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Should you use DISC for Hiring?

DISC is an incredibly simple—yet powerful—tool. Because it is cost effective and easy to use, we understand why teams and organizations decide to use it as a selection tool for hiring or promoting. But should they? 

The short answer is: No. 

Don’t have the time to read the full article? Here is a brief overview: 

  • Humans are complex. The DISC model will only show you the behavioral side of a candidate, not their cognitive capacity. DISC can’t predict if a candidate can do the actual work. It only tells you the style in which they are likely to approach it. 
  • Companies should have a tool that measures multiple aspects of a candidate, predicts a candidate’s success, and offers strategic uses.

For those who have the time, continue reading for the full answer to the question of using DISC for hiring.

The History of DISC Theory and Hiring

To understand why you shouldn’t only use DISC as a pre-employment test, it’s important to note that one of the earliest uses of DISC theory was a selection assessment. 

William moulton marstonWait, what? William Moulton Marston originally developed DISC theory to understand normal behavior (which Marston called “emotions”).

However, Marston’s theory wasn’t used as an assessment to measure behavior until 20 years after it was published, when Walter Clarke used it in his hiring assessment. Clarke used Marston’s theory to validate a hiring assessment he called the Activity Vector Analysis (AVA). 

However, when Clarke created the first version of the AVA he combined Marston’s theory with a separate theory from Prescott Lecky on motivation. 

This means that the first person to create a hiring assessment using DISC theory felt that DISC wasn’t enough on its own to determine if a person would be a good fit for a specific position. After all, DISC only measures a person on two dimensions of their behavior. 

That doesn’t mean that DISC isn’t useful in the hiring process; however, it was clear to Clarke that a thorough determination of job fit required understanding both behavior and motivation. Since Clarke’s first version of AVA in the 1940s, hiring assessments have expanded on what is measured during the selection process.

Determining a Candidate’s Fit

Harvard Business Review conducted a 19-year study that followed the performance of over 360,000 individuals that were hired for sales roles to determine why certain candidates are successful over other candidates. This study was monumental because it offered direct evidence on how our biases might hinder us from finding the best candidate for a particular role. The study showed that the following characteristics were poor indicators of success:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Education

Today, we take this knowledge for granted (hopefully), but the study continues to challenge organizations to look for how a candidate fits a position rather than making judgments based on intuition (bias).

Why You Can’t Determine Job Fit with DISC

To test this idea, let’s imagine we are hiring for a sales position using DiSC to qualify our candidates.

should you hire with disc?

When using DiSC, we could use it to understand their Behavior and Emotional Intelligence. For example, let’s imagine we will only interview candidates with a D-Style, i-Style, or a combination of the two.

After all, we know people with these two styles have a high sense of urgency (they won’t let a strong lead get
away), and they usually aren’t afraid to talk to people.

In our interview, we will use candidates’ DISC results to ask questions specific to each candidate’s style to better understand their emotional intelligence. For our D-Style candidates, we could ask them how they would respond if someone questioned their knowledge on a particular product they are trying to sell. Or, we could ask our i-Style candidates how they would respond if a potential lead seemed uncomfortable with small talk and always responded in short blunt statements.

Overall, this process doesn’t sound too bad. 

As a standardized hiring process, it could help eliminate interviewer bias. Using a candidate’s DISC results can help determine interview questions that are specific to the candidate.

However, this isn’t an effective way to hire. After all, DISC can’t predict if the person can do the job.

Here is what you might miss about your candidate if you rely heavily on  DISC in your hiring process:

1.How your candidate thinks

In this sales role, does the candidate need to explain complex technology? Product knowledge will come over time and with training, but will your candidate be able to make connections about the product and explain it in a way that solves a potential clients’ problem?

DISC can’t determine thinking abilities.

2. What motivates your candidate

It’s true true that DISC will offer insights into our motivation. However, those insights are only associated with the inter-personal environment and won’t offer specifics about what kind of tasks your candidate enjoys.

Continuing with the sales role example, are there many administrative tasks because of a long sales process? Or, does the sales process require a lot of technical support once the sale is made. The length of the sales process or the on going support that is required after the sale is completed isn’t going to be easily identified through a candidate’s DISC report.

DISC can’t determine interests in tasks or work.

3. Determining Candidate Success

Once a candidate becomes an employee, what happens if that employee is fired or resigns? Using any hiring tool will require some form of trial and error. How does your organization measure what went wrong? With DISC, you only have a limited number of measurements to adjust for the future hiring process. If your tool measures an individual in multiple areas, you can adjust what you are looking for in a candidate.

DISC isn’t a good benchmark for employee success.

For these reasons, a standard DISC assessment might actually hinder your hiring process.

Determining Job Fit with a Validated Hiring Assessment

Today, a validated hiring assessment should measure Job Fit from using multiple scales. Here are a few ways that candidates are assessed:

  1. Thinking Abilities (Cognition, how a person understands and uses information—not just what they know)
  2. Behavior
  3. Interests or motivations
  4. Emotional Intelligence

At a minimum, we recommend that you find a selection assessment that measures a person based on their behavior and thinking abilities. Here are a few things that your hiring assessment should be able to tell you:

Job Fit Prediction

When choosing a product to measure a candidate’s success, ensure that those measurements are being used to predict “Job Fit.” A validated hiring assessment should provide a percentage that estimates the likelihood of success for a candidate in the position for which you are hiring.

Comparison Tools – Roles

As a hiring manager, you want to be able to strategically evaluate your candidates. Many candidates are applying for multiple jobs for a multitude of organizations. For that reason, they might have applied for a job at your organization and missed an opportunity for a position where they would be a better fit. 

Don’t let a great candidate get away! Your hiring tool should be able to measure a candidate against multiple positions, giving you the flexibility to see where else they may fit in your organization. This ability to compare a candidate to multiple roles will also help you with succession planning and determining what sort of coaching an employee may need following a promotion.

Comparison Tools – Candidates

At a minimum, you should find a tool that helps you compare your candidates with ease. All of the data that you collect on your candidates will lose its value if you or your organization can’t use it effectively.

Validated for hiring

Ensure that your hiring assessment was tested for reliability and is validated for hiring. Laws for hiring vary based on locations, and it’s always important to know what your local laws are when using a hiring assessment.

Want to learn which hiring assessments we do recommend?

The most important aspect to choosing a hiring assessment is to make sure that you or your organization are able to use it effectively. We have evaluated multiple tools and would love to discuss the tools we feel are most effective.