The most recent review of a century’s worth of research on selection methods, found that tests of general mental ability are the best available predictors of job performance, especially when paired with an integrity test. Yet, assessing candidates’ and employees’ potential presents significant challenges. People Metrics Are Hard to Get Right. For all the promise these techniques hold, it’s difficult to measure something as complex as a person for several reasons.
Multiple valid and reliable personality tests have been carefully calibrated to measure one or more character traits. These traditional psychological assessments are usually designed to help figure out whether a person is more or less intelligent or extraverted than their peers, for example. In other words, the assessments are meant to capture differences between people.
But several studies have found that, during a two-week period, there can be even more variation within one individual’s personality than there is from person to person.
People change, and not always when you expect them to. The allure of aptitude, intelligence, and personality tests is that they purport to tell us something stable and enduring about who people are and what they are capable of. Test makers (usually) go to great lengths to make sure people who take the test more than once get a similar score the second time around.
Yet compelling evidence suggests that people can learn how to learn, sometimes in ways we didn’t anticipate. We can also shift our personalities in one direction or another (at least to some degree, though not always without cost) for both near-term benefits and longer-term goals.
Interestingly, one recent study with more than 13,000 participants found that people tend to become more conscientious right before getting a new job, which is conveniently around the time a hiring manager would be trying to figure out how hard they would work if they landed the role.
The nature of the task can matter more than the nature of the person. Most of us have heard the theory that we each have a preferred learning style, and the more we can use the one that fits, the more we’ll remember. Unfortunately, virtually no evidence supports that theory. That doesn’t mean that all approaches to studying are equally effective, it’s just that the strategy that works best often depends more on the task than on the person.
Similarly, different parts of our personalities can serve different types of goals. We act extraverted when we want to connect with others or seize an opportunity, and we become disciplined when we want to get something done or avoid mistakes.
Given the findings mentioned above about how much people’s behaviour can change from one situation to the next, it might seem paradoxical to even try to find something enduring about a person’s character.
But just because personality is dynamic does not mean it is not definable or not worth exploring. Some researchers have proposed using if-then questionnaires to detect nuanced patterns in each person’s personality profile, although such techniques have yet to be well-tested in the workplace.
A better approach might be to take repeated measures from the same employees over time. That is often easier said than done, given the challenges many organisations face in getting employees to fill out even a single survey. If the participation problem can be overcome, however, repeated measures can lead to insights about what people are like in general and the ways in which they vary that one time surveys simply can’t generate.
Adapted by “Can We Really Test People for Potential?” By Reb Rebele – MIT Sloan Management Review 201903 – Spring 2019