The Biggest Mistake Candidates Make On Assessments

Many job candidates believe that the more positive they rate themselves on a personality assessment, the more attractive they’ll be to employers. Are they right?

A counterintuitive theory by Pierce and Aguinis explains why this is the biggest myth in assessments: the too much of a good thing effect.

The too much of a good thing effect

The most famous curvilinear relationship is probably the arousal-performance curve:

  • For simple tasks, performance flatlines with increasing physiological and psychological arousal.
  • For difficult tasks, performance decreases with increasing physiological and psychological arousal.

the performance-arousal U-shaped curve

This relationship perfectly illustrates Pierce and Aguinis’ too much of a good thing theory that the relationship between two factors has an overall pattern of curvilinearity. The relationship:

  1. starts off as positively linear
  2. reaches a context-specific inflection point
  3. asymptotes (flatlines) and often becomes negatively correlated

The problem is that most theories assume a linear relationship, which results in the mistaken belief that more of a positive trait leads to better outcomes when in reality it might be the opposite.

Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness – being hardworking, organized, and achievement-driven – is generally considered to be the strongest predictor of work performance. Most people interpret this to mean that the more conscientious you are, the better employee you’ll be.

Research has shown this to be true – up to an extent. Le and colleagues found that the relationship between conscientiousness and job performance was positive and then became flat for job high in complexity and negative for jobs low in complexity.

being too conscientious leads to worse performance(Le et al., 2011)

Why does being hardworking and organized become detrimental to your job performance?

Researchers believe that extremely conscientious people may:

  • pay too much attention to small details at the expense of larger goals
  • adhere too rigidly to rules which may inhibit their learning

Emotional Stability

People who are high in emotional stability are calm and steadfast, while those on the low end tend to be anxious and temperamental. Seems like a no brainer that people who are high in this trait make better employees, right?

Le and colleagues found similar curvilinear relationships for emotional stability: the relationship between emotional stability and job performance was positive and then became flat for job high in complexity and negative for jobs low in complexity.

being too emotionally stable leads to worse performance(Le et al., 2011)

Why does being calm under pressure become detrimental to your job performance?

Researchers argue that this relationship isn’t linear because:

  • a moderate amount of anxiety is motivating because it helps you anticipate and prepare for what’s coming
  • after a certain threshold, being more emotionally stable doesn’t provide any additional benefit

Extraversion

Extraversion – being energetic, assertive, and outgoing – is the stereotypical trait associated with sales success. It turns out, however, that you can be too extraverted for sales.

Research by Grant found a curvilinear relationship between extraversion and sales performance: salespeople with moderate levels of extraversion had higher sales sales productivity that salespeople with both low and high levels. These findings are consistent with research featured on the Harvard Business Review that found top sales performers were 30% less extraverted than average sales performers.

being too extraverted hurts sales performance

Why does being assertive and outgoing become detrimental to your job performance?

Salespeople who are extremely extraverted may come off as too talkative, pushy, and overbearing. People who are moderately extraverted are more likely to be able to talk persuasively while also paying attention to their audience’s needs.

The takeaways

Candidates often believe they need to fake a personality assessment by trying to respond as positively as possible. The data tell us that this is a bad strategy due to the too much of a good thing effect: you might ironically be making yourself a less attractive job candidate to the employer.

So honesty is the best policy definitely applies here. Representing your true self on an assessment maximizes your chances of finding a genuinely good fit at a job and company for you.

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Ji-A Min

Ji-A Min

Head Data Scientist at Ideal
Ji-A Min is the Head Data Scientist at Ideal. With a Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Ji-A promotes best practices and data-based recruitment. She writes about trends and research in talent acquisition, HR tech, and people analytics.
Ji-A Min

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