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Don’t shy away from personality tests, but know the risks

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in Hiring,Human Resources

Issue: Personality tests are the first line of hiring defense at many organizations. Nearly 30 percent of employers use such tests.

Risk: A poorly designed test can open you up to legal trouble, but don't fear a "constitutional" claim.

Action: Be able to prove a direct link between the job performance and the personality type you select (i.e., the reason you perform the test).

In the past decade, pre-hire personality tests have transitioned from experiment to common practice at many organizations, including retailers such as Target and Neiman Marcus. Some employers don't even bother talking to applicants unless they first score above a certain level on a computerized personality test.

These tests can be a good gauge of job characteristics, such as maturity and emotional stability. But they can carry legal risks if applied incorrectly. And the largely unregulated industry means anyone can toss up a Web site and call itself a personality-test vendor.

Advice: If you use personality tests, make sure you can show a strong relationship between job performance and a particular personality type. You need to prove a business necessity for the testing and prove the tests' validity, i.e., how well they measure what they purport to measure.

When choosing a vendor for such tests, ask for evidence of both validity and test reliability. Toss out any test that appears offensive. An equipment-rental company lost a $2 million class-action case after employees sued over its pre-hire personality test that delved into sexual activity and bodily functions.

Final tip: Usually, when people try to contest such tests, they complain about discrimination or cultural bias. In a recent case, an employee tried a new tactic: claiming that the personal nature of the psychological exam violated her Fourth Amendment right against "unreasonable searches." The court didn't buy it. (Greenawalt v. Indiana Department of Corrections)

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