DISC And Pre-Employment Screening: Why You Should Not Use DISC for Hiring in 2022?

by Sarah Reyes

Assessing a job candidate’s personality gives recruiters and hiring managers a glimpse of the person’s qualities. These attributes can provide employers with a rough estimate of the job candidate’s motivation, thought processes, attitudes, and communication preferences. These personality characteristics can help HR professionals determine the job applicant’s culture add, team performance, and job suitability. 

Unfortunately, not all pre-employment personality tests are alike. One test that HR professionals can do away with in assessing job candidates is the DISC and pre-employment screening assessment. But, what is disc and pre-employment screening, and why should you not use DISC for hiring? Let us find out.

Disc and Pre-Employment Screening: What is the DISC?

In 1928, William Moulton Marston published the book Emotions of Normal People in defense of various sexual taboos. The book also elaborated on Marston’s views on human behavior, forming the foundation of the DISC Model. Marston posited that people behave along two intersecting lines: attention and environmental perception. He believed that people were either active or passive depending on whether they perceived their environment as antagonistic or favorable.

Marston proposed four distinct behavioral patterns as follows.

  1. Dominance – Active in an antagonistic situation. The person is assertive, task-oriented, and prefers control and power.
  2. Inducement – Active in a favorable situation. The person is people-oriented, enjoys social interactions, and has excellent communication skills.
  3. Submission (also steady) – Passive in a favorable circumstance. Submissive people are task-oriented, persistent, patient, and thoughtful, but are reactive.
  4. Compliance – Passive in an antagonistic circumstance. The person is people-oriented, seeks structure and organization, and is reactive.

Disc and pre-employment screening: For years, psychologists sought to refine Marston’s DISC Model to reflect the changing times. The modern DISC and pre-employment screening test describes 12 personality styles, underscoring the interplay between the four principal DISC styles. Each quadrant has three behavioral tendencies as follows.

  • Dominance – challenge, results, and action
  • Influence – action, enthusiasm, and collaboration
  • Steadiness – collaboration, support, and stability
  • Conscientiousness – stability, accuracy, and challenge

The following are the 12 DISC personality styles.

  1. D – The goal is achieving victory and ensuring bottom-line outcomes. The person fears looking weak and being taken advantage of. Dominant people are confident, results-focused, and take charge.
  2. I – The person seeks excitement, approval, and popularity. People with influence fear inattention and rejection, despite the strong enthusiasm and ability to build professional networks.
  3. S – Steady persons prefer stability and harmony to rapid change and disappointing others. The person has excellent diplomatic skills and openness to others’ inputs.
  4. C – Conscientious people are accurate and objective, and they do not like displaying emotions or being wrong. They communicate with clarity and have disciplined analytical skills.
  5. DI – Combining dominance and influence results in a person who seeks new opportunities and delivers quick action. He fears loss of power, but is not afraid to stretch boundaries.
  6. ID – Almost similar to a DI personality style, the ID preference points to exciting breakthroughs while fearful of fixed environments and loss of attention or approval. This person always looks for new opportunities, favoring bold action over weak ones.
  7. IS – The person strives for friendship and fears being disliked and pressuring others. He is approachable and acknowledges individual contributions.
  8. SI – This person focuses on nurturing close relationships and gaining acceptance. He loathes aggression and coercion, striving to create a positive environment instead. 
  9. SC – Conscientious and steady, the SC person prefers calm environments, steady progress, and fixed objectives. He does not like chaos, uncertainty, and time pressure. The person maintains composure amidst adversity and is fair-minded.
  10. CS – The focus of this person is reliability and stability, not ambiguity and emotionally-charged situations. He is modest and fair-minded, too.
  11. CD – Favoring rational decisions and efficient results, this person is anxious about a lack of control and failure. He has high standards, always on the lookout for improvements.
  12. DC – Independence and personal accomplishment are fundamental to this person. He sets high expectations and will never hesitate to point out a problem. Unfortunately, the person fears failing their standards. 

Why the DISC Test is Not a Good Assessment Tool for Hiring

Proponents of the DISC and pre-employment screening model say the test is beneficial in describing whether a person is people-oriented or task-focused and moderate-paced or fast-paced. It is advantageous in helping people understand their behavior, enabling them to take concrete measures to tweak their thoughts and actions depending on the circumstance.

Although the model might be valuable in helping the general public understand themselves better, DISC and pre-employment screening tools with similar designs are ineffective in evaluating a person’s suitability for a job post. Here are some reasons employers and HR professionals should not use the DISC Model when hiring the best talent.

DISC focuses on behavior, not personality

Employers and hiring managers must realize that the DISC Model focuses more on a person’s behavior, not personality. Behavior is different from personality, although most people think otherwise.

People define behavior as action or conduct, especially toward others. However, Baum’s study published on Behavioral Analysis provides a more concrete description. Baum said that behavior is exclusive to whole organisms, is purposeful, takes time, and is a choice.

One cannot say the finger triggered the gun to fire because of behavior. It is the person holding the pistol who fired the shot. Behavior is also purposive, resulting from consequences through environmental interactions. Behavior also takes time because environmental interactions are not a one-off dynamic. It occurs over time. Lastly, behavior is a choice, underscoring the person’s ability to choose among alternative courses of action across time. 

Levitis and his fellow researchers offered a more all-encompassing behavior definition. They described human behavior as internally coordinated actions or inactions of individuals or groups to stimuli, excluding developmental changes.

Although experts have differing views about behavior, one thing is certain – it is a response to a stimulus. Hence, it is impossible to consider behavior as reflective of personality.

On the other hand, personality describes a person’s characteristic patterns of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, making the person unique. It is safe to assume that behavior is a component of personality. 

On that note, DISC and pre-employment screening tools with similar designs cannot adequately measure personality because they only focus on one aspect – behavior. These assessment tools do not measure thought patterns and feelings. It is safe to assume that one’s actions (or inaction) result from cognitive abilities and emotional processing. Unfortunately, the DISC test does not provide explicit measures for such attributes.

The danger here is that the recruiter or hiring manager must use her cognitive skills to interpret the data. Unfortunately, relying on one’s cognition adds subjectivity to an otherwise objective measure. There is a real risk of unconscious bias muddling the assessment.

disc and pre-employment screening

You might also like: Bias Examples in Hiring: What You Need to Know 2022

DISC categorizes personality into types, not traits

Another reason why HR professionals should do away with DISC and pre-employment screening methods with similar characteristics is to avoid classifying a person according to type. Real-world experiences show that a person can display different thought patterns, beliefs, emotions, and behaviors that no single personality type can summate.

For instance, a person can be happy today and sad and dejected in the following days. He can be active and energetic one moment and sullen and depressed the next. There will be instances when a person believes in something, only to question the thought pattern in the future.

Psychometricians love using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) because it gives them an idea of a person’s personality type. Although the assessment tool has a solid theoretical framework through Carl Jung’s works, it looks at personality as a dichotomy. Either one is sensing or intuitive, judging or perceiving, feeling or thinking, an introvert or extrovert. A person cannot be a mixture of sensing and intuition simultaneously or other possible combinations in the MBTI four-preference model.

The DISC Model has the same design. It assumes that a person can be dominant, influential, steady, or conscientious. Although it provides a possible combination of two elements, the test’s design assumes that personality has distinct categories. It is similar to putting people into buckets that best describe their ‘preferences.’

Unfortunately, people do not fit a category like a glove in real life. Instead, people move across a spectrum or a line with extreme points. For example, there is no such thing as 100% extrovert and 100% introvert. Different people slide along this line at any time, depending on their mood, circumstance, and other factors. Hence, a person can be 80% extroverted one moment and 60% the next. The individual characteristics are not permanent on a single point. 

It is also worth noting that personality test scores produce a bell curve on a scatter plot. It represents many observation points instead of a few distinct categories. 

DISC and pre-employment screening tools that look at personality as a discrete measure cannot explain the diverse nature of personality. That is why many psychologists and psychometricians no longer recommend these assessment models in evaluating personality. Instead, they suggest trait-based screening tools.

Trait-based assessments look at personality as the sum of a person’s distinguishing and enduring characteristics or qualities that influence human behavior across various situations. Examples are a need for achievement, regulatory focus, a need for cognition, self-consciousness, self-esteem, sensation-seeking, friendliness, helpfulness, and honesty. 

Studies show that ‘trait’ measurements are more powerful in predicting personality disorders than ‘type’ instruments. If such tests can foretell a person’s risk for personality disorder, it makes sense that trait-based assessments can also predict personality issues in the workplace.

disc and pre-employment screening

DISC is an ipsative assessment tool

Psychologists and psychometricians use one of two measures to describe personality: ipsative and normative. 

Ipsative assessments are intrapersonal. Test-takers analyze a question and choose between two answers, picking the statement that best reflects the person’s answer. It requires the person to reflect and compare himself with himself. 

On the other hand, normative assessments are interpersonal. Psychometricians compare a test-taker’s answers to the normal distribution of answers for a given question. It reflects the person’s position relative to the general population’s responses. Hence, a person might score on the 81st percentile of a certain attribute, underscoring that the person’s test score is equal to or greater than 81% of the population. 

Unfortunately, DISC and pre-employment screening methods without a reference to a normal distribution are ipsative measures. It forces test-takers to make a choice between two statements that may or may not reflect their genuine answers. 

The British Psychological Society says that ipsative tests are ideal for identifying a person’s strongest and weakest points, allowing for targeted coaching and self-improvements. Unfortunately, these assessment tools do not enable psychologists to compare individuals. Hence, the Society does not recommend DISC and pre-employment screening tools with ipsative measures for recruiting, selecting, and hiring talent.

DISC is reliable, but with low validity

Most people use validity and reliability interchangeably. Unfortunately, these two concepts have different meanings and implications.

In the world of personality assessments, nothing is more important than accuracy or validity. It describes the degree to which the test results represent what the assessment intends to measure. Hence, when someone scores high on introversion, it suggests that the person has all the qualities of an introvert.

On the other hand, reliability is all about consistency, or the tendency to reproduce the test results across different subjects but under similar conditions. It has nothing to do with the assessment tool’s validity or accuracy. Instead, it only underscores the reproducibility of the test scores.

It would be best to understand these two terms in everyday language. Suppose a person has a weighing scale with a faulty setting, which displays an inaccurate weight measurement by an extra five pounds. If the person takes his weight every day, he can rely on the scale to give him a reading. However, the results will still be off by five pounds, making the person’s weight invalid or inaccurate.

DISC and pre-employment screening tests with ipsative measures are like that. Employers, recruiters, and hiring managers can use these assessment tools to measure personality, guaranteeing consistent results. However, they cannot ascertain the validity of the measures because non-normative assessments do not work that way. There are no inter-rater comparisons and no objective measurements. To put it simply, the DISC assessment tool might be highly reliable, but it is never valid.

It is worth noting that normative personality tests have extensive referenced populations, making the test scores and their interpretation more valid and reliable.

disc and pre-employment screening

DISC lacks a predictive ability

DISC publishers do not recommend using the DISC Model for pre-employment screening and evaluation. The assessment tool does not measure a factor, aptitude, or skills specific to a job position. The disclaimer also states that DISC is not a predictive tool, cautioning anyone who uses the test to avoid making assumptions about a job candidate’s probability of work performance and success.

These are powerful words from the designers of DISC assessment tools. People should commend them for stating the obvious and cautioning others against using this personality test for pre-employment screening purposes.

Unfortunately, many HR professionals still use the DISC Model, the MBTI, and other ipsative measurement tools. It is a risky move that can cost the company millions of dollars in bad hires. 

Better Pre-employment Personality Tests than DISC

Experts and publishers say that professionals should never use ipsative personality tests as pre-employment screening measures because they lack predictive abilities. Hence, using DISC, MBTI, and similar tests is a waste of organizational resources because they do not measure job candidate attributes necessary for the work requirement. It would be best for HR professionals to utilize the following pre-employment personality tests.

  • Big Five Personality Test – This personality test provides a more accurate measure of a job candidate’s unique attributes across the five general personality traits, including extraversion, openness, neuroticism, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. The test utilizes a five-point Likert scale to quantify test-taker answers, giving HR professionals a more objective evaluation of an otherwise subjective issue.
  • Employment Personality Profile – Based on the Five Factor Model of Personality, the Employment Personality Profile is another trait-based, normative assessment tool for evaluating job candidates for any position. It is a 140-item questionnaire that encourages test-takers to score their personality attributes across 12 traits. The traits include stress tolerance, openness, achievement, self-confidence, assertiveness, motivation, conscientiousness, patience, competitiveness, management, extroversion, and cooperativeness.
  • Predictive Index – This assessment tool is quite different from other normative and trait-based personality tests. The Predictive Index Test is especially advantageous for companies that want to screen and hire only the best talent. The test has two components: PI Behavioral Assessment and PI Cognitive Assessment. Psychologists measure test-takers’ personality characteristics and abstract intelligence across the four personality domains of extraversion, formality, patience, and dominance. Many corporations worldwide use this test to predict a job candidate’s job suitability and work performance.

Final Thoughts

The DISC Model offers a fun and entertaining way to assess one’s personality through behavioral preferences. Companies use the test to identify each employee’s strengths and weaknesses, forming the basis for employee development. It can also serve as a career or vocational guide for people who want to play to their strengths while limiting their weaknesses.

Unfortunately, DISC and similar models have no place in hiring and recruitment processes. These assessment tools do not measure any job candidate attribute that might prove crucial in predicting job suitability and work performance.

The test might be reliable but is invalid because of the lack of measurable parameters. Moreover, it focuses on behaviors and assumes that personality is a discrete concept with well-defined attributes. Unsurprisingly, psychometricians and psychologists no longer recommend DISC for hiring.

Photo credit Pexels

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