Pros and Cons to Personality Assessments

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

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By Bill Moran, The Moran Company

I’ve never been satisfied with the current nonprofit practice of hiring based upon a resume and interviews alone. Some candidates have a great resume. They look great on paper but they are not so good in reality. Other candidates interview very well. They know how to “talk a good game” but are not productive. They can successfully get through the interview process. Often, candidates get hired who are mishaps, in spite of a fine resume and strong interviews.

So, I am always on the lookout for other tools to predict job success including various types of personality/behavior assessments. They would appear to be a valuable addition to verify interview impressions. I am not an assessment expert, but here is my experience in using them as part of the hiring process.


1) An Insightful Look. Personality assessments are not exact, but they can provide a fairly accurate profile of general personality/behavior traits for an individual. It is important that the assessments are interpreted by a skilled facilitator. A good facilitator can help the search committee understand each assessment’s limitations and how best to interpret the results.

2) Objective Comparison. Unlike interviews, which are subjective and subject to interviewer bias, an assessment is an objective tool with which to compare all candidates. They are metric and show clean, clear results.

3) A Tool for Follow-Up Questions. Depending on what stage the assessments are incorporated into the search process, it can be helpful to review results from assessments just prior to final interviews. Then you can craft specific questions for the candidate to better understand how they have adapted their work style to compensate for perceived weaknesses. The results of one test should not overpower proven results, strong references, and years of successful experience.


1) Incorrect Initial Profile. There is a saying about data that, if you put junk in, you will get junk out. The nonprofit search committee may hold faulty ideas of the attributes needed for the position. So, they may put together a flawed description of the position. Then assessment will show that a candidate is not a good fit, even if that person would excel in the role.
For instance, the search committee may think that successful fundraising staff must be extroverted and sales-oriented. They may look for traits of a sales person. In reality, there is a substantial difference between selling a product (or service) and connecting with donors on how they can make a difference to change or save lives. Some of the traits are similar (ex., getting out of the office to make calls). But others are not. Fundraising staff must be able to listen, build trust and connect with benefactors in order to understand how they want to make an impact. The staff need to have a strong belief in philanthropy to encourage a donor to consider a gift. It takes patience to discover a donor’s passion that relates to the nonprofit’s mission. They need to put the donor’s interest above that of “closing a deal.” So, if the initial profile the committee puts together is inaccurate, the assessment will point them to the wrong people and eliminate great candidates.

2) Compensate for weakness. Many individuals have learned to offset weak behavior traits by “stretching themselves.” For instance, introverts can be successful fundraising staff by extending their people skills and mastering techniques to truly connect with donor needs. (For example, in Planned Gift fundraising, individuals must connect with older people one-on-one over a period of years). Most assessments do not reflect this “stretching” or compensating that people have done. The candidates show up as “not a fit” and are purged even though they have had success performing similar positions.

3) No Perfect Candidates. All of us have strengths and weaknesses. I have found that the search committees tend to focus on potential weaknesses revealed by the assessment. I have even seen a search committee eliminate all presented candidates because there were “potential” weaknesses with each candidate.

We are in favor of tools that provide good data on nonprofit candidates. Assessments can provide useful information. However, it takes an advanced committee combined with a skilled facilitator to use them successfully. They should be used with caution to avoid eliminating great candidates.

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