Personality testing could quickly become a fad among bank human resources directors.
Racine Hall, executive vice president at $100 million-asset Citizens Bank in Clearwater, Fla., paused recently to examine a personality profile completed by one of her job applicants.
"We've got a 1-3-5-7, here," she said in a telephone interview. "We want that. It means this candidate makes things happen. This candidate would not be happy behind a desk."
The profile indicates an ideal match for an available position as a branch manager, said Ms. Hall, who first turned to personality profiling in 1989 as a way to combat high turnover at the bank.
Citizens, with 60 employees, used to see 20% to 30% of its staff leave each year, mainly tellers and bookkeepers, said Ms. Hall. Since she began profiling prospective employees, the turnover rate has dropped to 5% annually.
Psychological testing is not new to job recruiters. Such tests have been used for years by everyone from federal government officials to Fortune 500 recruiters to assess the appropriateness of a candidate for high executive office. But rarely has personality profiling reached into the rank and file.
Nevertheless, it has become popular at banks, insurance agencies, and other companies that are bulking up on staff-particularly sales positions, said Mary Ruth Austin, a consultant at Omnia Group Inc., a Tampa-based management consulting and executive search firm.
Ms. Austin said the tests can be especially effective in measuring the sales skills of an applicant by indicating his or her propensity to be aggressive and competitive.
But others aren't so sure. "I don't use them because I don't believe in them 100%," said Len Adams, an executive recruiter at KPA Group in New York. "I'm a firm believer that you don't really know anyone until you live with them for a while."
Objectivity seems to be a key selling point. "Some of these tests are fakeable," said Hal Eskenazi, a marketing manager at Profiles Worldwide, which sells a profiling kit named Prevue.
"Companies need a tool that can match an applicant's abilities, interests, and personality against the requirements of a particular job."
Citizens Bank uses Omnia Profile, a test developed by Omnia Group. The test is based on a technique developed in the 1940s that matches a person's aptitude with their behavior.
Applicants are asked to check off words that they believe others would use to describe them and also words that they would use to describe themselves.
Applicants are also asked to rate the importance of certain attributes- like accuracy with facts, decisiveness, or success on a job-and to list the attributes they would like to see most in a prospective employer.
Omnia Group scores the tests, generating a series of bar charts that compare an applicant's personality traits. For example, a candidate's tendency to be assertive is weighed against a tendency to be cautious and nonconfrontational.
The result is a compatibility rating, on a scale of 1 to 10. The Omnia score also includes a measure of the applicant's judgment-a wavy line.
The wavier the line, the worse, said Ms. Austin, although she added that "we're not usually dealing with psychopaths here."
Proponents said they would not use the tests to eliminate job prospects. "It's not going to tell me not to hire someone," said Ms. Hall. "But it will tell me what their weaknesses are."
Ms. Hall, who took the test herself and found that she was, indeed, in the appropriate executive position for her personality type, said the profiles can be quite illuminating.
"After you get to know someone and you go back and look at their profiles, you'll find that they're really dead-on."
As for trends in the general work force, Ms. Austin said the outlook is not necessarily positive.
"With such low unemployment, the applicant pool we're seeing is not as stellar as it could be," she said. "We're seeing a lot of really wavy lines. ... That means scary prospects."