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3 reasons psychometric tests and personality questionnaires fail at predicting sales performance

Employers have been using psychometric tests and personality questionnaires to try to improve recruitment of sales people for some 20 years. So it's shocking that so many fail to predict future, in-job sales performance of new recruits. A lot of the time they can even damage sales performance.

Anyone who's ever complained when their use hasn't delivered any sort of measurable improvement is often blamed for their own failure. If you've ever been told that you selected the wrong personality attributes or that you didn't use the results for their intended purpose can probably empathise.

To understand why they so regularly fail, and to work out how to improve them to actually improve their results, it's worth looking out how many of them are created. Because that goes to the nub of the problem.

1. Confirmation bias in competency profiling

Ask a selection of experienced hiring managers (do this) what they consider to be the most important characteristics of effective sales professionals. You're likely to hear persuasiveness, competitiveness, aggressiveness, and ego-drive amongst other things. Put these characteristics to experienced buyers

and they'll typically baulk at the idea of buying anything from such a person!

Surely the business psychologist who create these tests know better. Alas, all too many widely available psychometric tests and personality questionnaires still include these out-dated competencies. Just as bad is when business psychologists pander to their clients' requests for tools to assess these traits.

Improvement suggestion:

Instead of buying tests willy-nilly off a shelf, ask the provider about the size and recency of the data they use to weight the characteristics they test, and ask what methodology they used to decide on which characteristics to test in the first place.

2. Poor instruction on how to use tests

Pretty much all the main test providers have had to sell their tests directly to hiring managers rather than to trained assessment professionals just to keep up with their competitors and with their clients' need to save money.

This means that it's hiring managers themselves - sales managers and business leaders - who have to figure out how to use tests. And test providers still fall short of providing easy-to-follow instructions. Sales managers and business leaders can find learning all about psychometric testing far too time-consuming and boring. So they skim through any instructions, or read a summary, and jump straight in.

Improvement suggestion:
If you're going to the bother of choosing a psychometric test or personality questionnaire, spend a couple of hundred pounds extra for some one-on-one instruction from one of the providers' business psychologists. That way you can figure out if the competencies you're testing are relevant for your buyers, and learn how to assess those competencies at the same time.

3. Buyer absence

The last thing modern buyers want is to be persuaded to buy something by someone who's competing for a target that's counter to what they want and won't give up until they get it.

Sure, if you're the kind of business leader who doesn't care about their customers' preferences, then knock yourself out and carry on bullying people into buying from you. I won't work forever, though. Either regulation or more helpful competitors will stop you.

A simple way to see if how you're testing and assessing potential new sales recruits is to ask your most trusted customers to take a look at the psychometric tests and personality questionnaires you're thinking of using. If they recoil, don't do it. If you're not confident enough to show them, don't do it.

Improvement suggestion:
Consider your psychometric testing and personality questionnaires in the position of your buyers. Better still, ask some of them to review the sales competencies you're looking for. They'll probably suggest things like helpfulness, diligence, and honesty. Now see if you can find a test or questionnaire that assesses those!

Where do we go from here?

If you don't have the time or inclination to follow the 3 improvement suggestions above, we recommend ignoring psychometric tests and personality questionnaires altogether and just rely on competency-based interviews, realistic job previews, relevant in-tray exercises, and background checks.

Of course, we're always happy to help with those recruitment tools and to show you how to get the most out of psychometric tests and personality questionnaires that do reliably predict future, in-job sales performance. Get in touch for a no-obligation and helpful conversation.