In my first post, I did say that I wasn’t here. Which is still true of course, but last Thursday (14th November) I did manage to make a fleeting visit to the university to listen to a guest lecture by Peter Saville, a celebrated occupational psychologist and entrepreneur.
At work, I’ve often found myself involved in the recruitment process and I’d like to think that I’m a better judge than most when it comes to identifying the right person for particular roles. After sitting through Peter’s talk, I’m probably going to be a little more cautious in future.
For example, 70% of all application forms and CVs contain serious errors of fact, because people are prone to exaggerating their qualifications and experience. References are problematic as some organisations refuse to produce them for fear of legal action – and who would ever voluntarily provide a referee to give less than glowing report? And as for interviews – well, apparently most interviewers make up their mind about a candidate in the first few minutes and then spend the rest of the time looking for evidence to back their initial opinion up.
It even seems that some organisations have used astrology during the selection process. Thankfully, I’ve never witnessed this, but in one study Peter mentioned 22% of the psychology students questioned thought that using a person’s astrological sign would be a reasonable characteristic to use for assessment. My mind boggled at the idea.
Having been instrumental in creating the OPQ and Wave personality inventories, most of the talk revolved around the challenges of creating questionnaires that are truly useful in occupational as opposed to clinical contexts. Issues with zombie questions, double negatives and idioms were all discussed and dispatched with style.
In summary, Peter said that questions used to assess personality at work need to be short, focussed on behaviour, self-referent, acceptable to candidates, managers and lawyers alike as well as having job relevance. I found myself nodding along in agreement. It was an excellent talk – well worth the journey down from Derby and the time off work to listen to.
However, that’s not to say that I’m entirely convinced by the personality measurement industry. After all, as Graham Richards points out in his book ‘Putting Psychology in its Place’, no-one can say for sure how ‘real’ the personality traits identified by these questionnaires are. They could simply be artefacts of the methods used to measure them or be hopelessly contaminated by the cultural context they are used in.
And if the personality traits measured during selection and assessment have no objective reality – or worse – traits that are of importance to job performance fail to be picked up because they aren’t socially or legally acceptable characteristics to measure, then perhaps organisations would do better to invest their efforts elsewhere.
But what do you think? Have any personality questionnaires that you’ve completed in the past been useful to you in understanding where your strengths might lie? I’d be very interested to know your thoughts.
This article was originally written for the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 20th November 2013.