Realty Check for Sales Personality Tests

The Truth about Sales Personality Tests

Posted in: Sales Assessment

The Real Scoop on Sales Personality Tests

What is a Sales Personality?

Some people claim that folks with a sales personality embody traits resulting in superior selling skills

We’re data-driven folks here at Big Swift Kick. Our response to any claim that a sales personality exists is– “where’s the beef?” There is no valid proof that a sales personality exists. This is a problem for sales personality tests.

The stereotype of a sales personality is someone who is an outgoing extrovert. Yet, the research we reviewed shows no evidence to support this theory. A comprehensive study by Murray Barrick at Michigan State University reveals no correlation between extroversion and sales performance.

After working with hundreds of sales teams, we know a wide variety of people succeeds in sales. Top salespeople come packed with many different personalities. Some of the top sales folks are introverts who are very good at listening. Some may be extroverts who are conscientious and have empathy.

No single personality represents all or even the best in the profession.

What is a Sales Personality Test?

Some companies promoting sales personality tests assert that these assessments help sales managers objectively rate the potential of a sales candidate. We say bullcrap to that.

Sales personality tests are not valid. These assessments don’t measure what they claim. Nor are these tests reliable. Folks can take a test one day and then take the same test on a different day and get different results.

 In her book on The Cult of Personality Testing, author Annie Murphy Paul reports that the sheer number of personality tests administered “obscures a simple fact: they don’t work. Most personality tests are seriously flawed, and sometimes unequivocally wrong. They fail the field’s own standards of validity and reliability.” 

Problems with Sales Personality Tests

We see many reasons why personality tests just don’t cut it as a tool for selecting sales candidates. Many of our complaints come from the basic problems with personality tests overall.

In a great article on LinkedIn, Kevin McNulty at McKinsey says, “I’ll just come out and say it. Personality testing in its current form is devoid of promise. It badly needs a reboot.” You can read more of this great post here.

Personality tests as a pre-hire assessment for sales candidates fail to meet the muster for the following reasons.

1. In general, personality tests are dubious.

As mentioned above, we find no evidence a sales personality exists. If you cannot reliably define a personality, you cannot compare it to a job’s requirements or even measure it.

Randy Stein, a psychologist at Cal Poly, says these assessments assume “there is an essence of you and an essence of the job, and you should be matching those two things in hiring.” He calls this a search for a hidden truth about the person. The problem he says further is he doesn’t think “there is a hidden truth—even if there is, a personality test doesn’t do it.”

2. These tests rely on self-reporting, which presents a problem.

For a personality test to capture the taker’s personality accurately, the individual must recognize their personality. Seems logical, doesn’t it? After all, who knows someone better than himself or herself? Surprisingly, even this basic premise is on shaky grounds.

Candidates may not know themselves.  In a review of studies on personality, Simine Vazire, a personality researcher at the University of California states, “people’s perceptions of their own personality are certainly more accurate than random guesses would be, but they are substantially far from perfect.”

3. Candidates may want to report what they think others want to hear

Many sales job applicants are smart folks. After determining what the employer seeks, they’ll simply spout stuff that matches expectations. Ask a sales applicant a test question such as “would you rather be home watching TV or with people”, no smart sales applicant will fess up to being a couch potato.

Indeed, many questions on personality tests are bi-modal (with options to choose this or that). This style makes it easy to give the preferred answer. For example, an MBTI question might be “Do you enjoy having a wide circle of acquaintances?” with the answer options of Yes or No.

Questions using a Likert scale might be more informative. For example on a scale of 1 to 5, how strongly does the word “aggressive” represent you at work? However, for employee selection, these questions are still not reliable.

Furthermore, candidates may lie not to deceive but rather to match their aspirations. They may base answers on how they would like to see themselves rather than how they really are.

4. With the structure of these tests, they are easy to game

When employers post the typical job description, they often use words such as integrity, self-starting, teamwork, persistence. Applicants will review the job’s stated requirements and adjust their answers to a personality to match the requirement.

Even more problematic, search online for how to score well on ______(name the test), and you’ll find scores of websites offering tips. If applicants are motivated to fake these tests, they can easily find resources to help do that.

Well, just because they can, do applicants fake their answers? Unfortunately, yes they do.

We find evidence that faking does happen. A research study led by Richard L Griffith at the Department of Psychology, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Florida, USA investigated this issue. His research team concluded that “a significant number of applicants do fake personality-based selection measures. Depending on the confidence interval used between 30 and 50 percent of applicants elevated their scores when applying for a job. The results also show that applicant faking behavior resulted in significant rank-ordering changes that impacted hiring decisions.”

5. Sales Personality Tests Cannot Predict a Sales Candidate’s Performance

Here’s the biggest problem of all with sales personality tests: these tests cannot predict performance. And, few professions depend on top performance more than the sales profession.

One major publisher of a sales personality test claims that a sales personality test reveals the truth. This company claims the test will help sales managers objectively identify and hire salespeople with the greatest potential for long-term success.

Here again, we believe this claim is baloney. We see no evidence that this is true. Sales behavior and personality tests will not predict potential.

 Employers should not use personality assessments, such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and DISC, in selecting new salespeople.

In an article Journal of Applied Psychology, author Dr. Kevin Murphy states, “The problem with personality tests is that the validity of personality measures as predictors of job performance is often disappointingly low. The argument for using personality tests to predict performance does not strike me as convincing.”

Even the developers of MBTI state that they did not design this tool to use in hiring or to predict employee performance.

 If you are considering any assessment as a pre-hire test for sales candidates, ask the publisher if it is a sales personality or behavior test. If it is a test based on personality or behavior, pass it by.

What’s the Best Use of a Sales Personality Tests?

Companies could use personality or behavioral assessments such as the MBTI and DISC after they hire employees. Even here, these tests may have questionable value. Some of these tests may help with improving communication skills.

The Best Pre-Hire Assessments for Sales Candidates

Does that mean no test works as a pre-hire assessment tool for predicting a sales candidate’s performance? Au contraire, multi-dimensional tests do work as a pre-hire sales test.

Industry research shows the single best success-predictor of a sales candidate is a pre-hire (sales-specific) multi-measurement test. Our experience confirms this. You can learn more about this by getting a free copy of our Summary Guide to Pre-hire Sales Assessments.

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