In 2022, we rely on algorithms for a lot of things. Think about it: an algorithm can usually tell a bank if they should give you a mortgage, universities use grade prediction software to decide whether or not to enrol applicants, and even your daily bus to work is controlled by mathematical instructions.
But should we welcome algorithms into every aspect of our lives?
In March last year, a groundbreaking documentary was released by HBO Max called ‘Persona: The Dark Truth Behind Personality Tests.’
The documentary claims to have “uncovered the frightening reality of discrimination in corporate America” due to the widespread use of personality tests. In the gripping trailer, an interviewee states, “There are algorithms that are hurting people.”
But just how true is that claim? Companies around the globe are turning to personality tests such as DiSC, Myers-Briggs, and other modern assessments as a way to save time and money.
Enthusiastic HR managers claim they’re a great way to explore culture fit, communication style, and career trajectory, but should we really be using them to judge applicants? What are the downsides?
It creates a bad experience
According to a Society for Human Resource Management survey, 22% of HR professionals use personality tests. These tests can assess traits like, “persuasiveness, detail orientation, conscientiousness, rule-following, optimism, goal orientation, data rationale, and proneness to boredom.”
While HR managers might love them, regular employees and applicants can often find them too rigid, intrusive, and sometimes downright nerve-wracking. Being tested, even if it’s just your personality, can have a lot of negative connotations.
Candidates won’t always be honest
Let’s face it, candidates will sometimes pad their CVs, exaggerate their experience, or simply overstate their achievements. It’s human nature. We’ve all done it before.
If you place a personality test in front of someone who really wants a job, they might be tempted to answer the questions based on what they think you want to hear, rather than the truth. This skews the results and leaves you with a potentially ill-fitted candidate.
It could promote discrimination
Obviously, it’s illegal to discriminate against a job applicant based on their gender, sex, religion, or any other distinguishing factor. But what about the discrimination caused by personality testing? The first personality tests were developed during WW1 to assess whether men were mentally fit enough to cope with the rigours of war.
Today, personality tests will often ask for a lot of in-depth information which could potentially be used to identify mental health problems or emotional instability. If this is flagged at an early stage, employers may not want to proceed with a candidate’s application.
They’re too simplistic
Personality testing has also been criticized for ‘forcing’ people into set personality types. For example, when looking at Myers Briggs, people can only be extroverted or introverted. You’re either someone who thrives in structured work environments or you’re someone who loves having the freedom and autonomy to be creative.
The problem is that we all exist on a spectrum. None of us act and respond to things in the same way all the time. While you might enjoy devoting yourself to your passion projects late at night, that doesn’t mean that you necessarily prefer working in the evening. In the same way, your friends and family might think you’re extroverted because you love spending time with them and you’re always the life and soul of the party. However, with your colleagues, you might be more introverted and quiet.
It might screen out qualified candidates
For many jobs, there isn’t a particular personality type that’s needed to succeed. Think about your own team: while you all work towards the same goals and targets, you may have vastly different personalities and talents.
Using personality tests could mean excluding talented candidates who think outside the box. These are the same candidates who could help your team be more diverse, fill in your current talent gaps, and add a much-needed new perspective.
Algorithms can’t replace human judgement
In her 2016 book, ‘Weapons of Math Destruction’ data scientist Cathy O’Neill makes an interesting argument that humans’ trust in algorithms is misplaced or at the very least premature.
Time and time again we’ve heard stories about algorithms going wrong. For example, Amazon uses an algorithm to track staff productivity. The system automatically generates warnings and even terminations that are related to quality and productivity. The problem with this is that algorithms don’t see people, they only see numbers.
And, at the end of the day, hiring should ultimately be a human-led experience.
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