Luzerne County manager finalists will undergo personality tests

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | March 5th, 2016 3:47 pm

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Prospective finalists for Luzerne County government’s top manager position must undergo a personality test, the citizen search committee decided last week.

The use of personality assessments for hiring has increased dramatically in the corporate world, but officials say they have never tried the approach in Luzerne County government.

Search committee member Gerard O’Donnell first proposed the idea in January, saying the assessments provide telling details about the traits of prospective employees.

“I’ve seen the results, and I think the majority of the time they’re dead on,” O’Donnell said.

“I can attest to that,” said Robert Fisher, who was on the committee at that time but later resigned to take an out-of-state job assignment.

Fisher said he had been required to undergo assessments to obtain employment and believes the testing could address “some of the issues” the county encountered with the previous manager, Robert Lawton, who resigned the end of 2015.

Lawton’s critics have pointed to his failure to foresee and communicate problems, including a deficit that grew to $16.9 million during his tenure.

At the committee’s request, Phil Amend, of OneSource HR Solutions in Wilkes-Barre, discussed personality assessments at the Feb. 26 meeting. His business provides background checks and other screening services for employers.

Amend said personality assessments are used for hirings at OneSource and have been “very valuable.” He bases about 25 percent of his evaluation of prospective employees on assessment results.

“What this report tends to tell us is how the candidate’s wired. Are they risk adverse? Are they high energy? Are they more likely to lead the charge as opposed to follow the charge?” Amend said. “How are they most likely going to act? That’s what this is for.”

Personality assessments won’t predict if someone is honest or going to do a good job, he said.

“It will show how they’re likely to perform in their job,” he said.

He read highlights of an assessment report of a prospective employee at his agency that indicated the person scored high in persuasively selling ideas and convincing staff or colleagues to agree with initiatives and take specific actions. However, the report concluded the applicant was apt to gather and evaluate some data but may not uncover some trends. The applicant also scored a “little low” on energy.

“That tells me this person would need more time to recharge their batteries,” Amend said.

OneSource recommends the “Caliper Profile” test for high-level management finalists but stressed there a variety of options.

According to Princeton, New Jersey-based Caliper Corp., its test is a “scientific instrument” based on nearly a half-century of research to measure more than 25 job performance personality traits.

Applicants would take the test online. Amend said a Caliper counselor would speak to the committee about individual results within a few days in addition to providing a written report.

Questions are designed to reveal traits even if test-takers try to “game” the system by falsely providing answers they believe an employer would seek, Amend said.

Each Caliper assessment would cost about $350 per person, committee members said.

Committee Chairman Michael Giamber said the group must determine the manager traits it wants measured and decide the percentage the assessment results will carry in overall rankings.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.