In the search for the right assistant, advisors might be able to find guidance in the most unlikely of places: the work of some of history’s foremost psychologists. Specifically, personality assessment is a concept that advisors can use to find the assistant best suited to help build their business.

Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Carol Rogers were some of the early pioneers in the study of personality as a branch of psychology. Over the course of the 20th century, their theories have been built upon and formed the basis of advanced recruiting techniques used in business.

The assessment of personality traits in potential hires, in particular, has quietly become a more common part of the hiring process. Currently, there is a diverse market of tools that can assess different personality traits – everything from empathy to honesty to stress management.

“I remember one of the first personality tests I did I was asked ‘do you love your mother?'” says Alan Middleton, executive director of the Schulich Executive Education Centre at York University in Toronto.

“But things have changed a lot – the tests have gotten a lot more pragmatic. Now the focus is more on whether your background can help or hinder you in this type of job,” he says.

Personality assessment tools typically come in the form of basic computerized questionnaires that cost as little as a few dollars per test. They use complex mathematical algorithms that weigh and gauge the responses of candidates to evaluate certain qualities.

Once an assessment has been completed, the results are analyzed in a report and evaluated against a “norm group”. This can provide a good platform from which an advisor can compare and differentiate specific strengths of the short-listed candidates, since they are being compared on the same level playing field.

“Once you have defined the tasks and role for your assistant in a job description, these personality tests can identify the right person and the right fit for your team,” says Sara Gilbert, founder of Strategist, in Montreal.

Personality tests have become particularly useful in today’s digital age. With the proliferation of social media sites, such as LinkedIn, job seekers are now, more than ever, provided with platforms to position themselves as experts on an long list of topics.

“With social networking, everyone looks good on paper,” says David Towler, president of Kitchener, Ont.-based Creative Organizational Design, a firm that develops various personality tests. “But those who are hiring are having greater difficulties on figuring out ‘who’s got it’ and who they can or cannot depend on as an assistant.”

David Lahey, president of Predictive Success, based in Whitby, Ont., says that these tests are simple and cost-effective ways for advisors to avoid making a hiring mistake that can impact the long-term productivity of one’s practice.

“What we are seeing is the age of big data creeping into human analytics,” he says. “Having evidence of why a candidate might be a better fit for the practice is better than just relying on a hunch because a resumé is really just a coin toss.”

Although personality assessment tools can help advisors find the right assistant, they are far from being “a silver bullet solution.”

Lahey says that assessment results should constitute roughly about 20-25% of the candidate’s entire evaluation. He says that advisors looking for assistants should still carefully evaluate a candidate’s knowledge, intelligence and cognitive abilities, which can show how quickly a candidate can acquire the necessary knowledge for the role.

Towler agrees. He suggests that personality assessment results work in lockstep with interviews, references and some of the more “traditional” hiring tools and practices.

“The information the assessment provides should augment everything you have done up to that point to figure out if the individual is a good or poor hire,” he says. “The test results should only confirm what you think you already know or to red flag something you overlooked.”

Much like when crafting a job description (see Crafting a detailed job description) for potential new hires, it is important to identify the specific qualities you are looking for, in advance.

Failing to properly define the qualities you need in an assistant could lead to you to hire “clones” that replicate the strengths that already exist in the practice, while missing out on the “blind spots” in skills needed to advance profitability, says Roberta Neault, president of Life Strategies Ltd., an organizational career development firm based in Vancouver.

“It’s important to start with the end in mind,” says Neault. “[Advisors] need to know and hire based on what they are looking for.”

For example, she says if an advisor deals with particular client niches such as doctors or seniors, they should be testing for different qualities. In the former, advisors would want to test for overall intelligence; while they might want to test for qualities like patience or empathy in the latter.

It’s important to note that not all tests will measure the same qualities effectively, she says. Advisors, accordingly, must check the test they use carefully.

Towler supports that conclusion. He says that personality assessment tools are only going to be effective if those wielding them know what they want to accomplish.

This is the second article in a three-part series on hiring the right assistant.

On Wednesday: the pros and cons of hiring a virtual assistant.