Minimising costly recruitment mistakes with personality tests

April 14, 2023

With on-line recruitment rapidly becoming the norm, the use of pre-employment personality tests as part of the screening process is becoming an essential element in recruiting new staff. But why is pre-employment testing so popular and why is it such an essential tool?

For all businesses, whether large or small, the recruitment of staff is both a costly and time consuming activity. And, due to large numbers of (often unsuitable) people applying today, as well as the scarcity of real talent, it has also become a much longer and more complicated process. It is therefore more important than ever that employers “get it right” first time, especially as the cost of “getting it wrong” is very high.

Even for customer-facing, or front-line jobs, the overall cost of replacing a recruitment “mistake” for some roles can be as much as twice their annual salary. e-Talent carried out a study recently where we looked at the true cost of staff-turnover of retail sales assistants for a well-known high street chain of around 300 shops. Their turnover percentage was high at almost 40%, but even so their management were visibly shaken when we demonstrated that their attrition was costing them over £4 million a year. Yes, you did read that right! – over £4 Million a year. Bearing in mind that the company’s pre-tax profits were around £8 million, for them to get their recruitment “right” was certainly critically important!

But surely, this is all a matter of making sure we get the right person at interview? Well, that sounds simple enough but in practice it is less so. While most of us like to think we are good at getting a “feel” for the right person, unfortunately research shows that this is pretty far off the mark. The reasons are many and varied, but most often it’s simply to do with lack of experience.

Like everything, interviewing is a skill that has to be learnt and practiced. Managers and small business owners often interview subjectively rather than objectively, and tend to recruit like-minded people. After all, it’s easy to offer someone a job after you’ve struck up and instant rapport with them. But what makes for good customer-facing staff is often quite different from what makes a good manager or business owner. It’s often quoted that an applicant only shows a mere 20% of their true personality at interview, but this is where pre-employment personality tests can help fill in the “missing” 80%.

Psychometric tests measure personality characteristics, values (or motivators), and natural abilities (or the lack thereof) and have historically only been suitable for management and executive positions. But today this is no longer the case, with new and affordable psychometric tools available to test suitability for a wide range of front-line jobs such as retail sales, call centre staff, waiters, barmen, receptionists, cabin crew, drivers, carers, nurses, factory workers, office staff, etc.

When adding personality pre-employment tests to any recruitment process, it’s important to keep in mind what results are expected from the assessment process. Traditional psychometrics produce long and detailed written reports that are often hard to interpret and virtually impossible to relate to the recruitment decision being made. Therefore, to be useful in front-line recruitment, psychometrics need to be practical, display results in a way that is easily understood and, most importantly, reflect the behavioural traits required by the job.

For example, if you are recruiting for a retail sales person, you should try to identify candidates who are persuasive, competitive, sociable, accommodating, self motivated, with a high work ethic and with an aptitude for customer service. You would not look for people who are introverted, detail-orientated or overly assertive, and while characteristics like diplomacy, empathy, change orientation, flexibility, etc. are “nice to have”, they would not differentiate a good sales person from a poor one.

Finally, from our experience an appropriate psychometric test will go a long way towards stopping recruitment mistakes – after all, you can teach skills but you can’t change attitudes or behaviours. Get in touch for a free consultation about how to recruit and keep the right people for your organisation.