On what is the decision to hire someone generally based?

Any of several methods are currently used in the process of hiring a job applicant. Below is a discussion of a number of methods currently in use.


This method of establishing job applicant suitability is subjective and intuitive, subject to hiring bias and dependent on the perceptions of the interviewer in the following areas:


Appearance has an influence on the appointment of job applicants, according to Beehr & Gilmore (1982).

Studies done at the University of Tuledo indicated that the opinion formulated within the first 20 seconds of an interview, are generally reflected in the final evaluation of the applicant (Kapor Klein 2007). This study would confirm the subjective and intuitive nature of job selection in companies (often smaller organisation) which use only this method and the curriculum vitae in the appointment of job applicants.

Patrick C Stark, & Richard D Goffin (2003), agree that physical appearance may play a role in the appointment of job applicants.

Kapor Klein (2007) explains that stereotyping (generalising about people according to our own beliefs) influences our assessment of others. We will subconsciously fill in information which is not apparent, about another individual, from our frame of reference. She cites an example of a company having to choose between two applicants for promotion, one white and the other black and gay. The decision was based on an assumption, that one was an affirmative action appointee. Research conducted by the University of Chicago in 2004 (Kapor Klein 2007) cited an example where about 5000 fictitious c.v.’s were sent out to employers. Those with ‘white’ sounding names had 50% more call backs than those with African American sounding names.

According to Kapor Klein, unconscious bias consistently influences decisions we make about job applicants though in the so-called non-discriminatory modern work environment, this is vehemently denied.


Preparing glib standard responses without giving away too much about self, is often easy for the applicant since the questions in an interview are frequently predictable, e.g. ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?’ or ‘how do you handle conflict?’ The question is how many applicants actually believe their own responses, how many people ever each that goal, how many human resource managers ever remember what the applicant said. What is remembered by the Human Resources Manager, is whether the response was favourable or unfavourable in their view.

Curriculum Vitae

According to Bright and Hutton (2000) the curriculum vitae is a ‘self report’ which may or may not reflect the complete truth. ‘Recruiters’ perceptions of applicants’ academic qualifications, work experience, and extracurricular activities interacted to predict recruiters’ perceptions of applicants’ employability’ (Cole, Michael et al 2007).

It is surprising how many companies will accept the curriculum vitae without question, neglecting a proper assessment of references until the relationship between the employer and the employee sours.

Further to the subjective and intuitive methods, recruiters attempt to add a more objective means of assessing personality. These include the following methods.


Conventional Personality Tests

What do personality tests attempt to establish?

Personality tests attempt to assess the ‘Big Five’, which is thought to be a ‘fairly comprehensive and well-accepted taxonomy of normal personality (these five factors are often labeled Neuroticism, Extroversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness’ Morgeson et al (2007:693).

It is often as a result of personality factors that an employee is eventually fired.

Do tests give the interviewer enough insight into the prospective employee for the human resources manager to make an informed decision?

According to Morgeson et al (2007), the use of personality tests brings with it numerous problems, including the low validity of personality tests in predicting job performance. Morgeson is clear that their research pertains only to personality tests for selection purposes and not for personality tests in general. On the other hand research done by Tett & Christiansen (2007), disputes Morgeson et al’s findings, indicating moreover, that there is little evidence that response distortion among job negatively influences the criterion-related validity, of personality measures.

In Morgeson’s et al. (2007) review of faking in personality tests, faking on personality tests by job applicants, continues to be a problem for which there appears to be no solution. Problems include the elimination of potentially good candidates who may be attempting to respond with honesty. Diphoye in Morgeson (2007) defines faking as either an outright lie or as the applicant’s ability to ‘present an idealised concept of self’. The idealised concept of self implies that the applicant believes s/he has the potential to achieve the criterion addressed in the question.

The effectiveness of self report tests therefore depends on whether the applicant is prepared to disclose information.

Murphy et al (2007) believes that faking is less of a problem than the validity of personality tests. According to them, ‘it is that the validity of personality measures as predictors of job performance is often disappointingly low.’ (2007:693). He cited a study done by Barrick which indicated that correlation between personality dimensions and job performance, the variance was as low as 15% and suggests that measures of cognitive ability provide a more accurate indication of variances in job performance. Wagner in Murphy (2007) confirms positive validity coefficients for cognitive tests as a measure of job performance but concedes that additional measures would enhance cognitive tests validity.

Dzieweczynski‌ in Murphy & Dzieweczynski (2005) identified a further problem with personality tests in job applicant selection, as the company making the wrong choice of test because companies do not clearly understand the relationship between personality and the requirements of the job resulting in the validity for what it is meant to measure being low, e.g. ‘measures of conscientiousness to predict service orientation, or measures of extraversion to predict training performance. The resulting correlations are low’ (Hogan 2005:333). However, Hogan (2005) defines the problem as a failure by the researcher rather than research on personality tests and adds that the correct application of personality tests is as effective in predicting job performance as is cognitive tests in predicting job performance.

Cortina et al. (1992:121), cite Schmit and Ryan’s argument that past failures to find significant relationships between measures of personality and job performance is that ‘personality researchers have lacked any well accepted taxonomy for the classification of personality measures’.

As Guion (1965) in Morgeson (2007) stated, more research is needed to establish why personality tests are at times effective and at other times are not. This concern is echoed by Marcus et al (2007) who adds that further research is required to establish which personality constructs contribute to criterion-related validity.

Campion (2007:694) suggests that although personality tests have a low validity, they could add validity to a battery of cognitive tests.

Research done by Hurtz and Donovan (2000) showed that personality tests did not predict ‘trainability’ of an applicant whereas cognitive tests did. The effectiveness of cognitive vs personality tests, according to Hurtz and Donovan (2000) is important bearing in mind that companies are increasingly required to train knowledge workers.

In their research on the correlation between the big five personality factors and job performance, Hollenbeck in Morgeson et al (2007:710) concluded that the ‘correlation between these factors and job performance was affected by other variables, e.g. agreeableness to performance was influenced by the reward system in place’ and add that self report tests do not effectively measure team dynamics.

The suggestion therefore is that personality tests should be designed specifically to be job related. Murphy et al (2007) also suggests that other ways of assessing personality should be explored, e.g. if you want to know about someone’s personality, just ask his or her coworkers.’ (2007:719). According to Suls et al (2004) there is a very low correlation between how one rates oneself and actual performance. In fact how other people rate one is often more accurate.

There therefore appears to be a lack of consensus as to the validity and reliability of personality tests in the selection of job applicants.

There appears however, to be consensus among researchers that, alternatives to self-report personality measures should be found. Campion (2007:719) agrees with Murphy’s et al (2007) suggestion that there is a need to ‘think about new and innovative ways of measuring the constructs.’ Morgeson et al (2007) concerned by the low validity of personality tests for predicting job performance agrees that personality constructs do have value for employee selection, but that alternatives to self-report personality measures need to be found.


Integrity tests

Schmitt (2007), questions the research by Ones, Viswesvaran, & Schmidt, 1993, on the validity of integrity tests, pointing out that integrity items would require applicants to disclose dishonest behaviour, which is not likely to happen thus defeating the purpose for which companies use integrity tests, and therefore resulting in low validity of integrity tests in personnel selection.

A lack of consensus regarding the validity and reliability of personality tests in the selection of job applicants continues to be a problem. For Murphy et al (2007) a further lack of consensus is whether faking responses on tests is perceived by companies to be dishonesty or simply that the applicant knows how to respond in a socially acceptable manner.


Handwriting Analysis as an alternative to conventional personality assessments.

Handwriting analysis, like conventional personality tests, seeks to the measure personality constructs of the writer.

A fledgling science, handwriting analysis is being used as an alternative method in the selection and appointment of staff in many European and American companies. The credibility of this method of personality measurement, remains under scrutiny. Scepticism surrounding graphology is often owing to its misuse by untrained individuals. McNeal (1967) states that handwriting analysis has become a legitimate field of research, offering an alternative to conventional hiring techniques’. Current research continues to contribute to the body of research on the subject which still requires significant study to counteract the scepticism with which handwriting analysis is still plagued.

How does graphology differ from conventional methods of personality measurement?

Handwriting analysis can be done whether the graphologist understands the language of the writer or not. Handwriting Analysis cannot determine: age, race, religion or gender and is not influenced by appearance, positive self reporting and attempts to portray a positive image, which therefore reduces the subjectivity factor of the technique.

According to Crumbaugh JC & Stockholm E (1977:403), handwriting analysis is a ‘projective expressive movement that is neither better nor more poorly validated than most projective techniques as a means of personality assessment, which is inadequate because their subjectivity makes statistical study difficult.’

A significant cause for concern in the use of personality tests, is the ability to fake in the test. Prior coaching for the test, or the predictability factor in the test or interview makes it easy for the prospective employee to respond ‘appropriately’.

Faking is almost impossible with handwriting analysis as the applicant is unable to control the brain impulses which is projected on paper nor is aware of how to manipulate the writing. Any attempt to change the writer’s normal handwriting would be easily identified by a technically trained and experienced graphologist who examines more than 300 handwriting analysis features within a sample of writing before developing a composite profile of the writer.

In a study done by van Rooj & Hazelzet (1997) ten graphologists independently analysed samples of handwriting for extroversion/introversion Of the 60 classifications 58 were correct, which indicates the graphologists could correctly identify extroversion from handwriting.

The validity and reliability of handwriting analysis as a method of personnel selection continues to be debated with studies such as that conducted by Simner & Goffin (2003) discounting its validity as a predictor of job performance and studies by Crombaugh & Stockholm (1977), which confirm its usefulness as an alternative method to the current more conventional methods.

Because the application of handwriting analysis is not subject to the same stringent regulations required of other personality tests, it is frequently practiced by qualified and unqualified practitioners alike therefore severely impacting its credibility. Handwriting analysis if properly administered is a highly technical method attempting as other psychological methods, to measure personality without claiming to be infallible.

From the above discussion it appears there is no one guaranteed method to ensure optimal personnel selection. Orthodox psychology researchers admit that they do not have the ultimate answer for determining personality traits.

Each method carries with it significant weaknesses with hiring bias a potential danger. Methods of personnel selection in a culturally diverse South Africa with its strict nondiscriminatory regulations, brings with it its own complexities. For the human resources manager therefore, the problem of objectivity continues to be a problem in personnel selection.

Making use of a combination of methods could bring the employer closer to selecting the best applicant for a position or promotion.

List of Sources

Bright, J.E.H. and Hutton, S. (2000). ‘The impact of competences statements on resumes for short-listing decisions’, International Journal of Selection and Assessment, vol.8, pp.41-53

Cole, S., Rubin, R. S., Feild, H. S., Giles, W. F.. Apr 2007, ‘Recruiters’ Perceptions and Use of Applicant Résumé Information: Screening the Recent Graduate’ Applied Psychology Volume 56 Issue 2 Page 319-343.

Cortina et al. (1992). ‘The Big Five in Personnel Selection: Factor Structure in Applicant and Nonapplicant Populations’ Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 78, No. 6,966-974

Crumbaugh JC & Stockholm E. 1977. ‘Validation of graphoanalysis by “global” or “holistic” method.’ Perceptual and Motor Skills Apr, Vol 44(2):403-10

David Dunning, Chip Heath, Jerry M. Suls (2004)
‘Flawed Self-Assessment. Implications for Health, Education, and the Workplace’  Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Volume 5 (3), 69–106.

Murphy, K.R. & Dzieweczynski, J.L., 2005, ‘Why Don’t Measures of Broad Dimensions of Personality Perform Better As Predictors of Job Performance?’ Human Performance Vol. 18, No. 4, Pages 343-357

Hogan, 2005, ‘Defense of Personality Measurement: New Wine for Old Whiners’ Human performance, Vol 18(4), 331–341

Hurtz, G.M., Donovan, J.J. (2000), ‘Personality and job performance: the big five revisited’, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 85 pp.869-79.

Ones, D.S., Dilchert, S., Viswesvaran, C., Judge, T.A (2007)
‘In Support of Personality Assessment in organisational Settings’,
Personnel Psychology Vol 60 (4), 995–1027.

Kapor Klein F., 2007, ‘Giving Notice: Why the Best and Brightest are Leaving the Workplace and HOW YOU CAN HELP THEM STAY’, San Francisco: Jossey Bass

Marcus, B., Lee, K., Ashton, M.C., (2007), ‘Personality Dimensions Explaining Relationships between Integrity Tests and Counterproductive Behaviour: Big five, Or one in Addition, Personnel Psychology Vol 60 (1), 1–34.

McNeal, J.U., 1967, ‘Graphology: A New Marketing Research Technique’, Journal of Marketing Research Vol. 4, No. 4 (Nov., 1967), pp. 363-367.

Morgeson, F.P., Campion, M.A., Dipboye, R.L., Hollenbech, J.R., Murphy, K., Schmitt, N (2007), ‘Reconsidering the Use of Personality Tests in Personnel Selection Contexts, Personnel Psychology, Volume 60, Number 3, Autumn 2007 , pp. 683-729(47)

Simner, M. L. & Goffin, R. D.A 2003, ‘Position Statement by the International Graphonomics Society on the Use of Graphology in Personnel Selection Testing’, International Journal of Testing, v3 n4 p353-364

Stark, P.C., & Goffin, R., 2003, ‘The influence of physical appearance on personnel selection’ Social Behaviour and Personality, Issue: 6, September 2003 Page(s): 613-623

Terry A. Beehr, David C. Gilmore 1982, ‘Applicant Attractiveness as a Perceived Job-Relevant Variable in Selection of Management Trainees’
Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Sep., 1982), pp. 607-617

Tett, R.P., & Christiansen, N.D., 2007, ‘Personality Tests at the Crossroads: A Response to Morgeson, Campion, Dipboye, Hollenbeck, Murphy & Schmitte’
Personnel Psychology Vol 60 (4), 967–993. 

van Rooij JJ, Hazelzet AM., 1997, ‘Graphologists’ assessment of extraversion compared with assessment by means of a psychological test’. Dec;85(3 Pt 1):919-28 The Netherlands: University of Leiden.