The (Il)legality of Personality Assessment in Employee Selection


HiringNot too long ago I was on a plane heading to another Hogan Road Show. I happened to be sitting next to an HR executive from a Fortune 50 company that is a Hogan client. She was embarking on a long journey to several company locations around the world to audit the use of psychometric assessments in their organization. As I explained in this article, many large organizations are faced with the same challenge of having disjointed and inconsistent assessment use in their ranks. Fostering consistency can yield great benefits for HR practices and talent analytics, therefore, I was happy to hear that her organization was taking these strides. However, what happened next I found troubling.

I told her that her organization is actually a fairly significant Hogan user. She had no idea (concern #1). I then told her that her organization uses Hogan for graduate recruitment and selection. She replied that that was impossible because personality assessment is illegal for use in selection (big concern #2!). In this moment I immediately felt my 78 on the Excitable scale starting to bubble up. I did my best to remain composed and inform her that she had some misinformation. She did not believe me. Here she is, a fairly senior HR executive for a large organization, about to go around the world standardizing assessment use with at least one big misconception guiding some of the decisions she will be making (concern #3).

The occurrence on the plane is not entirely unique. I encounter this misconception from time to time while on road shows and presenting at conferences. The blanket assertion that using personality assessment in selection is illegal is patently false. As with any practice used during employee selection, it comes down to a question of validity in determining legality (see the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Practices for more information). The simplest way of explaining the validity of assessments is a) does the assessment measure what it is supposed to measure and b) does the assessment predict job performance? This is something that Hogan has in spades.

For any client validation research project, we thoroughly document our tools’ ability to measure what they’re supposed to and predict important work outcomes. That is why Hogan has never been successfully challenged in the court system. The same cannot be said of all personality assessments; there is tremendous variability in the validity, reliability, and technical documentation of other assessments. However, for those who, like Hogan, take the science of personality seriously, they have experienced similar success in the court system.

So when it comes to personality assessment in employee selection, validity reigns in establishing legality. (Yes, I know that it also matters that the use of personality assessment cannot result in adverse impact too, but I’m trying to keep it simple for this blog. Also, personality assessment tends to yield almost no adverse impact relative to cognitive ability assessments.) To keep yourself out of hot water, demand technical documentation from your vendor/consultant that demonstrates the tools’ ability to measure what it is supposed to and predict something meaningful on the job. Be careful what you ask for, though. If you are not using a sound psychometric tool, you may not like what you find out. I’m sorry, but if you are using the very scientific personality test of “Which Sex and the City character are you most like?” I’m not sure the judge will let you off so easily.

To wrap up my story-in-the-sky, I didn’t fully convince her that it is okay to use personality assessment in selection. Maybe it was her unknown Skeptical or Bold score – I’m not sure. We had to agree to disagree so that we could spend the next eight or so hours sitting next to each other without the elephant stealing our legroom.