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Do Personality Tests Give Companies Too Much Power?

One 2016 human resources study found that 48% of American businesses — and 57% of U.K. businesses — used personality questionnaires for hiring decisions, a new article reports. They add that the personality test industry may now be bringing in up to $4 billion a year.

But “By relying on these tests, employers can ask questions that would be inappropriate — or at best bizarre — in a traditional interview.” For example, in 2017 the crafts store Michael’s was asking job-seekers whether they strongly agreed with these statements:

– “I am always happy.”
– “When I look at the world around me, I have little hope for mankind.”
– “Over the course of the day, I can experience many mood changes.”
– “When I am in a bad mood, it affects my work.”

An anonymous reader quotes an investigative report from The Walrus:
Bad hires can be costly for companies, and the tests are now used to screen everyone from minimum-wage employees to consultants and top-level executives. But there is the risk that people saddled with the wrong scores will be screened out en masse without a chance to prove themselves. As part of an attempt to build a perfect capitalist meritocracy, algorithms are effectively monitoring the workforce to decide which traits are deemed desirable — and who gets left behind…

[S]ome critics say personality tests give companies too much power. Elizabeth D. De Armond, a professor of legal research and writing at Chicago-Kent College of Law, likens personality tests to an “MRI scan of the soul” and suggests banning them, except in cases where a business can convincingly argue that hiring for a certain personality is essential (police officers must be able to handle highly stressful situations, for example). The tests seek “to observe not just what an employee does, but how that employee thinks — processes that pertain not just to the employee’s presence on the job, but the employee’s being at all times,” De Armond wrote in 2012.

Merve Emre, who recently published a history of the Myers-Briggs Indicator, argues that “All of these tests are registering the interests of power, and capitalist power specifically. Just because that power is being routed through and sanitized by a scientific proof doesn’t mean it’s not power.”

The article also includes comments from an executive at the company that created the personality test for Michael’s who argues that the tests eliminate human biases from hiring based solely on an in-person interview.

Their test even check for people who answered too quickly or answered “strongly agree” too often, according to the article — and if they did, flag their responses with an “authenticity alert.”


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