Companies turn to psych tests to screen out workplace weirdos

"Fit" matters most to small business

Cover letters, resumes, and interviews are usually what we expect when searching for a new job. But there’s another tool that’s gaining popularity for employers looking to take on a new employee: A psychological evaluation.

Earlier this week, the Globe and Mail reported that Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page’s replacement will have undergone psychological testing during the hiring process.

While it may sound like an unorthodox method, recruitment firms say that “psychometric” assessments have become increasingly popular for organizations looking to fill a leadership role in their ranks.

Companies have become “so much more aware of how critical it is to hire the right people,” says Jeff Aplin, president of head hunting and recruitment firm Aplin Group. “We’re seeing psychometric tests being more and more common.” It’s especially popular for companies hiring individuals for personality-driven roles, such as sales, leadership, and client relations (and less so for more technical positions in engineering or science-based industries). The majority of Aplin Group’s clients using the company’s executive search practice opt for psychometric tests in the hiring process, Aplin says.


[Photo: Alberto G/Flickr]

“It’s a growing trend,” he says. “Employers are big fans of it — it often gives better insight into the long-term potential of an individual, as well as how they may fit with the rest of the management team.”

Aplin Group uses a test called TAIS—“The Attentional and Interpersonal Style” evaluation. Global recruitment firm Hays, meanwhile, uses the McQuaig test, which places individuals along several personality “spectrums.” One spectrum, for example, determines where your personality sits on a scale of “sociable” to “analytical”—employers will often decide what kind of person they’re looking for before assessing candidates, and use the test to see if someone is a strong match for the position being filled.

The number of clients using psychological testing is much lower for Hays, says Rowan O’Grady, president of Hays Canada. Unlike Aplin Group, about 20% of those who look to Hays to help them find new employees use psychological tests. Notably, the majority of clients who do use these tests are small companies concerned about how a new member of the team will fit in with their existing team.

“The impact that a person’s personality can have is far more significant than at a big company,” says O’Grady, noting the increased level of interaction between employees at smaller firms.

Popularity aside, the use of psychological testing for a new PBO raises significant questions about the selection process, says Richard Leblanc, a professor of law, governance, and ethics at York University. Since individuals in auditing positions are meant to stay at arm’s-length from those they are evaluating, and carry a healthy sense of skepticism, should personality really be a consideration for the new PBO appointee?

“I’m querying whether you should have it for this particular role, because the qualities of a successful auditor or an oversight person are the opposite sometimes of an executive or a team player—you want that ability to push back and to question,” says Leblanc.

In a data-obsessed age, psychological testing provides an interesting dimension to the classic job hunt. You might have memorized how you’re going to answer those “strengths and weaknesses” questions—but a psychometric test could lay your true personality out on the table before you even get to the interview.