Personality testing can find sales people with the right fit

Standard-Examiner contributor 

In today’s business environment, hiring the right people for the right sales job is a challenge. There are many variables that affect the productivity and longevity of the employee. Making wise choices in the application and interviewing process can make a significant impact.

My colleague, Armando Rancano, at Weber State University, and I recently conducted research on this topic. We administered the International Personality Item Pool, which is a public domain assessment from Penn State, to students in sales classes at Weber State and three sales and service businesses. Our focus was to identify personality traits which predict excessive tardiness and absenteeism. Employees at Sonora Grill, MarketStar and Apple Village were given the IPIP, which utilizes the Big Five Factor model:
1. Extraversion

2. Agreeableness

3. Conscientiousness

4. Neuroticism (emotional instability)

5. Openness

The full 300-question assessment measures six subordinate dimensions (known as facets) of each of the main personality factors. In total, 35 personality traits are evaluated and scored on a scale of 0 to 100. The *PIP-NEO test was developed by Lewis R. Goldberg in 1999 and is based on Costa & McCrae’s commercial version. In 2005, John A. Johnson from Penn State revised the test to 120 questions. Over 20,000 people were used to ensure the test possesses acceptable measurement reliability. The information gathered from this assessment can be very helpful in hiring sales personnel.

Our review of the research and our findings from this study were somewhat surprising. Determined to find universal traits that predict lateness and absenteeism, we were amazed to find significant factors which varied from business to business. Company culture and compatibility with the management style of the assigned supervisor interact with the personality traits of the employee. Therefore our suggestion to sales managers is to assess your current employees who are the “right fit” and identify their strongest personality traits. With this information, Human Resource departments can ask applicants to take the same personality assessment and see the similarities or differences from current “right fit” employees.

We do not in any way suggest that HR departments restrict a person from interviewing because of this assessment, but to use it in a proactive approach. Interviewers can review the results of personality assessments administered to applicants before interviewing and ask specific questions to verify the presence or absence of traits that lead to successful performance within the organization.

Validity and liability concerns are more likely to arise from interviewer bias. Smart applicants who are articulate, personable and well prepared to answer the behavioral questions typically asked during interviews can easily impress. Charm, verbal agility and the ability for easy recall can blind questioners to personality traits that impact long-term fit. Therefore, including the Big Five Factor personality assessment in the interview process can be helpful in predicting absenteeism behavior for future employees. The result is greater job satisfaction, productivity and employee retention. (Stomer and Fahr, 2012).

If you are interested in participating in our next sales study, please contact me at

Jo Ellen Jonsson is an associate professor in the Professional Sales Department at Weber State University.