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Fit like a glove


Personality, behavior assessment tools can help employers make better choices

Story by Lee Marie Reinsch

APPLICANT NO. 6 LOOKS FABULOUS on a resume – but does she have the temperament required to work here?

Applicant No. 8 sure comes off as gregarious – but what about that dearth of computer skills? Can he pick them up quickly, or will we be stuck investing thousands of hours of training into this joker?

And what about No. 3? She’s got the charisma of a dead trout, but her references say she saved her last company $2 million. Could she actually have the magic touch we’re looking for?

Sizing up a person’s character through one or two job interviews can have the precision of a spackling knife during brain surgery. That’s why many organizations are letting software do the initial screening.

“When a person is sitting across the table from you at an interview, they can look like the right person (for the job), and say ‘I would love to work here’ and then two weeks later, you both find out they aren’t a good fit for the job,” said Cathy Huybers, business services manager for Workforce Economics, which is a part of the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board.

When a company hires the wrong person, both sides end up losing. The company gets an employee who lacks motivation, and the employee gets a job he or she can’t stand showing up for. More often than not, the relationship doesn’t last long, and the employer is back to Square One, spending more time and more money trying to find a replacement.

Personality inventories delve below the well-dressed surface of a job applicant’s resume to uncover facets about that person that might not be obvious, according to proponents of such inventories. They say they can streamline the hiring process, dissolve headaches, and save companies money.

Inventories old as the hills

SUCH ASSESSMENTS AREN’T NEW. Two well-known tests, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and the Minnesota Multi Phasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) both got their start before World War II. The MMPI diagnoses mental conditions and personality quirks, and the Myers Briggs categorizes personality types according to how extroverted or sensitive a person is.

Almost everyone’s heard of the famous Rorschach (“ink-blob”) test. It made its debut in 1921 when Dr. Hermann Rorschach, a psychiatrist from Switzerland, posited that the images a person interpreted in an inkblot could reveal psychological conditions.

The Hogan Personality Inventory, specifically geared to the workplace, has been floating around since the mid-1980s.

“The problem with a lot of those tools was that they were never (put to use) after the initial testing,” said Kristine Hackbarth-Horn, chief operating officer for people with Goodwill Industries of North Central Wisconsin. “The results sat in a locked file, and only the HR people or a psychologist could interpret it. It was like a hidden secret.”

The program Goodwill uses, RightPath, plays a role throughout an employee’s tenure with Goodwill. It’s also not kept secret.

“We use this in the hiring process and integrate it into the teaming journey and leadership development,” Hackbarth-Horn said.

Employees know their supervisors’ RightPath results, and vice versa.

“We openly and transparently share it with the candidate; we put it out there,” she said. “It helps us to be reflective of somebody’s hardwiring.”

Knowing what motivates an employee or how they work best can help nip coworker conflicts before they morph into colossal catastrophes, and understanding where people are coming from can go a long way in cultivating productive and healthy relationships, according to human resource specialists.

“It can help with group dynamics,” Hackbarth-Horn said. “It allows us to look at, ‘Is somebody accommodating or directing? Engaging or reserved?’ If the position is for store team leader, somebody needs to get up every day in front of the team and motivate them. If I find someone who is highly engaging, do they have the energy to carry that forward? If they are reserved, then I will look at other things to see if this is the candidate we are looking for – are they methodical, spontaneous, harmonious?”

All of these findings will be considered during the job selection process, Hackbarth-Horn said.

Creating the right fit

TODAY’S INVENTORIES are usually done online, with the results tabulated by a computer program or algorithm. Results are often portable – that is, a worker can take them with him or her after leaving a job. Results can identify areas of weakness, such as customer-service skills or team building, as they move from workplace to workplace.

The inventory Workforce Economics uses, JobFit, an online resume template and assessment system, looks at a candidate’s thinking style, occupational interests and behavioral traits. It’s free online for job seekers, and although it takes several hours to complete, job seekers can start it and stop it at their leisure, without having to start all over again when they continue, said Cheryl Welch, executive director/CEO of the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board.

Through Workforce Economics, an agency of the workforce development board, employers in a seven-county area from Outagamie and Waushara to Winnebago and Fond du Lac counties have access to JobFit.

A person’s energy level, assertiveness and sociability skills are important in some jobs, and JobFit tries to identify to the employer where a candidate fits in relationship to the employer’s ideal job candidate, said Huybers.

“Sometimes it’s not the hard skills, but soft skills and values of a company that become more difficult (to impart upon employees),” Welch added.

Employers set the bar themselves, by creating a template of the ideal worker based on their real-life model employees — “the ones you would clone if you could have 100 just like them,” Huybers said.

If an employee is looking at going back to school, the JobFit assessment can provide guidance based on their interests and survey results, Welch said.

In a normal economy, turnover rate does decrease, Welch said. Right now, that’s not the case, because even the employers who have purchased the JobFit assessment program aren’t using it because they simply aren’t hiring.

“But once they have it, it’s not like it goes away; it’s available to them when they get back into the hiring process,” Welch said.

Assessing job candidates

  1. F. AHERN COMPANY in Fond du Lac works with Assess, a human resources program that measures three broad categories of a person: their work personality, thinking style and relating style, said Christine Adleman, director of human resources for J. F. Ahern.

“For working personality, it looks at things like a person’s work pace, their frustration-tolerance level and how they do with multi-tasking,” Adleman said.

“Thinking style” looks at how structured a person’s thought process is and how reflective and how fact-based the person is, Adleman said.

“Relating style has to do with a person’s assertiveness level, tolerance of criticism, and how insightful they are,” she said.

Assess measures hourly workers as well as professional/managerial level, consultative sales people and executives.

The test has more than 300 questions, none of which are specific to J. F. Ahern.

“It’s combined with and taken into consideration with other things,” Adleman said.

Some “competencies” might be must-haves for the employer. If communication is one of the valued competencies and an applicant doesn’t score well on the communication portion of the Assess inventory, chances that the applicant will land the job are pretty small, Adleman said. Different skill areas carry varied importance, depending on the needs of the position, she said.

Assess is just one piece of the hiring puzzle, though, Adleman points out.

“If we have 5 candidates, we do a comparison to see where they fall compared to each other when we are going through the interviews,” Adleman said. “We are looking at work experience and other factors that weigh into the final decision.”

Assess is a Texas-based company founded in 1989 as Bigby Havis & Associates. It’s run by organizational psychologists who follow the standards of the American Psychological Association. Companies such as Hyatt, American Airlines and IBM have used Assess as well.

Its Web site at says its online tools can save a company money and time by cutting down the amount of energy hiring managers and human resources personnel have to invest in finding and hiring employees.

Assess also “provides an early opportunity for self-selection out of the process.”

In other words, if a job applicant can’t tough-out the test, they can bail.

A few other tests JF Ahern uses:

  • Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal: This is a test that looks at and measures a person’s ability to evaluate written information to make a decision, according to Adleman.
  • Ravens Standard Progressive Matrices: This measures a person’s ability to perceive and understand concepts and determine relationships between figures.
  • Thurstone Test of Mental Alertness: Tests a person’s mental acuity, flexibility in thinking; intellectual quickness, and verbal, quantitative and reasoning skills.

“By having that profile in addition to competency and personality profiles, it helps us determine how a person would fit into the work culture,” Adleman said.

About Me cards

THE MOTIVATIONAL ASSESSMENT DEVELOPED by Joe Kiedinger, owner of Prophit Marketing in Green Bay, goes beyond merely assessing personalities. It learns the language of the assessee and assessor, and it uses it when communicating.

“Your manager (could) motivate you in a way that you want to be motivated, not the way they want to motivate you,” Kiedinger said.

For instance, if a boss whose nature and speaking style is to be direct and to-the-point tells an employee that his or her performance is unacceptable, and proceeds to say why and what can be done about it, the employee will probably zone out.

“Because the words they are using don’t match their base motivations, the employee hears it as ‘I stink,’” said Chris Elliott, managing director of About Me International.

“You aren’t going to hear what the boss said,” added Kiedinger. “You are just going to feel resentful.”

The boss loses because his message gets mangled in the delivery, and the employee loses because he or she feels disrespected. Worse, the employee isn’t inspired to do his or her job any better than before the conversation. Any information the boss needs to convey – such as how the problem can be solved – gets lost in translation because the boss speaks in his own language and the employee takes it personally because he or she hears it in their own language, Elliott said.

This language-style barrier is why About Me International facilitators go by another name: “We call our consultants ‘interpreters,’” Kiedinger said.

Kiedinger based the About Me system on a few inventories he experienced firsthand, including a program designed for better communication between spouses.

“I thought, ‘Could this be the answer to meeting someone’s motivational needs?’” Kiedinger said. “If it were to be expanded and applied to the workplace, it might help a lot of people.”

Even though it appears to be all about fun, the assessment’s aim is anything but frivolous, Kiedinger said.

“It wasn’t until I invented the About Me card that a person (taking the assessment) was able to express themselves in their own words,” Kiedinger said.

About Me is slated to become fully automated by March. That will enable employers to seek out phrasing that resonates with each individual employee via key words and an employee’s About Me results.

Ultimately, a good personality assessment (and thus, a good job fit) can cut absenteeism, shrink the turnover rate, and pump up productivity.

“A happy employee produces more,” Huybers said.

An alumna of Ripon College, Lee Marie Reinsch is a freelance writer based in Green Bay.