Hiring today, for tomorrow: the risks of hiring people who ‘fit’

Businesses run the risk of hiring clones when they seek people who ‘fit’. Pasukaru76/Flickr , CC BY

The costs associated with recruiting the wrong person are always high, not only in financial terms but emotionally as well. So the prospect of administering a personality test that accurately indicates how well an individual would suit a job is a very attractive proposition for any organisation.

Imagine: administer a test and hire the right people. Yet very few organisations actually use these tests, despite some evidence that they do produce better recruitment outcomes than interviews, with the caveat that interviews also have poor predictability as a selection tool.

While relatively few organisations use personality testing, those that do are often avid fans. These are likely to be organisations with a very strong corporate culture, as well as very clearly defined - and presumably accurately identified - employee traits.

Employers seek employees who will ‘fit’

It is important that any person recruited into an organisation can function effectively within its culture. They must be able to work effectively with other staff and contribute enthusiastically to the achievement of its goals. The best method for achieving this appears to be employee referrals as there is evidence this method produces more successful recruitment outcomes than any other stand alone method.

Employers want staff who demonstrate the characteristics which will enable them to work effectively to achieve the organisation’s goals. They seek employees who will “fit” the organisation and the job. They may or may not utilise employee referrals to attract the “right” candidates and assess them via personality or other forms of testing.

However, anyone aware of organisations with significant cultural and other employee problems knows too well what can go wrong. An obvious problem lies with any process aimed at measuring the “fit” of a potential employee in terms of its existing staff. Is change needed?

The population is changing as is the client or customer base of an organisation. A more culturally diverse and ageing population, for instance, has implications for an organisation’s recruitment of staff both in terms of the characteristics of individuals available to work and the personal attributes which will make their staff effective in their jobs. Older investors may not trust the advice of a young and seemingly less mature adviser.

The effectiveness of the selection process will ultimately be determined by how accurately the desired characteristics, behaviours and competencies of the job have been identified.

Managers keep getting it wrong

Organisations require employees who “fit,” but how that is defined is often problematic. At the extreme end, consider the organisation seeking an individual who is a motivated self-starter who is given a job with no opportunity for individual discretion or decision-making. Or imagine the person recruited because of their great team skills who finds themselves working alone on a project.

Organisations so often seek to avoid conflicts and desire “can do” individuals. But what if the organisation desperately needs people who will upset the status quo and challenge an inefficient but harmonious equilibrium?

The real test - identifying future needs

The big challenge in using tests to assess an individual’s appropriateness for a position is in accurately identifying the needs of the organisation not just today but into the future. Things change. Organisations change, their environments change and their staff change.

A clearly defined job position with perfectly identified and measured personal traits might not suit future needs.

Cloning today’s employees to fill the needs of tomorrow is not an adaptive strategy. Nor is it realistic to imagine that an employee recruited now will demonstrate the same behaviours, needs and aspirations into the future. Many organisations find themselves stuck with employees who were once terrific but no longer meet the needs of the job.

Organisations need to be adaptive and they must endeavour to nurture adaptiveness in their staff. Great organisations achieve this by recognising that recruitment is not a one-way process. The organisation must meet the employee’s needs as much as the reverse.

As organisational and individual needs change over time, what is most needed are strategies for facilitating adaptation. A capacity for innovation and creativity lies at the heart of organisational and individual success. Organisational policies which facilitate employee flexibility and personal development are important.

If personality tests are to be useful in successful recruitment they should focus on “soft” skills, including good interpersonal skills, communication and emotional intelligence. Some independence and dissidence might also be a valuable contribution to an organisation’s future.

The problem with recruiting a “can do” workforce is that it cannot necessarily do it and you might learn this too late.

Read more of our personality at work series:

How to cheat on personality tests, and other pseudosciences

Why using Myers-Briggs at work Might Be a Terrible Idea (MBTI)

Before you judge personality tests, consider what they don’t judge

There’s more to personality than a test score