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Personality profiling


What is it?

There are many definitions of personality. If we take the Wikipedia definition that:

‘In psychology, personality describes the character of emotion, thought, and behaviour patterns unique to a person. There are several theoretical perspectives on personality in psychology, which involve different ideas about the relationship between personality and other psychological constructs, as well as different theories about the way personality develops.’

we can immediately see that the word ‘personality’ is probably construed in a variety of ways depending on the definitions held by an individual.

In general ‘lay terms’, personality can be said to define the entirety of an individual’s behaviour and would include emotional maturity, intelligence, values, attitudes, beliefs and temperament (as well as many other complex issues which make up the whole person). Commercial tests or assessments however, usually measure much narrower, more finite areas. The McQuaig Word Survey® measures temperament.

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Temperament can be described as the way we go about the execution of a task, project, or in fact our whole life, if we are left to our own devices. It fashions the way we apply our values, attitudes and beliefs, but does not alter them significantly.

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Using personality profiling in selection or assessment of current staff

Whilst modern commercially available personality profile tests generally has strong validity, it should be treated primarily as an indicator of behaviour. In our view it should not be used in isolation to decide a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ for any given job. Rather the results of the assessment should be used in conjunction with other data gathered from reference checks, CVs and behavioural interviewing to form a fuller picture of the individual before a valid decision can be made. In this context, the personality measure should give focus to the interview, generating areas to research where competency gaps may exist.

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History of personality profiling

Over time, personality testing has developed from basic models first developed in ancient Greek times using a simple ‘pigeon-holing’ technique designed to fit people into a very limited group of ‘types’. Early examples of this method can be traced back to ancient philosophers like Hippocrates, Heraclitus & Galen.

More recently, in the early decades of the last century, Carl Jung further researched these methods and formulated his theory of Jungian typology, which is arguably the grandfather of many of today’s commercial systems.

Personality profiling in the 21st century has come a long way since Jung’s original work and many highly valid systems for assessing personality are available, both in the commercial and academic arenas.

There are two main ways in which personality can be reported:

  • Observed behaviour, where a trained psychologist will interview and assess an individual, and maybe even set group or individual tasks.
  • Self-reported behaviour, where the individual completes a questionnaire which presents a series of questions about their preferred behaviour. This is the most frequent category of assessment used in the commercial world and may comprise a variety of techniques. These techniques range from asking the candidate to simply tick boxes next to a series of listed behaviours to indicate that they describe them, through questions with true or false answers; ranking behaviours as ‘most like me’ or ‘least like me’ up to a full forced choice ranking of a list of available behaviours. The latter asks the candidate to rank a series of differing behaviours in the order that they best apply to them. The McQuaig Word Survey® uses a forced choice, four adjective technique to assess the preferred behaviours of the candidate.

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Is a personality profile a valid predictor of performance in the workplace?

There has been much discussion about the validity of personality profiling as a predictor of performance in the workplace. The vast majority of commentators now accept that the use of personality profiling and other similar measures in pre-employment screening significantly improves the predictivity of the selection process. It is also accepted that these tools can also be used as the basis of career-pathing and development programs.

Hogan, Hogan and Roberts, after an exhaustive review, conclude that:

  • well constructed measures of normal personality are valid predictors of performance in virtually all occupations,
  • they do not result in adverse impact for job applicants or minority groups; and
  • using well developed personality measures for pre-employment screening is a way to promote social justice and increase organisational productivity.

R. Hogan, J. Hogan and BW Roberts, ‘Personality measurement and employment decisions’, American Psychologist, vol. 51, no. 5, 1996, p. 469.

This could be further clarified by a statement from R.E. Hicks, a senior lecturer in management and psychology at Queensland University of Technology, who in an article published in Asia Pacific Human Resources Manager, vol. 29 no.1 of Autumn 1991, said:

‘I believe the more successful organisations in the future in Australia are likely to be those who among other approaches make considered and effective use of psychological tests, questionnaires and procedures in staff selection, allocation and development.’

Hicks introduces a further element here; that of skills and abilities testing through questionnaires and other procedures. It is important to note, as quoted by Hicks, that these systems should be used in a ‘considered and effective’ manner and that they should be compounded into a procedure which is both objective and repeatable.

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