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Expected Utility of Interest Inventories
in Employee Selection:
Perceptions of Industrial-Organizational
Psychology Experts
1

FEATURE ARTICLE

Amy J. Mandelke,2
Elizabeth L. Shoenfelt, and
Reagan D. Brown
Western Kentucky University

 

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Abstract

Interest inventories have long been used in conjunction with assessments of other constructs to understand career exploration and career choice. Recently, a number of researchers have called for increased utilization of interest inventories in personnel decision making, yet this call has received limited attention in Industrial-Organizational (I-O) psychology. I-O psychologists with expertise in employee selection and/or EEO law were surveyed. I-O experts indicated interest inventories may have incremental validity over traditional selection instruments and that interest inventories are unlikely to result in employer liability; experts identified potential uses of interest inventories in I-O applications other than selection. However, experts perceived interest inventories to have limited expected utility for personnel selection. That these latter perceptions are inconsistent with recent meta-analytic evidence supporting interests as predictors of important individual and organizational outcomes indicates the need to educate I-O psychologists on the utility of interests in employee selection.

Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologists use a variety of selection instruments to help ensure optimal fit of individuals to their jobs. Recently, researchers have called for increased utilization of interest inventories in personnel decision making (Chope, 2011; Nye, Su, Rounds, & Drasgow, 2012; Rounds & Su, 2014; Van Iddekinge, Roth, Putka, & Lanivich, 2011). Despite recent meta-analytic evidence that interest inventories are valid predictors of job performance, training performance, turnover intentions, and turnover (Nye et al., 2012; Van Iddekinge, Roth et al., 2011), and despite some evidence that interests have incremental validity over traditional cognitive and personality measures for these same criteria (Van Iddekinge, Putka, & Campbell, 2011), interest inventories have received limited attention in I-O psychology for selection purposes (Nye et al., 2012; Van Iddekinge, Putka et al., 2011; Van Iddekinge, Roth et al., 2011).3 Our study assessed perceptions of I-O psychologists with expertise in employee selection of the utility of standardized interest inventories in employee selection. Our results make a case for increased use of interest inventories in selection contexts.

Interest inventories have long been used in conjunction with assessments measuring other constructs (e.g., aptitude, abilities, motivation, values, and personality) to understand career exploration and career choice (e.g., Betz & Borgen, 2000; Cole & Hanson, 1974). It is theorized that a combination of constructs enables a more comprehensive understanding of an individual that can then be used to better predict desirable outcomes (e.g., job performance, retention, etc.; Betz & Borgen, 2000; Cates, 1999). Because, relative to other predictors, interest inventories have received little attention in I-O psychology, our first objective was to assess general awareness and knowledge of interest inventories among I-O psychologists.

Rationale for Utilizing Interest Inventories in Selection

Numerous linkages between vocational interests and various outcomes have been supported in fields outside of I-O (e.g., career counseling, vocational behavior; Ehrhart & Makransky, 2007; Harrington, 2006; Harrington & Long, 2013; Mount & Muchinsky, 1978). Predictive relationships, such as interest inventories with academic performance (Mikulak, 2012; Nye et al., 2012) and job choice (Harrington, 2006), have been empirically supported in career counseling. Other relationships, such as between interest inventories and job satisfaction (i.e., overall satisfaction; satisfaction with work, pay, promotions, supervision, and coworkers) and person–environment fit (Ehrhart & Makransky, 2007; Mount & Muchinsky, 1978; Spokane, Meir, & Catalano, 2000), have been supported in other related fields (e.g., vocational behavior). Congruent employees (i.e., employees with agreement between their interests and their position occupational codes) are more satisfied than incongruent employees (Mount & Muchinsky, 1978). Vocational interests are more predictive of perceived person–vocation fit and person–job fit than is personality (Ehrhart & Makransky, 2007).

There was limited early empirical support for the use of interest inventories in I-O psychology (e.g., Blau, 1987). However, two recent meta-analyses indicated empirical support for interest inventories as predictors of important individual and organizational outcomes. Nye et al. (2012) found correlations across a variety of interest scales and study characteristics that range from .21 to .30 with performance, .21 to .34 with persistence, and .26 to .37 with organizational citizenship behavior. Van Iddekinge, Roth et al. (2011) found correlations of .14 with performance, .26 with training performance, -.19 with turnover intentions, and -.15 with actual turnover. Other relationships have been hypothesized, including the relationships between interest inventories and personality assessments administered within a work context frame of reference (Hunthausen, Truxillo, Bauer, & Hammer, 2003) or interests with noncognitive constructs such as motivation and core self-evaluations (Rounds & Su, 2014; Van Iddekinge, Roth et al., 2011).

Person–environment fit. Person–environment (PE) fit is based on the ideology of congruence (i.e., similarity and compatibility) between the characteristics of the person and the characteristics of his/her work environment (Mount & Muchinsky, 1978; Muchinsky & Monahan, 1987). Because interests are contextualized (i.e., interest is expressed within an implied environment), vocational interests implicitly incorporate the work environment (Rounds & Su, 2014). Thus, PE fit is somewhat inherent when interests are involved (Van Iddekinge, Putka, et al., 2011; Van Iddekinge, Roth, et al., 2011).

Person–organization (PO) fit and person–job (PJ) fit are closely related and often have been studied together in selection research (e.g., Kristof-Brown, 2000; Lauver & Kristof-Brown, 2001; Sekiguchi, 2004; Sekiguchi & Huber, 2011). Scholars in career counseling have focused on person–vocation fit (e.g., Ehrhart & Makransky, 2007), whereas I-O psychologists have focused on PO and PJ fit (e.g., Nye et al., 2012). In meta-analytic research, PE fit (operationalized as interest congruence) was found to be predictive of task performance (r = .30), organizational citizenship behavior (r = .37), and persistence in the job (r = .30; Nye et al., 2012). Likewise, Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman, and Johnson (2005) found PJ fit to be predictive of job satisfaction (r = .56), organizational commitment (r = .47), intent to quit (r = -.46), and performance (r =.20). Preentry, PJ fit correlated with organization attraction (r = .48) and the organization’s intent to hire (r = .67; Kristof-Brown et al., 2005). Kristof-Brown et al. found PO fit to be a significant predictor of job satisfaction (r = .44), organizational commitment (r = 51), intentions to quit (r = -.35), task performance (r = .13), and organizational citizenship behavior (r = .27).

Given both the speculation and the empirical evidence regarding the use of interest inventories in I-O applications (e.g., selection, placement, evaluation, development; Kwaske, 2004; Muchinsky, 1999; Van Iddekinge, Putka et al., 2011), the second objective of our study was to obtain expert opinion on whether interest inventories should be used for employee selection.

Administrative and Psychometric Properties of Interest Inventories

Administrative properties. There are many potential benefits to utilizing interest inventories for employee selection. Some administrative benefits include short administration time and cost savings (Chope, 2011). Other benefits include ease of administration, scoring, and interpretation (Kwaske, 2004). Many interest inventories can be administered online, and include automated scoring and reports. Because many interest inventories were designed as self-assessments, inventory items and results are easy to use and to understand.

Reliability. Interests tend to be stable and yield reliable measures with typical coefficients of stability of approximately r = .80 (Harrington, 2006; Low, Yoon, Roberts, & Rounds, 2005; Swanson & Hansen, 1988; Van Iddekinge, Putka et al., 2011). These test–retest reliability coefficients exceed what typically are observed for personality measures (Low et al., 2005; Swanson & Hansen, 1988).

Validity. There is support for the predictive validity of interest inventories for a variety of important selection criteria (e.g., satisfaction, performance, and persistence; Mount & Muchinsky, 1978; Nye et al., 2012; Savickas, Taber, & Spokane, 2002; Van Iddekinge, Putka et al., 2011; Van Iddekinge, Roth et al., 2011). Some relationships between interest inventories and outcomes can be linked to bottom-line organizational outcomes (e.g., motivation, job performance, and retention; Judge, Thoresen, Bono, & Patton, 2001; Nye et al., 2012; Van Iddekinge, Putka et al., 2011; Van Iddekinge, Roth et al., 2011), which can lead to increased profits. Accordingly, the overarching purpose of our study was to investigate further the use of vocational interests and their potential in selection.

Legal Issues

Instruments used in selection decisions are tests and are subject to all EEO laws (e.g., Title VII, ADEA, ADA, etc.). Historically, interest inventories have not been used for selection decisions. It would be informative to provide expert opinion on potential liability when using interest inventories for selection.

Fouad and Mohler (2004) found that, for a number of interest inventories, men and women differ in interests at both item and scale levels, evidence that aligns with occupational sex-role stereotyping (Albrecht, 1976). This evidence for gender group differences may lead to potential disparate impact and employer liability.

Turner, Unkefer, Cichy, Peper, and Juang (2011) found that young adults with disabilities had a distribution of interests and estimated abilities similar to young adults in the general population. However, only 31% of the disabled young adults surveyed were employed in jobs that matched their Holland code (Turner et al., 2011). This percentage may indicate misemployment and potential disparate impact for disabled workers in addition to their underemployment (e.g., disabled persons unemployment rate of 14.5% compared to nondisabled persons unemployment rate of 6.5%; Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014).

Case law. As of 1973, there were no recorded judicial decisions involving direct challenges to the use of interest testing in educational or employment settings (Fitzgerald & Fisher, 1974). A cursory review of court cases indicated that since 1973 this continues to hold true. That is, to date, the use of interest inventories has not been directly challenged in court. However, it should be noted that interest inventories have been mentioned in several lawsuits as a component of test batteries in education (i.e., claims filed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; e.g., Carrie I. EX REL. Greg I. v. Department of Educ., 2012; D.C. EX REL. T.C. v. Mount Olive Township Board of Education, 2014; Dudley v. Lower Merion School District, 2011; Edie F. Ex Rel. Casey F. v. River Falls School Dist.2001) and disability benefits (i.e., claims filed under the ADA; e.g., Null v. Community Hospital Association, 2009; Shoemate v. Astrue, 2008; Sparks v. Barnhart, 2004; Thurn v. Apfel, 1998).

Considering (a) changing workforce demographics (Chope, 2011; Fouad & Spreda, 1995), (b) employment law and guidelines regarding discrimination against protected groups, and (c) mixed evidence for the use interest inventories with protected groups, a final objective of our study was to investigate the perceived legality of interest inventories used in employee selection.

We generated three hypotheses for the study.

Hypothesis 1: A majority of respondents (i.e., greater than 50%) will indicate that interest inventories should be used for employee selection.

Hypothesis 2: A majority of respondents will indicate that more research on interest inventories is warranted.

Hypothesis 3: A majority of respondents will indicate that the use of interest inventories would lead to legal liability for the employer.


Method

Participants
SIOP members with expertise in selection and/or EEO law were recruited to participate in the survey through multiple methods (i.e., email request, mail request to SIOP members identified as selection experts, request at the SIOP conference). The overall response rate was 12.9%; 88 I-O psychologists completed the survey. Two respondents not geographically located in the US and five graduate student respondents were excluded from the analyses, providing a final sample of 81. Respondents were predominantly male (68.3%) and White (88%); the median age fell within the 35 to 45 year range. Respondents were geographically diverse, collectively indicating 22 states as their place of business.

Instrument
The survey instrument consisted of 20 items that assessed opinion regarding interest inventories and their utility for employee selection. Fifteen items used five-point rating scales, three items were open-ended, one item was a checklist, and one item was yes/no.

Results
Respondents rated their level of knowledge regarding vocational interest inventories. Approximately 19% reported that they had “very little” or “little” knowledge of interest inventories. As such, these respondents were excluded from the remaining analyses, leaving a sample size of 66.

Hypothesis 1, which stated a majority of respondents would indicate that interest inventories should be used for employee selection, was tested by a one sample z-test for proportion and was not supported (n = 66, z = -2.58, p > .05). Only 34.8% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that interest inventories should be used as a component in employee selection decisions (M = 3.08, SD = .95).

Hypothesis 2, which stated a majority of respondents would indicate that more research on interest inventories is warranted, was tested by a one sample z-test for proportion and was supported (n = 66, z = 6.28, p < .05). Approximately 89% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that further research on interest inventories is warranted (M = 4.24, SD = .63).

Hypothesis 3, which stated a majority of respondents would indicate that the use of interest inventories would lead to legal liability for the employer, was tested by a one sample z-test for proportion and was not supported (n = 66, z = -5.29, p < .05). Only 18.2% of the respondents agreed with the statement that the use of interest inventories as a component in employee selection decisions would lead to legal liability for an employer (M = 2.67, SD = .88).

Additional Analyses

Employee selection. A majority of participants indicated that interest inventories may have incremental validity over traditional selection procedures in personnel decisions for training (56.1%), hiring (56.1%), and lateral transfer (54.5%); 39.4% indicated incremental validity for promotion decisions. Fewer than 20% of respondents expected interest inventories to have incremental validity for licensing and certification, downsizing, or demotion.

Discriminatory effect. As with the legal liability question, participants indicated that the use of interest inventories is not likely to have a discriminatory effect on legally protected groups (only 16.7% agreed or strongly agreed likely discriminatory impact, z = -5.54, p > .05, M = 2.42, SD = .95). There was a moderate correlation between agreement that the use of interest inventories will lead to discriminatory effects and agreement that the use of interest inventories will lead to legal liability (r = .52, p < .01). Across all protected classes, respondents indicated relatively low likelihood that the use of interest inventories would result in discrimination against a given protected group. Mean ratings ranged from unlikely for race (M = 2.46, SD = .77), national origin (M = 2.50, SD = .87), and religion (M = 2.13, SD = .77) to somewhat likely for gender (M = 2.90, SD = .79) and age (M = 2.75, SD = .95).

Potential risks. Participants were asked to identify potential risks involved in using interest inventories in selection. Participants identified 77 concerns. Twenty-eight of these concerns (36.4%) dealt with psychometric issues (e.g., validity, social desirability, and faking); 20 (27.3%) with legal concerns (e.g., discrimination, adverse impact, gender or race issues); 19 (22.6%) involved how the scores would be used (e.g., criterion issues, how to interpret, selection for groups/teams); and 10 (14.3%) addressed administrative issues (e.g., perceptions of fairness, organizational buy in).

Benefits. Participants were asked to identify applications in I-O psychology for which interest inventories would be beneficial. Participants identified 90 potential applications. These included 50 (55.55%) involving assessment (e.g., PO fit, PJ fit, motivation, and retention); 32 addressing (35.55%) developmental purposes (e.g., career planning, self-selection, matching and placement, training and development); and 16 (17.78%) related to psychometric properties (e.g., predictive and incremental validity, face validity).

Discussion

I-O psychology has given limited attention to the use of interest inventories for traditional I-O activities despite meta-analytic data indicating their utility (Nye, et al. 2012; Van Iddekinge, Roth et al., 2011). The empirical support for interest inventories in selection contexts is of little use unless I-O psychologists are aware of it. Some 19% of experts in selection and employment law indicated they had little or very little knowledge of vocational interests. However, 89% of experts indicated further research on vocational interests is warranted.

Generally, study participants did not recognize the potential utility of interest inventories in selection. Only 34.8% of participants agreed interest inventories should be used in selection. However, participants did not expect the use of interest inventories for selection to result in illegal discrimination or adverse impact for most protected groups. Participants identified several other I-O applications for which interest inventories may be utilized such as preemployment purposes (e.g., investigating job seeking behaviors, recruitment, job design and classification, realistic job previews, etc.), assessment, individual development, and organizational development, as well as positive selection decisions such as placement, training, and restructuring. Furthermore, in these positive selection contexts, experts expected interest inventories to have incremental validity over traditional selection instruments; however, the same did not hold true for negative selection contexts (i.e., downsizing and demotion). Our findings are consistent with Van Iddekinge, Putka et al. (2011), who found interests had incremental validity over cognitive ability and personality measures for job performance, knowledge, and persistence criteria.

Participants indicated potential utility of interest inventories for areas such as assessment (e.g., employee attitudes, performance, retention), I-O and non-I-O applications (e.g., pre-employment behaviors, education, career counseling), and attaining good psychometric (i.e., validity), and administrative properties. Participants also indicated applications in education and career counseling for which interest inventories have traditionally been used and have strong empirical support.

That interests are predictive of PE fit should have value for I-O psychology. Good fit (both PJ fit and PO fit) can yield important desirable outcomes for individuals and organizations including positive attitudes and well-made decisions prior to employment (e.g., applicant attraction and job acceptance), and attitudes and behaviors during employment (e.g., job satisfaction, performance, avoidance of withdrawal behaviors, organizational commitment, and retention; Ehrhart & Makransky; Kristof-Brown, et al., 2005; Nye et al., 2012). That PE fit is predictive of positive individual and organizational outcomes has been attributed to its motivational effects (Rounds & Su, 2014); that is, individuals whose interests and abilities are congruent with their job and organization are more likely to be motivated to do well.

In conclusion, the opinion of the I-O experts suggests interest inventories may hold promise for employee selection decisions and that, most likely, utility will likely come from incremental validity over ability tests. Experts with knowledge of EEO law and its implications indicated interest inventories are unlikely to lead to employer liability for adverse impact or discrimination.

The results of our study indicate I-O psychologists believe interest inventories likely have an array of useful applications in I-O psychology. In fact, there is empirical evidence of the utility of interest inventories for predicting performance, satisfaction, organizational citizenship behavior, and persistence in the job (Nye et al., Van Iddekinge, Putka et al., 2011; Van Iddekinge, Roth et al., 2011). Our study documents the need to educate I-O psychologists on the utility of interest inventories for selection purposes that benefit applicants, employees, and the organization.

 Notes

1 This research was partially supported with a grant from the Western Kentucky University Graduate School.

2 Amy Mandelke current affiliation: Otter Tail Power Company, Fergus Falls, MN

3 One reason for reluctance among I-O practitioners to use interest inventories in selection may be that meta-analytic findings for the predictive validity of interest inventories have not been overly promising. Hunter and Hunter (1984), in a meta-analysis of three studies of interest inventory validity, reported a mean validity of .10. More recently, Van Iddeking, Roth, Putka, and Lanivich (2011) reported a .14 corrected validity in their meta-analysis of 80 studies. Results by type of interest inventory revealed that mean validities ranged from .10 for construct focused scales (e.g., Self-Directed Search) to .23 for vocation-focused scales (e.g., Strong Interest Inventory).

 

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