The New Trend in Hiring . . . Looking for The “X” Quotient

A new phenomenon is occurring in the work force that can be found in all levels of hiring regardless of one’s pay grade. Companies are spending massive amounts of money to audition potential hires by having them take personality tests as part of the job interview process. By doing this, employers hope to fight employee turnover, increase productivity and raise customer satisfaction by making sure they find the right candidate for the position. Time Magazine dubbed this phenomenon the search for the “X” Quotient because there is no other way to identify it.

In 1912, the prominent psychologist William Stern, developed what we know today as “IQ” or intelligence quotient. It derives from a standardized test designed to assess human intelligence. Another widely considered human measurement is called “EQ” or emotional quotient. This measures one’s emotional intelligence through their ability to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior to navigate their environment. Many heads of companies are said to have a high “EQ” as is evident by their superior management skills.

Since employers cannot run new hires through an IQ test and they cannot determine one’s EQ without spending quantitative time with that individual, the new “X” quotient testing appears to satisfy employers that they are getting the necessary data to properly evaluate potential hires. It is believed that the data obtained from these personality tests can predict which position the new hire is best suited for as well as that individual’s potential longevity with the company.

Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” What he meant by this statement, was that employers must find the right roles for their employees. If a person is placed in the wrong position within a company, it is a disaster. If they are placed correctly, it is magical. The trick is to figure out where that right place is.

These “X” quotient tests are big business. The gurus of big data have convinced the captains of industry that a perfect work force can only be achieved by analyzing the psyche and running the results through computers. As a result, a $2 billion testing industry has emerged and its growth continues to explode.

One of the leaders in personality assessment is a company called Hogan which was founded in 1987 by Drs. Joyce and Robert Hogan. Hogan was one of first companies to demonstrate someone’s personality impact on organizational success. Another very popular personality assessment test used is the Cattell’s 16 personality factor test. This test claims to accurately predict behavior that will provide businesses with an enlightened confidence to steer staff selection and individual development. There are several other such companies.

As popular as these personality tests have become, there is also a large group that oppose this employment practice. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, an analysis was done on the various hiring methods and measures used to attempt to predict job performance. The seminal work in this area has been done by Frank Schmidt, a prominent American psychology professor. Professor Schmidt’s research concluded that even though the use of personality tests are on the rise, if your hiring process relies primarily on interviews, reference checks and personality tests, you are choosing to use a process that is significantly less effective than it could be if more effective measures were incorporated. He cites two reasons for his theory. The first is that since the tests are highly transparent, the test taker can easily manipulate the results so as to be viewed more favorably by the administrator. The second reason is that the personality tests are designed to measure one’s “state” as opposed to a more stable “trait”. Therefore there is a significant chance that the results will change over time as the individual’s context changes.

One thing is for certain, these personality tests are not going anywhere. If anything, they are gaining in popularity particularly as there are frequently many more applicants than positions to fill. We live in a period where employers have the luxury of being very choosy in the hiring process. So, be prepared to have your brain poked and prodded at your next interview! Good luck!