Utilizing Personality Testing in Construction Management Hiring​

How personality testing works into construction management hiring

Many people have heard of personality testing, likely the Rorschach Inkblot Test, that old set of black ink-stains-on-paper that you’re supposed to look at and “tell me what you see.” Is it a butterfly or a dragon, a bullwhip or a magic wand?  The answers people give for this test reveal something deep and personal about themselves, and provide a window into ones’ soul.

Many of those with a passing familiarity to the Rorschach test believe the tests are silly; something intended for a therapy session straight out of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.  No normal person would submit to, much less administer, such a ridiculous test.  It’s all science fiction, right?

Not so fast. Rorschach uses 300 mental patients for the focus group. Rorschach is a type of “personality test,” a phrase becoming much more common in today’s business vernacular.  One could say that personality testing has gone mainstream, as these assessments have become commonplace. Especially in situations ranging from their traditional use in therapy settings to the screening of job applicants.  The construction management field is no exception. You can use these tests to understand what role a potential candidate would thrive in at your company. They can help guide many employment decisions.

personality test

Types of Personality Tests

There are two categories of personality tests. Projective tests, like the Rorschach or the Thematic Apperception Test, are conducted by giving the subject a general visualization, or “ambiguous stimuli,” with the hope of revealing emotions or personal conflicts that may not be known even to the subject themselves.  The concept is that people have both conscious and unconscious feelings about issues, and those can be drawn out by looking at an abstract picture or asking an open-ended question.

Think about when you’ve lain on your back and looked up at the clouds.  Did you see the same animal or object as seen by your children?  Have you had to “complete this sentence…” ever?  These are examples of projective test activities that have become normal. They are even used in family games and celebrated as fun activities.

The second category, Self-Report Inventories, such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), are different.

Sometimes referred to as “objective tests,” these are more structured and evaluate on something closer to a universal standard.  Think of something like a multiple-choice or a True-False exam; the responses are limited to the actual content of the test.  You’re allowed to choose an answer that you feel is the most appropriate to the question, but it must be chosen from a list of answers supplied by the examiner. A common college entrance exam, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), is an example of an objective test taken by a wide swath of today’s population.

Using a Personality Test in a Business Setting

As used in a business setting, the Self-Report Inventory is generally considered to be the most valuable style of assessment.  Understanding how a person thinks can help a manager place the right person in the right job.  Objective tests designed for business are based on understanding the “Big Five Personality Traits,” also known as the Five-Factor Model.

This model consists of the five elements that make up a persons’ personality, commonly referred to by the acronym OCEAN:

Openness to experience – (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)

Conscientiousness – (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless)

Extraversion – (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)

Agreeableness – (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached)

Neuroticism – (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident)

It is important to understand how these diverse elements unite to form a single personality.  Different traits will apply to different positions in a company, and should be considered when matching an applicant to a role.  While it’s seemingly obvious that you’d want an accountant who is consistent and cautious, would a little inventiveness and curiosity help them realize a break-through path for financing the growth of your company?

A salesperson who is outgoing and energetic seems like the obvious choice. But would someone who is more solitary and reserved accomplish more in a sales role that requires consistent reporting and the paperwork that goes along with that?  The idea here is that while there may be preconceptions about what personality traits fit what roles most comfortably, there is some nuance that can be extracted from the data provided personality testing.

Personality Testing Specific to Construction Management

A construction management firm has varied roles to fill in employment hiring. Two that recur most often can be broken down into these categories: does the person interact with clients, vendors and government personnel, or do they deal with the workers on the ground who are doing the actual labor?

In the first category, the person dealing with the customer and other non-labor points-of-contact spends a fair amount of time on the phone.  They work from their desk to secure materials, organize deliveries, work through permitting issues, and generally keep the flow of information and goods to the job site organized and well-communicated.  We’ll refer to this person as a Procurement Specialist.  The second category, generally referred to as a Project Manager, needs different skills.  This Project Manager needs to deal with many of those same people, but in a boots-on-the-ground setting.

The client may be present asking questions about elements of the job. Or, there may be a government inspector who comes to the site to evaluate processes and procedures to verify that all government requirements are being fulfilled.  And also, the Project Manager has to deal with the labor force. A group of folks who, depending on the specifics and scale of the project, maybe a landscaping crew of four who install pavers and a retaining wall and possibly have limited communication capabilities, or maybe a union crew stacked with experienced union members well versed in employment law and contract rights.

Why does this matter?

It’s easy to see that these two jobs require different skill sets, but why then do people who seem eminently qualified to fill these roles sometimes struggle?  If their resumes are filled with applicable job experience, why do they have trouble accomplishing their assigned tasks?  Often it’s because their personality just doesn’t mesh with that of the people they are interacting with.

Revisiting the OCEAN Breakdown

Let’s look at the OCEAN breakdown again.  We can all agree that if a personality test shows a Conscientiousness rating of easy-going/careless, there isn’t a place for the employee in construction management.  Efficient and organized needs to be the baseline for that item.  We can also all agree that the Neuroticism result needs to be secure/confident.

Construction Management is not the field for the sensitive/nervous type, as things can and do change often and often have some big dollars attached.  A person working in that environment needs the confidence to lead a team through these changes, and the security that industry knowledge can provide.

But the other three items are a bit more open for interpretation. Openness to experience is defined as inventive and curious or consistent and cautions.  In the construction management field, those are two different things, but both can work for one of our open positions.  Being inventive and curious as a Procurement Specialist can be a positive trait.  Innovative materials, tools, and processes are constantly being introduced. If a construction management team wants to stay up with these trends, the Procurement Specialist will be the “tip of the spear”. They do this by exposing your company to those breakthroughs and keeping the company abreast of the relevant items.  But the Project Manager has a duty to his workers to stay consistent in the message and cautious about making changes mid-job that could affect workflow or project timelines.

Why is this important?

It’s important to understand that even though these are two sides of the same personality coin, the differing results on a pre-employment personality test can help guide the decision on which role the potential employee is best suited to fill.  We discussed Extraversion a little in the opening. It could apply to an accountant, and a case can be made for any traits on any position being filled.  But to keep with our current example, being outgoing and energetic is a virtual requirement for procuring over the phone. For a project manager, being solitary and reserved are good traits.  That’s not to say the PM is aloof and difficult to deal with, but in the setting of a project job site, he is not expected to be the worker’s friend.

For difficult decisions, make sure everyone practices a level of detachment. To eliminate some discussion and debate, make sure everyone knows who the boss is. It is interesting to note that being friendly and compassionate is a different personality trait altogether than being solitary and reserved. It is an element of the Agreeableness trait and can work with the solitary/reserved Extraversion element. In other words, you can be firm and still be kind about it.

Why Use a Personality Test in Construction Management?

There are myriad ways to interpret the results of a personality test. Which is why a whole field of academics uses them and studies the results.  But if you break down your needs as an individual employer in the construction management field, you can recognize the type of person you need to fill a specific role and use a personality test as a tool in your hiring arsenal.  It’s not intended to be the final say in who is hired and who is not, but can be used to confirm the impressions gained through the interview process.

Typically, a company wants to hire employees with values aligned with the people charting the path of the organization.  A little variant of opinion can be good at the top. But most employers want rank and file workers to move together as a team. Doing this shoulder to shoulder toward the goals set down by management.  These days, you can’t ask many personal or probing questions at a job interview. Proper personality testing can give management a little insight into how a person ticks.

Consider it another arrow in your human resources quiver.

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