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Letters to the Editor

Personality and Faking on the SIOP Conference Program
Letter sent to the editor April 5, 2004

Context: One of the sessions on the 2004 SIOP Conference Program was a panel of past and current journal editors assembled to discuss faking on personality tests. The discussion was immediately redirected when nearly all of the panel discounted personality tests as being useful under any circumstance, and therefore, rejected any need to discuss faking. Why paint a burning house? as one panel member quipped. The following is what I would have liked to have said at the conference.

I am disappointed to hear the cavalier attitude with which the use of personality tests for selection assessment is being dismissed. I agree that the tests are largely inefficient (too few of the factors are really useful) and the research on their ability to predict performance constructs has been disappointing. However, as a practitioner of applied psychology, I would like to offer three suggestions as an alternative to just watching the house burn.

1. Ask different questions

You have all made the point that the research suggests that personality tests (and even interviews) are not very useful in predicting work-related behavior. But the majority of that research looks to be based too often on what is measurable rather than what is meaningful to a practitioner. Measuring global personality scores against a supervisors rating of performance is weak in many ways and makes enormous assumptions. Further, the way practitioners use tests may be quite different from the way a researcher scores a test for a publishable study.

I have used interviews and personality tests to help with hiring decisions for 25 years. In those years, I often conclude that the candidate should not be hired. Sometimes a client ignores what I say and hires the person anyway. On those occasions, when failure is defined as the person leaves the organization due to poor performance within 18 months, the correlation of my recommendations to my definition of failure based on interview data and personality tests is .999. (It would be 1.00 but one person is hanging on into the 19th month.) Apparently, there is significant value in interviewing and personality testing when the right question is asked. 

2. Change your editorial screening

As editors, we in the field look to you to be the distributors of knowledge to the I-O community. Those of us away from the academic setting need this knowledge to be provided in the most effective and efficient manner possible. But your screening hurts the distribution process. My .999 correlation I talked about above would never be published in one of your journals. George Hollenbeck, in his wonderful presentation at this conference, mentioned that he and a colleague practice executive coaching in remarkably similar ways. Both have helped executives grow and become more effective. This model would be very helpful and could lead to improved coaching practices that could help differentiate I-O trained coaches from the pack in the coaching business. But I doubt such a case history or practice model would ever be published in one of your journals. Too small an N or a lack of appropriate statistics or some similar methodology issue would kill it. Those of us in the field often change peoples lives, but those stories do not get into your journals. Stop acting like chairs on a thesis committee. Methodology is not the only thing to ask yourself when you are reviewing a study. Deciding personality tests are not useful because your studies have not been impressive is not a useful bias for a knowledge screener. Look for insights or techniques that might be helpful to others, too. Consider changing the information you distribute, and you may serve your customers better.

3. Invite a practitioner into your research

Decide to do more joint ventures with practitioners. Those of us who serve clients every day often do not have the time, motivation, or knowledge to do disciplined publishable research. Joint research efforts involving more scientists and practitioners working together would be a powerful model for SIOP. 

But use the practitioners for more than just supplying an interesting population or data. Let the practitioner help the scientist ask useful questions. Find the right combination to provide the I-O community useful knowledge. In this way, instead of burning the house, perhaps we can help make the house stronger and more effective.

Duane Lakin
Lakin Associates


Response to TIP Article, Book Reviews and ScientistPractitioner Currency: A Critical Lever (April 2004)
Letter sent to the editor April 15, 2004

The past and present book review editors of Personnel Psychology write that they can see no good reason for their informal poll results showing book reviews are undervalued (p. 25, TIP, April 2004).

I suggestthe reason is the scientist/practitioner role model that guides the training and conduct of people in I-O psychology. Laboring under the presumption that our field is a full-fledged science has several consequences. Among them are these three. One,book reviews are undervalued because they are not seen as making a scientific contribution. Two,a worms-eye view of organized life is cultivated because science is incapable of a birds-eye view (if, asmy two daughters with their doctorates in biostatistics tell me, there are so many confounding variables in medical research, think of how many more there would be if our field tried to do birds-eye research). Three,the science bias, along with the publish-or-perish pressure of academia, produce journal articles, the quickest venue for publication, and most of themtend to be, in my judgment, full of worms-eye minutiae, a condition that caused me to end my subscription to one of our customary journals decades ago.

Our field needs a new model, one that puts science in a moremodest perspectiveand adds the role of scholar.A scholar, for instance, would be expected to gain insights from a broad, historical analysis of organized life and its milieu.I imagine that what is written and readwould be far different and more enlightening if this new model were the guide.

I realize my suggestionis unrealistic because the old model is venerated.All I can do is continueto review books for Personnel Psychology, especially booksthat offer more of a birds-eye view. 

Respectfully,

Gary B. Brumback
Palm Coast, Florida


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