Practice makes perfect. That’s why Atlanta-based Gables Residential vice president of human resources Philip Altschuler warns on-site property managers (and, really, any apartment professional whose primary job isn’t the hiring of new employees) to be wary of the consummately polished job candidate who talks the talk, walks the walk, and nails every single interview question. “It’s a simple fact: Bad job candidates get the most experience interviewing,” says Altschuler, who has overseen the hiring of 5,000 people over the course of a 25-year career in human resources. “With the resources available today on the Internet, even the poorest job candidates can become very well-prepared for an interview in a short period of time. So your worst people come in and [put on] the best show for managers who are not professionally trained in hiring people and who have no idea how to determine if someone has the behavioral traits complementary to a position or to the culture of your company.”

Companies have relied on psychological and behavioral profiling tools for some time to help winnow the keepers from the creepers, but for decentralized and geographically dispersed companies with high turnover metrics, profiling programs have traditionally proven difficult to implement as enterprise systems. In short, the testing was typically paper-based, required a proctor, and was time-consuming to score. Enter recently developed web-based behavior profiling solutions by Dallas-based PeopleAnswers and Vernon Hills, Ill.–based Wonderlic, among others, and industry verticals like the apartment sector are suddenly plugging pysch tests right into online application processes, improving the likelihood that new employees will survive and thrive.

First things First

Behavioral profiling tests work quite simply: Subjects are asked to answer a series of questions that evaluate cognitive, analytic, and reasoning skills, as well as organizational and personality traits. The results can indicate whether a particular subject is introverted or extroverted, a self-motivator or a team player, an independent thinker, or even a leader. By comparing those traits against predefined profiles for different job descriptions, hiring managers are offered a first-pass Rorschach test to make a go/no-go call on hiring any particular candidate. 

For firms employing new profiling software, “first pass” has become a critical concept in deploying the technologies, and most testing is now being conducted as part of the application process. “We’ve built an integration [step] where our prospective associates are funneled directly from the online application process to Wonderlic, which we use to perform an initial personality screening,” says Scott Pechersky, vice president of technology and ancillary services for Phoenix-based Alliance Residential. “This is done without any interaction needed by our recruiting or HR department. Only after the assessment is given and only if it meets a predefined criteria score does the candidate move along in our workflow, and we have definitely seen reduced turnover and a higher-caliber associate come through at Alliance since we started this.”

Gables likewise executes assessments up front and offers applicants entry into a $500 drawing as an incentive to complete the testing. “Whether an applicant is successful as a candidate or not, they’re still a potential resident, and we want them to know that we value the time commitment,” says Altschuler. “But definitely do assessments up front. If you’re a candidate at Gables, whether you come in through or, you fill out an online application and then—boom—it takes you right to the assessment. You’re trying to prevent a scenario where a candidate interviews with four different managers only to find out afterward that it wasn’t a good fit. That’s just a painful waste of time and resources.”

Power Profiling

The automation of behavioral testing has not only made the use of such systems more scalable for large, decentralized apartment firms like Gables, it has also produced a wealth of aggregate personality data that firms are beginning to use for matching applicants to appropriate job functions, determining whether a candidate shares certain corporate culture traits, and channeling employees toward appropriate career paths.

“Succession planning and career-­pathing is something that a lot of our clients are looking for,” says PeopleAnswers president and CEO Gab Goncalves. “Once you’ve captured the behavioral DNA of a candidate or employee, you can superimpose them with a click against the family of positions within a company. It allows an apartment firm to bring in an entry-level person into a property management position but know that person is cut out to one day make a great asset or portfolio manager. To be able to hire more people who have a tendency to be successful within an organization really opens up a lot of options.”

For example, by matching behavioral traits against known success stories in your company, these profiling systems can tell you if a particular candidate is a dreamy creative thinker inclined to innovate, but one who perhaps is not so inclined to manage other individuals. If your company is in high-volume, super-charged growth mode, you can pinpoint individuals who are organized and self-motivated. In short, behavior profiling helps firms identify their existing strengths and weaknesses from the standpoint of personnel psychology, and then allows them to hire against those characteristics on a candidate-by-candidate basis.

It also cuts down on turnover, particularly within the leasing agent and maintenance staff job verticals so often plagued by retention issues in the apartment industry. “Out of 137 positions at Gables, when comparing assessed versus nonassessed hires, we’ve seen a 41.9 percent lower turnover rate among assessed employees,” Altschuler says. “For just service professionals, we’ve seen a 59.3 percent lower turnover rate among assessed employees [from 2010 to 2011]. Turnover among assessed leasing professionals went down 73 percent in the same period. It’s huge.”

Kristy Simonette reports similar profiling successes at Houston-based Camden Property Trust. “In 2010, 40 percent of applicants were recommended to us as eligible for hire, which allowed us to focus only on those candidates who would be the best fit for Camden,” says the REIT’s senior vice president of strategic services.

“The value of this tool is evidenced by the reduced turnover we’ve had in our leasing consultant position, where we have reduced turnover by nearly 50 percent, telling us we are doing a much better job of finding the right person the first time around.

“As a result, we have expanded the assessment to our maintenance supervisor and community manager positions, as well,” she continues. “The assessment also provides supporting materials for managers, including candidate-specific interview questions and coaching and development techniques customized to each candidate.”

Complementary Systems

Testing technologies aren’t just for onboarding, either. Irvine, Calif.–based Western National Group is currently in the final selection stage for a hosted software that the firm will use to electronically track employee acceptance of new HR and operation policies released to the personnel base. “Our HR group can create or update an existing policy, assign it to one or more employee groups, and e-mail the new policy to employees to review and accept,” says Western National Group vice president of information technology Ken Hodges, who adds that the firm can incorporate a short test to ensure that employees understand the policy and are not just accepting it without reading it. “We’re incorporating a lot of policy changes this year, and this system will be a great tool to ensure that our distributed workforce is all on the same page.”

Western National IT specialists have also developed an in-house system that tracks verbal and written counseling sessions delivered to employees, allowing the firm’s HR group to interact and provide guidance electronically to both on-site and operation managers to ensure that performance or behavior issues are addressed while also ensuring that employees are treated fairly and according to the law. “Not quite as glamorous,” Hodges says, “but, unfortunately, necessary.”

Or not, if the promise of behavioral profiling technologies to match job applicants and employees against corporate cultures rings true. According to Altschuler, comparing the personality of job applicants with the personality of your company is just as critical as the behavioral and cognitive comparisons with specific job categories. “Hiring the right people is as important for the applicant as it is for Gables. We want you to be successful here, and we want to be successful, and that’s only going to happen if there’s a good match,” he says. “If you bring in someone who’s not a good fit, what’s the cost of turnover? There’s the cost of advertising and hiring and manager interview time, but when you hire someone who really does damage to your business, I’m not sure how you put a cost to that.

“These technologies help us move away from hiring by chance and closer to hiring by purpose.” [M]