Applying for a job? Getting it may come down to your personality score, not your resume

Every year Scotiabank recruiters visit Canada’s colleges and universities to find candidates for more than 1,000 intern positions – and since 2021 they haven’t reviewed a single resume in the process.

Two and half years ago, the Canadian bank started using a talent assessment test from the Kitchener-Waterloo-based Plum in its internal hiring process, doing away with traditional resumes. The switch meant a noticeable increase in the quality of its hires, with a 6-per-cent rise in students who “exceeded expectations” on their evaluations (71 per cent) and a 12-per-cent spike in those who were identified as extremely strong candidates for future positions (80 per cent).

“We challenged our thinking around going from traditional resumes to moving toward psychometric assessments,” says Sloane Muldoon, senior vice-president of global HR services at Scotiabank. “What we found is that accuracy [of the test] was a very good predictor of success for the student.”

The demand from employers to know more about how their employees think, feel and work has led to a significant uptick in the use of personality tests as a key tool in the hiring process.

Caitlin MacGregor, the chief executive officer of Plum, says the test uses psychometric data to go beyond the average personality test and says demand for this kind of insight has allowed her company to double its annual recurrent revenue year-over-year since its inception a decades ago.

“I think we’re at this place where we know that the traditional way doesn’t work. We just don’t know what the alternative is,” said Ms. MacGregor, referring to HR reliance on key words in job postings and traditional resumes. These methods discount an applicant’s soft skills, which have been proven to be an excellent predictor of job performance.

Plum’s assessment (called the Discovery Survey) takes about 20-minutes and people are asked a series of questions – from ‘what would you do if’ scenarios to identify the next series in a pattern – designed to illustrate a person’s problem-solving abilities, social intelligence, behavior and attitude.

“Typically, assessments were always used at the very end [of the hiring process]. You narrow it down to three candidates and then [the results will] help you pick your final candidate,” which, according to Ms. MacGregor, is the absolute opposite and the worst place to use an assessment.

Instead, she says, they should be used as a tool to narrow down candidates from the start, streamlining the process using data and, in some cases, giving opportunity to a candidate who may have been overlooked and getting rid of the decades-old practice of searching for keywords in cover letters and resumes.

“Every company has come to the realization that a structured interview is a great way of understanding if that person should move on in the process,” he says. “Plum is providing around the same level of accuracy [in selecting a candidate] as a structured interview.”

And it seems to be working as more and more companies are using Plum, which has 25,000-30,000 customers per month, (around 300,000-360,000 annually), with a clientele that includes global players like Hyundai, General Electric and Scotiabank.

For ages, whenever someone mentioned a personality test many people’s minds went to Myers-Briggs Indicator Type, which is a 92-question test developed in the 1940s by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers. Neither of them had any psychological training.

Ms. MacGregor says it’s a daily battle to shake off the legacy of tests like Myers-Briggs, which she calls a harmful comparison to the tests developed by her company that she considers a valuable tool for hiring practices. Sherrie Haynie, director of US professional services for The Myers-Briggs Company, herself wrote in a 2021 Forbes article that the test shouldn’t be used in hiring, but for areas such as team building.

But what brings companies back, says Ms. MacGregor, is that Plum’s talent assessment finds “that diamond in the rough” and can identify talent in candidates that might otherwise get overlooked.

While these types of tests may be the way of the future, it’s not displacing the traditional practice of the resume and interview just yet, says Aleka MacLellan, a principal at Kilberry, a management psychology firm based in Toronto and New York. The firm uses personality insights from the Hogan Suite of assessments to accompany their interview process.

When advising a firm on a new manager, “we would never focus solely on personality data in a hiring decision,” she says. “It’s just giving us one piece of that puzzle.”

“A personality test really describes what comes naturally to someone …[and] it can be helpful for employers hiring and others to know what’s going to be easy for these candidates,” she says. “What these tests don’t often pick up on is that sometimes success depends on stretching beyond what your results might suggest.”

Ms. MacLellan cautions that there are no guarantees a person will behave exactly the way you’d expect based on the test. Take a quieter personality applying to be a salesperson, this doesn’t automatically mean they can’t network as well as those with more gregarious personalities.

Individuals may have to put more effort into exhibiting certain behaviors that don’t come naturally to them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do it, she says.

Laura Tolhoek, the founder of human resources consulting firm Essential HR, says clients have been increasingly asking about personality tests for hiring, particularly the well-known Myers-Briggs and DISC tests.

“I believe there are some incredible tests out there that give some great information, but you have to consider what are you trying to get out of it?” says Ms. Tolhoek. “Are you trying to figure out the strengths of their technical skills? Are you trying to see what they would like in the team? Are you trying to see what they would like as a leader?”

When it comes to legal issues, there’s nothing illegal about using personality tests or insisting people take them, says Stuart Rudner, an employment lawyer in Markham, Ont.

“I’ll add a caveat to that, which is that if the results of the test may be impacted by grounds that are protected by human rights legislation like gender or an ethnic background, origin or religion in any way, then all of a sudden it’s a completely different story,” he says.

As for Scotiabank, it just entered its third hiring cycle for interns, and while Ms. Muldoon says they have no intentions right now of expanding the use of Plum beyond this campus program, never say never.

“We’re always going to challenge our innovation and the way we recruit so that we can differentiate ourselves.”

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