Monday, March 28, 2005

Screening out the Antisocials

If I want to learn about you, whether socially or at work, I'll talk to you. I'm not going to ask you if you're an ENFP on the Myers-Briggs test like me, or if you have a really high "influencing" score on the DISC test, any sooner that I'd ask if you're a Sagittarius or if you were born in the Year of the Dog. I'm not a fan of personality profiles for several reasons. First, the person taking the test might see himself (or herself) as different than his or her actions would show. I.e., he may see himself as different than others see him, and answer according to his false perception. Also, a person could lie on a personality test. Let's say you're applying for a job that requires reports turned in by a deadline. Are you going to answer "no" to "You do your best to complete a task on time."? Personality profiles also don't consider people's motivations. If the person's behavior is what's important, what matters more is what needs and desires motivate him or her, whether it's a desire to prove something, material needs, love, whatever. You see a lot of people act out of character, and heard the expression "I would never have guessed that he would do something like that."

So it disturbed me to read this, from an article in the Sunday Washington Post:

Over the past few years, personality assessment tests have moved from the realm of experiment to standard practice at many of the nation's largest companies, including the Albertson's grocery chain and retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Target. A recent survey found that about 30 percent of all companies use personality tests in hiring. To many companies, the tests are as important, if not more important, than an applicant's education, experience and recommendations.

Some firms give the computer the power to conduct the first screening of candidates and do not bother interviewing applicants unless they score above a certain level. Universal, however, prefers to put everyone through an interview on the chance that assessments are wrong.

Usually they aren't.

"In almost every case, the results of the test are what we see in their interviews," said Giles, who has been at his job for two years,

Universal said the online exams have made a measurable difference in the quality of its workforce. Employee retention and customer satisfaction levels are up, while absenteeism and theft are down.

I understand the need for excellent customer service and performance, but I'm not really seeing the science (at least not from this article) in what Mr. Giles said here. Can Universal single out the personality test as being the sole cause of the measureable difference of quality in its workforce? Were there changes in training or management, or raises?

Does being an introvert mean that you won't work well with people, or won't be able to sell houses? Aren't introverts more likely to buy from other introverts, rather than the slick-rick salesman?

It seems as if we're seeing the beginnings of a new form of discrimination here - some sort of "personality type discrimination."

As some other critics of personality tests remarked in the article:

"You are really doing a disservice to the complexity of human individuality," said Dan P. McAdams, a professor of psychology and human development at Northwestern University.

Annie Murphy Paul, author of "The Cult of Personality," which is about the testing industry, said there is a real danger of stigmatizing people who fail certain components of tests. "If we are labeling people liars and thieves even before they have seen any propensity for them to do these things, it is a real injustice," she said.

And I hate to do it, but whenever I see a personality test, I think of Donnie Darko, and the Fear - Love line:

Donnie: Life isn't that simple. I mean who cares if Ling Ling returns the wallet and keeps the money? It has nothing to do with either fear or love.
Kitty Farmer: Fear and love are the deepest of human emotions.
Donnie: Okay. But you're not listening to me. There are other things that need to be taken into account here. Like the whole spectrum of human emotion. You can't just lump everything into these two categories and then just deny everything else!

Later, in the principal's office, with Donnie's parents:
Kitty Farmer: I'll tell you what he said. He asked me to forcibly insert the Life Line exercise card into my anus.

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