Using personality testing as part of the employee selection process: legal and policy issues for employers.

Author:Calvasina, Gerald E.


An advantage often cited in the literature regarding internal hiring or promotion is that current employees are known commodities regarding their "fit" with the organization's culture and work environment (Krell, 2015). The easily acquired intimate knowledge of current employees creates a strong incentive to emphasize promoting from within when the need arises. As organizations grow and labor markets become tighter, the lack of available promotable employees may dictate that the employer look to external job markets to fill positions. Assessment as to whether an external candidate's personality will be a good fit for the organization is often described as a key factor that influences the effectiveness of those individuals and also one of the most difficult elements to assess in the selection process (Krell, 2015). In recent years, technological advances in the nature of selection systems has enabled employers to increase their use of online technology to screen job applicants' personalities as to their potential fit with an organization's culture and work environment, and this increased use has not gone unnoticed by US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulators (EEOC) (Lundquist, 2015). The purpose of this paper is to examine legal and policy issues for employers when utilizing technology to assess an applicant's personality as part of the employers screening of external applicants for employment, and policy and practice suggestions for employers to facilitate compliance with EEOC guidelines.

In her April 15, 2015 testimony before the EEOC, Dr. Kathleen K. Lundqist, of APT Metrics, Inc. testified that "candidates for jobs today are increasingly being screened using online technology" (Lundquist, 2015). In the written report of Lundquist's testimony, she cited a 2011 global assessment report by Fallaw and Kantrowitz (2011) that reported that employers are utilizing a variety of online technology that includes

Online applications (some of which contain scored questions the answers to which may disqualify the applicant from further consideration); biodata or personality tests administered online to thousands of candidates; responses to "interview" questions which may be videotaped and uploaded online, and even online background checks. In a survey of domestic and international organizations, 81 percent of the respondents indicated that they were utilizing online assessments, and 83 percent indicated that they allow applicants to complete the assessments remotely in unproctored settings (Fallaw & Kantrowitz, 2011).

As online technology that can be utilized in employee selection systems has become more "affordable" the clear rationale for employers making more use of it in their selection processes is associated with cost efficiency (Lundquist, 2015). The new technology provides employers with the capability to screen large numbers of job applicants in an efficient manner and as long as "adverse impact can be minimized or eliminated by these tools, employers are often willing to sacrifice some level of validity to increase diversity and reduce the risk of litigation (Lundquist, 2015). There has been a long standing concern associated with the validity of personality assessment tools in making selection decisions. It is this long standing concern associated with the validity of personality assessment tools in making selection decisions that is the focus of this paper. In spite of the long running concern associated with the validity of the instruments used according to Lundquist, there continues to be "surprisingly little real validation evidence being collected to substantiate the job relatedness of the instruments used" (Lundquist, 2015).


Over time, employers have utilized a variety of tools and procedures to screen applicants for entry level positions and promotion opportunities attempting to identify individuals who have more than just the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA's) to perform. The basic answer as to why employers put so much effort in to making accurate selection decisions is the high cost associated with turnover. Typical components of the cost of turnover identified in the literature are listed in figure 1, and will vary by industry and job, but they are generally characterized as "an expensive HR and managerial issue that must be constantly evaluated and addressed" (Mathis, Jackson, & Valentine, 2014).

Figure 1 Components of Turnover Cost Separation Costs Vacancy Costs Replacement Costs Training Costs Hidden and Indirect Costs (including lost productivity) (Mathis, Jackson, & Valentine, 2014) The use of personality testing as part of employer selection processes can be traced to the 1930's. Caruth and Caruth (2009) detail an interesting history of the use of personality testing, going back to Depression era employer efforts to find "hard-hitting sales types" of employees who could sell their products. Subsequently, after World War Two, employers began to use personality testing in making selection decisions for a variety of positions from "salespersons to management trainees" (Caruth & Caruth, 2009). The 1971 US Supreme Court's decision in Griggs v. Duke Power is widely regarded as a watershed event for testing in general, and the issue of personality testing "virtually vanished from view as a result of the Supreme Court's decision (Caruth & Caruth, 2009).


The most basic legal concerns related to the use of testing in an employer's selection process are associated with allegations as to whether the tests are being utilized to intentionally discriminate against minorities or do the tests have an adverse impact on minorities and are not job-related for the position in question and consistent with business...

To continue reading