To hire the best employees, ask an outsider

U. TORONTO (CAN) — When it comes to personality tests for potential or current employees, businesses may get more accurate results if those being assessed ask someone else to rate them.

That’s the finding of a recent study that is the the first to delve into whether co-workers are the best judges of personality because they are more familiar with a job’s requirements and know the individual in a work context, or whether any outside observer can be a good judge.

Previous job performance studies have shown that outsiders are best at rating an individual’s personality in terms of how they work on the job. But observers in these studies have always been co-workers.


Taking results from a German-based study of 111 employees who self-rated and then were rated by 106 personal acquaintances (including family members) and 102 co-workers, the paper found both types of outside observers gave equally fair evaluations of other people.

“It’s not so much that observers are thinking only about the one particular context that the evaluation is for, but it’s more that they have a less clouded view of a person,” says Brian Connelly, who is a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and the University of Toronto Scarborough.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality, also found that people who overestimated their agreeableness and conscientiousness (the most predictive for performance) performed worse on the job than those who did not overestimate these traits.

This is something Connelly compares to the “Michael Scott” phenomenon, referring to the lead character on the US television show The Office, who has little self-awareness or insight into why those working for him do not enjoy their jobs more.

Despite these findings, self-rated vs. observer-rated personality assessments are the norm at organizations that use personality tests as an evaluation tool.

“One possible thing would be for those applying for jobs to nominate someone else to rate their personality rather than doing it themselves, and then you might have a better workforce,” says Connelly.

Observer-rated personality measures may also be more useful for current employees getting developmental feedback on the job.

“If we’re basing all the responses on self-reports, which is the norm, rather than having somebody else giving them the feedback, then we may be handing people’s biased perceptions right back to them,” suggests Connelly.

Ute Hülsheger, a professor at Maastricht University, collaborated on the study.

Source: University of Toronto