"It's an expensive ordeal to hire someone who doesn't wor out," observes Joe Babinski of the Baltimore-based Becker Group.
That's why the Becker Group, which does seasonal shopping center decoration at malls throughout the country, is turning increasingly to a personality test, the Activity Vector Analysis, in its hiring.
"We're very pleased with the AVA," says Mr. Babinski, Becker's vice president and chief operating officer. The AVA goes beyond the skills and experience needed for ajob, to determine whether an applicant has the right personality fit for the position -- eliminating costly hiring errors, he explains.
Known to the public as "personality tests" and to personnel experts as "behavior assessment instruments," the AVA and a few other key tools, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a registered trademark of Consulting Psychologists Press, is becoming more and more popular in the nation's corporate offices.
Many companies use tests such as the AVA and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for human resource needs that go beyond hiring: toidentify potential managers, to counsel employees on their career paths, and to resolve conflicts among employees.
But the biggest use of the tests is in selecting and hiring employees. "There's absolutely nothing to be gained by putting someone in a job where their personality is such that they aren't going to like it," Mr. Babinski says.
Apart from intelligence and skills, different jobs can require contrasting personality styles.
"You wouldn't, for example, want to hire anyone for a sales position who has the temperament of an accountant," Mr. Babinskisays. "A sales person is more outgoing. He has the desire to achieve and close deals. Accountants are more analytical and fact-oriented."
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was authored 40 years ago by the mother-daughter team of Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, who based their personality inventory on the theories of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung.
Jung believed that much apparently random behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, due to basic differences in the way people use "perception" and "judgment," explains Consulting Psychologists Press, the Palo Alto, Calif., company that holds the copyright to Myers-Briggs.
According to Myers-Briggs analysis, "perception" covers a person's awareness of things, people, happenings or ideas. "Judgment" covers that person's conclusions about what has been perceived. Meanwhile, there are two contrasting means of HTC perception: sensing and intuition. And two contrasting means of judgment: thinking and feeling.
Because people differ in what and how they perceive, and in how they reach conclusions, they'll differ in their reactions, values, motivations, skills and interests, according to Consulting Psychologists Press.
In the world according to Myers-Briggs, a strong "S" person tends to focus on the present and on concrete information gained from his senses. In contrast, a strong "N" person focuses on the future, with a view toward patterns and possibilities.
A strong "T" tends to base decisions on logic and objective analysis of cause and effect. In contrast, a strong "F" tends to base decisions primarily on values and on subjective evaluation.
The Myers-Briggs has even developed its own definition (and spelling) of "extravert," a person who prefers to focus on the outer world of people and things and is an "E" type. In contrast, an "I," or "introvert" is one who prefers to focus on the inner world of ideas and impressions.
Finally, the Myers-Briggs categorizes a "J" as one who likes a planned and organized approach to life and prefers to have things settled. In contrast, a "P" favors a flexible, spontaneous approach and likes to keep options opened.
As with other personality inventories, there are no right or wrong answers to questions posed on the Myers-Briggs. Instead, test-takers are quizzed about their preferences. Once the test is scored, the test-taker is placed in one of 16 four-letter categories. "ENFJs," for instance, are described as "warm-hearted, talkative, popular, conscientious, born cooperators." On the other hand, "ISTPs" are "cool onlookers -- quiet, reserved, analyzing life with detached curiosity and unexpected humor."
"Some of these personality profiles are so abstract. In comparison, the Myers-Briggs is very easy to get a handle on," says Fern Eisner, a Columbia consultant who uses the test in a wide range of applications, including personal and marital counseling.
Ms. Eisner emphasizes that each personality type "offers
challenges and comfort zones" and that, with understanding, different types can work well together. An "extravert" is often a gregarious, sociable person but may not be as good a listener as an "introvert," for example.
The AVA, another personality test used widely in business, takes a different approach from Myers-Briggs. While Myers-Briggs asks the test-taker to respond to either/or questions on preferences, the AVA relies on self-description. It presents two lists of adjectives and asks him to place an "X" in front of adjectives other people believe apply to him and those he believes describe him.
Through a computer analysis of the adjectives marked, the AVA -- developed in 1948 by Walter V. Clarke and copyrighted by the Pittsburgh company that bears his name -- leads to a lengthly narrative description of the test-taker, including the need for independence, the need to manage people and risk-taking comfort.
Baltimore-area employers that use AVA or other personality tests emphasize that the results of such tests are only one factor used in hiring decisions. Educational background, experience, references and interview also count heavily in deciding whether an applicant is suited to the job, they say.
One such company is Black & Decker Corp., which has used AVA since the 1960s. The company considers Activity Vector Analysis "highly accurate" and likes the fact that the test is quickly taken and is generally viewed as non-threatening to job applicants.
Even so, David Borden, human resources director for the power tools division of the Towson-based company, says Black & Decker is careful to avoid making the AVA the be-all-and-end-all of the job-hiring process.
"Tools like the AVA are very good at helping validate the individual," Mr. Borden says. "But we have a bias against taking testing too far. We don't want to get to the point of pigeonholing people."
"Lifetypes," by Sandra Hirsh and Jean Kummerow, Warner Books, New York, N.Y. 1989
Please Understand Me," by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, Prometheus Nemesis Books, Del Mar, Calif. 1978
Type Talk," by Otto Kroeger and Janet Theusen, Delta Trade Paperback, New York, N.Y. 1989
Top Performance," by Zig Zieglar, Berkley Publishing Group, New York, N.Y. 1987
WHO ARE YOU?
A checklist adapted from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator:* Extraversion (type E). You prefer to focus on the outer world of people and things.
* Sensing (type S). You tend to focus on the present and on concrete information gained from your senses.
* Thinking (type T). You tend to base your decisions on logic and on objective analysis of cause and effect.
* Judging (type J). You like a planned and organized approach to life and prefer to have things settled.
* Introversion (type I). You prefer to focus on the inner world of ideas and impressions.
* Intuition (type N). You tend to focus on the future, with a view toward patterns and possibilities.
* Feeling (type F). You tend to base your decisions primarily on values and on subjective evaluation of person-centered
* Perceiving (type P). You take a flexible and spontaneous approach to life and prefer to keep your options open.
1976 by Isabel Briggs Myers and 1988 by Consulting Psychologists Press. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of Consulting Psychologists Press.