The use of personality assessments in the workplace is as divisive an issue as they come. Quite simply, people either love it or hate it.

But if you ask them why, its often complicated. Sure, supporters like to think the naysayers are just threatened by the idea that they aren't unique; in the same way that the skeptics think the boosters are pleased by the thought of human psychology made simple; but its by no means that easy.

This week I talked with a dozen or so staffing business bigwigs who have used personality assessments for hiring their own staff, candidates for clients, and sometimes both. After weighing all their heated comments, one thing became clear. Personality assessments are neither crystal ball nor the end-all, be-all recruitment tool. Their value depends 100% on how you use them and what you use them for. But, if used correctly, several staffers say it can complement your hiring processes and even improve team development.

Use Assessments In Conjunction With Other Pre-Employment Methods 

Though AppleTree Staffing, CORESTAFF Services, and TempWorks Software all use different personality assessment platforms for hiring, its actually kind of amazing how similarly they implement them.

First, says Rick Carlson, senior vice president and general manager of CORESTAFF Services, you have to clearly define the characteristics youre looking for with a given position. Assessments like those he uses (Personalysis and Target Training International) measure things like motivation, drive, and intellect. Some platforms, such as the Berke Assessment employed by TempWorks Software, allow you to target where a candidate would ideally fall in test areas like sociability, idea productivity, and problem-solving logic.

After you target characteristics, the companies do an initial interview with the candidate. I only tested after I had reviewed their rsum, phoned screened them, and possibly even met them once, Carlson said. It serves as a support tool to confirm things I suspect or to uncover areas that I may have overlooked. What I coached my own people on was to never use it as a first-level screening device.

The point of the test, Carlson added, is to confirm your findings or help define the little thing thats bothering you, but you cant quite put your finger on it. In the case of TempWorks, after they ask interviewees to take the test, the results of the test actually suggest some follow-up questions to ask the candidate when you meet with them for the second-round interview.

Jonathan Loo, CEO of AppleTree Staffing, says they use personality assessments both internally (for their own employees) and externally (for candidates they place with clients). And for him, consistency is key.

The tendency is to use personality assessments to simply confirm our preconceived beliefs, but that is a mistake, he said. Use them for each and every person being considered for a position for a true apples-to-apples comparison.

I personally feel that personality assessments can only be used as one piece of the puzzle not the deciding factor in and of itself, Loo added. You have to use your gut and instinct in conjunction with the assessment to make the best hiring decisions.

Dont Let the Assessment Undermine Your JudgmentIn situations like Loos, where they give the personality test results of candidates over to clients, things can get sticky. For instance, if the recruiter is dead-set on a candidate being a great match for a client, but the client cant get over a certain aspect of the personality test (and wont even interview the candidate because of it!), it undermines their job as a recruiter.

For some clients, Loo submits, personality test results are a mere tie-breaker whereas others put quite a bit of stock into them. There have been times when we feel a client is putting a bit too much weight behind a personality assessment, and we will help them look at it as a piece of the puzzle instead of the ultimate decision-maker, he said.

In essence, personality assessments are meant to offer a broad picture of how someone thinks and perceives the world around them; they aren't meant to measure all the intangibles of a person. And often interviews, and recruiters, are called upon to do precisely that.

Use Internal Assessments to Optimize Your Team Development

My first exposure to personality assessments came a few years back when I was writing an article about KRM Information Services, and their founder Rick Olson. One of the most interesting things about their business is that theyre HUGE believers in personality testing, specifically Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

I can't overstate it enough, he told me. It has changed lives and made a huge difference. I'd never run a business without it. The power is amazing.

After Rick hires someone and brings them on, he gives them two books on MBTI. Then he asks them to take the test. The results are then made public to everyone who works there, and that new employee likewise can see where everyone else falls.

The idea behind this (which they borrowed from Jim Collins Good to Great)is that it provides the team with the tools to know how to best communicate (and work) with others, and in essence address most every workplace problem. Or as Rick put it, airing out the laundry before its able to get dirty.

Louise Brook, a former recruiter, told me the management at her company did internal testing for temperament, rather than personalities as a whole. They administer the test after hire to better determine who should mentor them, how they should be managed, and what the person should focus on or be aware of when trying to improve their habits and practices, she said. In this way, it was pretty valuable.

Summary

I've covered a lot here, and I'll offer this forth in case you want all the major points re-stressed (or if you skipped straight to this because of the length of this post).

In my research on this I connected with David Hilditch, clearly a proponent of personality testing, and in fact the founder of one of the providers (Improved Employees). David is very aware of the criticisms and trappings of these assessments, so very simply offered the following pitch:

If you want to use personality assessments effectively:
1. Make it clear that you're using them to help job-seekers explore their softer side and not to exclude them or screen them.
2. Use the results of the test as a talking point for interviewing the candidate and to help the candidate explore their soft skills.
3. Whatever information you glean from the interview should always supersede the information from the psychometric reports.

And if you're using personality testing for existing employees, the theory goes the same you use whichever system as a framework for your employees to discuss and understand their similarities and differences, he said. This all goes towards improving self-awareness, communication, teamwork, productivity, etc.

The evidence is there that it works, just don't abuse the tool in the wrong way (never use the results to prevent access to a career path). Self-awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence and leads to awareness of others and ultimately better communication.