It's happened to everyone.
"We've all had experiences where we've run across somebody in our life who you can tell is just not good at their job, and it's a function of who they are," said Blaine Gaddis, manager of international research for Hogan Assessment Systems.
That's the gospel of personality for a company founded in 1986 by Robert and Joyce Hogan, who were married TU psychology professors. Offering a battery of 15-minute tests, Hogan Assessments has a hand in hiring decisions across the globe.
"In the last five years or so, we've actually seen an explosion of growth internationally," Gaddis said, with such testing already in common use by domestic companies.
"Personality assessment is quick, it's easy ,and it's relatively cheap for companies, he added.
But while such tests may be common, a 2011 poll by the Society for Human Resource Management found that only about one in five companies use such testing. And among companies who use the tests, the poll reported that 12 percent of applicants have complained about the use of such tests in the hiring or promotion process.
How do personality tests work? And can they really be trusted?
Before the 1980s, personality assessment had been used in clinical environments. But Gaddis said the Hogans were among the earliest to link such the use assessments to the workplace.
"Robert Hogan was one of the first to say, alright, people are using these personality assessments, but these are designed for clinical assessments. Let's see if I can come up with a new one that's designed for applied use, for work, and that was the kind of the origin of the Hogan Personality Inventory," Gaddis said, referring to one of the company's signature products.
To researchers, personality has a pretty precise definition. "Personality is really just the dispositions and how we view the world. Are we open to new experiences? Are we extroverted or introverted? Are we dependable and conscientious, or are we just kind of more flexible and kind of spontaneous?" Gaddis said. Those dispositions "predict how we interact with others and how we get our jobs done," he said.
Studies have shown that while people may change, "personality is stable over time," Gaddis said. "The personality that you have now is basically going to be the personality you have when you're 60."
The company's original personality test reports on seven primary scales, including ambition, sociability, and prudence.
The 1980s and 1990s led to several academic studies relating to such assessments, said Gaddis, adding that the Hogans, while still at TU, founded the school's industrial/organizational psychology program.
Such programs are commonly referred to as I/O research.
"A lot of the bigger companies out there they have their own internal HR or internal I/O types who would be paying attention to the academic literature, and when they start to see more and more personality research coming out that's looking favorable, then that helps to promote their use of personality assessments for their own uses," Gaddis said.
In Tulsa, what began as "a little side venture" grew into a company that today has about 60 employees, Gaddis said. Joyce Hogan died earlier this year, while Robert Hogan works from Florida, Gaddis said.
Gaddis said the literature backs up the claim that such tests do inform employers about potential problems and strengths of future workers.
To Gaddis, evidence exists that some personalities aren't suited to certain jobs, such as "a waiter or waitress who isn't paying attention ... to the details of your order so they screw up your order." Or "maybe it's a customer service rep that you call about an issue that you're having with your laptop and they're just not very calm in the situation."
The company's goal is to help both employer and employees avoid such mismatches, he said. "Let's try to find the right people for these jobs, and let's try to make sure that we can help companies and customers avoid those types of situations in the first place."
Hogan Assessments offers several tests, including a test designed to uncover how a person reacts on their bad days -- and we all have them, Gaddis said.
"Everybody's personality has a negative side. It doesn't cross the line into clinical disorders, but there's a normal range of negative personality behaviors that come out when you're stressed, when you're in an unfamiliar or novel circumstance," said Gaddis, a still-young researcher who earned a psychology doctorate from the University of Oklahoma in 2005.
Gaddis said one of the company's products, the Hogan Development Survey, "really gets at what are those negative aspects of your personality that could potentially derail your career performance, your job performance, your interaction with others."
Years of litigation followed a 2003 decision in New Haven, Conn. to throw out the results of a firefighting exam after some black and Hispanic applicants scored poorly despite being otherwise qualified. But Gaddis stressed that Hogan's tests don't have the legal liability problems sometimes associated with aptitude testing.
However, while seemingly rare, it's apparently not unprecedented for some legal action to be taken because of personality tests. In the 2011 poll by human resource professionals, 1 percent of companies responding who use personality tests stated that they had faced a legal challenge related to their use of the tests.
Another issue with the test is "faking." If applicants are faced with any kind of personality assessment test, Gaddis said it's best to just be honest and not to try and overthink the questions.
"We find the scales that are predictive of performance, and we come up with desired ranges of scores across all those scales," Gaddis said. "So, even if a person is trying to answer the way that they think a person wants them to answer, they're not successful in faking to a desired profile. They tend to just inflate their scores which makes it easy to identify: well, this person, there's no way this person is high across all these dimensions because it's just so rare we see something like that."
To follow-up on its own accuracy, the company sometimes interviews people who have taken a test, Gaddis said, describing the work of a consultant.
"She'll get on the phone with someone who's taken our assessments and she'll have their reports in front of her and she'll walk them through: 'So, OK, I see your score on this scale suggests you're a member of a number of nonprofit organizations designed to help people.' And people are like, 'How did you know about me? That's amazing.'"
Gaddis said the company also reviews its performance at worksites.
A company using personality tests often observes "huge decreases in turnover, absenteeism, counterproductive work behaviors, theft, drug use," Gaddis said. "So there's a number of wonderful examples that we get from our clients that show what we're doing makes a difference and it's doing exactly what it's intended to do."The poll of human resource professionals shows some support for personality tests. Asked if the tests can be useful when properly vetted and validated, 62 percent agreed with the statement. Only 14 percent stated such tests are "generally not useful."
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