Interviewers Can Be Easily Trained to Spot Personality Cues, Prof Finds

March 09, 2010 - News Release

When it comes to hiring the right person for the job, employers are placing increasing value on personality traits.

But instead of turning to a personality questionnaire, a University of Guelph psychology professor is the first to prove that the average interviewer can be quickly trained to assess the personality of job applicants.

Prof. Deborah Powell’s research revealed that providing participants with a half-hour training session on personality assessment enabled them to more accurately rate interviewees on important job-related traits such as assertiveness and self-discipline.

“Employers are realizing that certain personality traits tend to predict job performance, so more companies are relying on questionnaires to determine whether an applicant’s personality is a good fit,” said Powell, who specializes in industrial organizational psychology.

But personality assessments are more accurate when done in an interview because it’s easier for applicants to “fake” their answers in a questionnaire, she added.

“For example, you can say you’re assertive, but if you don’t act assertive in an interview, then the employer will be able to see that. “

Powell wanted to see if she could train the average person to pick up on personality-related cues during an interview.

“That way, companies would be able to use the people they have on staff to assess job applicants.”

As part of the study, which was published recently in the journal Human Performance, she developed a training program to teach interviewers how to perceive and accurately interpret cues for certain traits.

“They were taught how to make links between the stories interviewees told about their past behaviour and different personality traits.”

The study involved 164 participants who were asked to watch four videotaped interviews and assess the personality of each interviewee. The participants were told to focus their assessment on three traits: assertiveness, self-discipline and vulnerability to stress.

Half of the participants underwent the 30-minute training session before watching the video.

The participants’ assessments were then compared with results from personality rating experts who had assessed the videotaped interviews as well as the interviewees’ answers to a personality questionnaire.

Results showed the trained group was able to more accurately assess interviewees’ level of self-discipline and assertiveness, but scored similarly to the untrained group when assessing vulnerability to stress.

“Vulnerability to stress is one of the more difficult traits to rate because it’s a less socially desirable trait, so people are more likely to hide it in an interview,” said Powell. “It’s also a more emotional trait and one that is harder to detect.”

Interestingly, the trained group was also able to more accurately assess other traits such as level of organization and cheerfulness, despite not being trained to look for these characteristics, she said.

“It seems that the training taught the participants to be more aware of personality cues in general. The next step is to assess the degree to which trained interviewers’ ratings correlate with organizational outcomes such as job performance.”

Prof. Deborah Powell
Department of Psychology
519-824-4120, Ext. 52167

For media questions, Communications and Public Affairs: Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982,

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1