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Why you don’t need a values test in recruitment

The topic of work life values has been raised recently ​in the media​. It has become increasingly common to use recruitment tests that try to capture job candidates’ values, in order to determine their cultural fit. At Alva, we have received a number of questions about this topic. How do values relate to personality? And is a values test really the way to go to work with your culture?

First of all, personality and values are two different things. There are indeed some relationships between the two, but ​large studies​ still find that they are two distinct concepts. In other words, a values test is not the same as a personality test. What we can assume, however, is that certain values are more common among individuals with certain personality traits (and vice versa).

That being said, there are three primary reasons to be sceptical of values tests

1. The relationship between values and work performance is weak. When controlling for other factors, such as personality and logical ability, the effect of values on important outcomes is small.

2. Values are notoriously difficult to measure. Not least, what we perceive as someone’s values is strongly influenced by the relationship between the organization and the employee. For instance, ‘not sharing our values’ is a common explanation for basically any behavior problem the organization observes in an employee.

3. Finally, selection methods that try to assess the candidate’s ‘fit’ with the organization’s culture or values tend to be problematic from a diversity and inclusion perspective. In particular, the judgment of who ‘fits in’ is very sensitive to bias. For example, there are ​studies​ showing that candidates with a foreign background are judged much more harshly when the requirement profile emphasizes ‘cultural fit’. Further, candidates that don’t ‘fit in’, according to our subjective standards, get more irrelevant questions in job interviews.

Of course, this is not to say that organizational culture is not important. But in order to evaluate whether someone matches it, we need to clearly define what it means, down to behaviors.

In sum: The best we can do in selection is to focus on those skills, abilities, and behaviors that we know are central for job performance. We should use the best available methods to assess these criteria, and we should do it based on a belief in fairness that emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusion. In this equation, you don’t need a values test.

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