

December 19, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ Personality tests used by some businesses to assess job applicants are backed by flawed research that generally fails to demonstrate the tests predict job performance, two experts said.

″We see precious little evidence that even the best personality tests predict job performance,″ wrote Steve Blinkhorn and Charles Johnson.

They are directors of Psychometric Research & Development Limited of St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England, which designs and tests assessment systems for businesses. Their commentary appears in Thursday’s issue of the British journal Nature.

The analysis was criticized by American psychologists and test publishers, who said the research shows the tests can predict aspects of job performance.

The two also said many American companies avoid personality tests anyway because of skepticism, privacy issues and the requirements of federal anti- discrimination guidelines.

In the Nature paper, Blinkhorn and Johnson discussed their informal survey of research on the prediction power of three personality tests used for employee selection and assessment.

In reporting correlations between test performance and later job performance, the studies generally used an inappropriate statistical approach, Blinkhorn said in a telephone interview. A more appropriate analysis of the research results, Blinkhorn said, suggests that most of the time the tests ″are doing no better than chance.″

But that analysis overlooked successful predictions because it did not look at how particular personality characteristics relate to particular aspects of job performance, said psychologist Leaetta Hough.

″If you analyze what it is you’re trying to predict, there are sensible relationships between personality and those performance factors,″ said Hough, who has studied personality tests in employment settings.

The predictions are not perfect, but they can indicate such factors as willingness to work hard, striving for outstanding results, dependability and satisfying clients, said Hough, executive vice president of the Personnel Decisions Research Institute in Minneapolis.

She and other experts stressed that personality tests should not be used by themselves for personnel decisions, but rather as part of a package of information about a person.

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