Personality Tests Screen in Better Job Matches

By Michael L. Diamond, Asbury Park (N.J.) Press

Susan Brown, the general manager of Clark's Landing Marina in Point Pleasant, N.J., needs a bookkeeper who pays attention to detail. She needs a salesperson who is sociable and persuasive.

To find them, she looks at resumes, grills job candidates, checks references and relies on her instincts. But in the end, she said, there is always a risk that the candidate is a bad match, either for the job or the company.

"You never really know until someone has been in a job a few months, six months," Brown said. "It's hard to tell when someone comes in for an interview if it will work out."

Companies are trying to reduce that uncertainty by taking a new step. They're giving some of their job applicants lengthy personality tests to see if the workers truly have what it takes to fill a job.

The test, developed by Princeton, N.J.-based Caliper Corp., probes hard-to-measure values, and employers are using the information to cut down on turnover, improve productivity and motivate their work force.

Turnover can cost a company as much as twice an employee's salary, from the cost of advertising an opening to the downtime coworkers face while their new colleague is getting up to speed, said Susan Seitel, president of Work & Family Connection, a human resources consulting firm in Minnetonka, Minn.

"I would suggest finding a right fit is the single most important thing a recruiter is doing," said Brenda Wilson, a senior consultant with Mercer Human Resource Consulting in Philadelphia.
The idea: That previous work experience is less an indicator of success than understanding a worker's motivations, desires and values.

Caliper takes the test's results and matches them with a job description provided by the company. Few turn out to be perfect fits, said Caliper president Herbert Greenberg. The trick is finding workers with the core traits who can be trained.

"I can teach you enough about cars or insurance, but I can't teach you that hunger to sell," he said.

Greenberg guesses that in today's economy, as few as 20 percent of workers are in the right job. The rest trudge along, showing up for work simply to get a steady paycheck. The problem is that unmotivated workers slow a company, he said.

Take the road construction industry. Michael Earle, general superintendent of Earle Asphalt Co. in Farmingdale, N.J., said most road contractors operate similarly, set apart only by the quality of their personnel.

Earle gives the test to applicants for management jobs to find workers who produce better in a structured environment and take personal satisfaction from their work.

"This has really helped us find a common thread," Earle said. "These people seem to be good at what they're doing and through the test we find they all have the same characteristics."

Experts, however, said there could be a catch. Sometimes the results of a test say more about the company giving it than the person taking it. What qualities does a company honestly want in a supervisor? A salesperson? A bookkeeper?

"Does the organization understand its own culture in a sufficient way that it can gauge whether or not that individual is a fit?" asked Wilson of Mercer Human Resource Consulting. "Sometimes organizations have an ideal state, but that's not the reality of the internal culture.'

If that's the case, executives will be surprised when their newest hire resigns six months later. But at Clarks Landing Marina, Susan Brown said the test has sized people up accurately, including herself.

Brown was skeptical when she took it, but when the results came back she sighed with relief. "I was a match for the job," she said.

Next: Top 10 Companies Hiring This Week >>

Copyright 2004 Asbury Park Press Gannett Co., Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authority.
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