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Wednesday, November 14, 2007
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Dear Editor:  

Two recent articles appearing in Human Resource Executive Online ("HRE") entitled "Assessing Personality" and "More on Selecting Employees" do a very poor job of providing your readers with an objective and balanced view of personality and intelligence testing. As a result thereof, I believe your readers would be interested in the following information.  

The articles indicate that there is a "new consensus that personality tests are a poor predictor of future job performance." As an industrial psychologist this so-called consensus is news to me, as well as the vast majority of my colleagues.

Rather than exclusively relying upon the analyses and opinions of only six industrial psychologists, a balanced article would have acknowledged that the findings of these six psychologists had been extensively criticized by many psychologists with equally as impressive credentials. 

Additionally, the field has a wealth of research documenting that personality testing -- especially assessments focusing on conscientiousness -- are extremely effective tools for predicting various forms of counterproductivity. See "Comprehensive Meta-Analysis of Integrity Test Validities," Journal of Applied Psychology, 1993 and "The Truth About Integrity Tests: The Validity and Utility of Integrity Testing for the Hospitality Industry," Cornell Hospitality Reports, 2007.  

In the article "More on Selecting Employees" there is an acknowledgement of the utility of intelligence tests, but then there is also a misguided discussion about the how little performance variance such tests account for.

The article's approach of squaring the exhibited correlation coefficients (commonly criticized as a means of minimizing the perceived impact of certain variables) led to very small numbers in terms of accounted-for employee performance variance -- certainly an approach and argument that could be utilized for any other selection measure as well.

However, the article fails to recognize the simple fact that intelligence tests exhibit higher correlations with job performance than most of the selection tools used by employers (e.g., interviews, education, drug tests, background checks).

Further, as any well-trained industrial psychologist is well aware of, the correlation coefficient does not exclusively determine the ultimate utility of a test or other selection measure. Other factors, such as the selection ratio and the base rate of the employee behavior being focused on, impact the ultimate utility of the selection device.

Hence, a selection tool with a correlation coefficient of .20 can exhibit utility in certain circumstances. The Taylor Russell Tables that industrial psychologists commonly use provide significant insight on this matter.  

Finally, an excellent overall review of the validity of common selection measures can be found within an article from an edition of the 1998 Psychological Bulletin -- "The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 85 Years of Research Findings." Therein, it is acknowledged that research shows that intelligence, integrity and conscientiousness tests have high utility and validity for predicting job performance.  

While certainly by no means exhaustive, these comments should be useful to your readers in gaining a much more objective understanding of the facts regarding personality and intelligence testing. I trust future articles in this domain will be a bit more objective, and hence more informative.   

David W. Arnold, Ph.D., J.D.

General Counsel

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Peter responds:

One of the great things about writing this column is to find out about all the different vendors who have a financial stake in the issues I discuss.

Here are just a couple of reminders about what I said in those two columns. The conclusions about personality tests not being useful are not mine but those of six prominent academic personnel psychologists who are also journal editors.

They reviewed all the studies David Arnold mentioned that support personality tests as well as others that he does not mention that do not support their use. And these experts have one important attribute that gives them some special credibility in this debate: None of them sell selection tests.

With respect to the column on intelligence, what I said was that intelligence tests are the item most undervalued by practitioners and that they are one of the easiest, cheapest and most reliable assessments to use.  

It is still the case, however, intelligence does not explain very much of the variation in job performance. 

David Arnold, whose firm is one of the major providers of intelligence tests, objects that I don't praise intelligence tests enough. He is certainly right in noting that even a test that doesn't predict much about job performance can under the right circumstances have a payoff as compared to just selecting randomly or using less valid tests

Under other circumstances, however, the payoff could be trivial. Readers will not be surprised to hear that there is no magic bullet for selecting employees.  

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