Are you slow and conscientious or are you a no-holds-barred fast mover? Do you prefer to work alone or is collaboration more your thing?
These are the kinds of questions agent Melissa Bulwith faced when she applied as an assistant for a Keller Williams Realty team leader and asked to take not one but two “personality tests.”
“Honestly, I was a little skeptical at first,” she said later.
Keller Williams says it has more agents than any other franchisor in North America: 109,000. Those agents have been with Keller Williams an average of 3.5 years. According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2014 Member Profile, this is slightly lower than the median tenure for agents overall in their current firm — four years — but the difference may be attributed to Keller Williams’ rapid growth rate: The franchisor has gained more than 30,000 agents, net, since 2012.
Those agents were not chosen willy-nilly. The vast majority have gone through a systematic recruiting process that Keller Williams calls “Recruit Select.” Lead agents and other managers take a two-day course to learn to implement the process, which begins with managers taking inventory of their business, where they want it to go, and the people they need to bring in to get them there, according to John Davis, Keller Williams’ vice president of growth.
Personality tests — more accurately known as “behavioral assessments” — help match job descriptions to the people who will best fit those roles, Davis said.
“We really wanted to help our people make really smart decisions. The cost of errors in a … hire is amazing when you put pen to paper,” he said.
By one estimate, 60 to 70 percent of prospective workers will take a personality test as part of a job application. In the real estate industry, major franchisors such as Keller Williams, Re/Max, Century 21, Coldwell Banker and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices have incorporated such tests in their recruiting efforts, as have many large brokerages such as Crye-Leike Real Estate Services, Long & Foster Real Estate, Baird & Warner and Long Realty.
An early screening tool
Keller Williams uses two behavioral assessments: the DISC and the AVA. The DISC looks at four major behavioral styles: Dominance, Influencer, Steadiness and Compliance. While the format varies by provider, questions are often some version of, “Here is a list of four terms. Which is the most like you and which is the least like you?”
The test takes perhaps 15-20 minutes to complete and reports are auto-generated. Those with high “D” scores are said to be driven, fast-moving and results-oriented. High “I”s are more likely to be personable, persuasive and not into details. High “S”s tend to be patient, predictable and slow to change. High “C”s are cautious, detail-oriented and thrive on structure.
Keller Williams hiring managers use the DISC as an early-screening tool. For instance, Sue Adler, the New Jersey-based team leader who evaluated Bulwith for a position as her assistant, says she would never hire someone in an administrative role with a high “I” score — “too chatty,” she said.
“Every role on the team requires a different skill set. If you put the wrong people in the wrong seat on the bus, they’re going to burn out pretty quickly,” Adler said.
“The high Ds tend to make good listing agents. The high Is tend to be really good buyer agents. (Those with high S and C scores) tend to be better admins, speaking generally.”
The assessments look for a fit between the job candidate and the job description, but also a fit between the job candidate and the lead agent.
As is typical of lead agents, Adler is a high D with a get-it-done personality. She wouldn’t hire someone like herself in an admin role because details would fall through the cracks, but whomever she does hire does have to have at least some of that fast-moving “D” in them, she said.
“I can’t hire people that speak slowly (or) take forever to make a decision — (that) would drive me crazy,” she said.
Luckily for Bulwith, her DISC results fit what Adler was looking for perfectly: low “I,” high “S” and “C,” and above-average “D.” Bulwith went through a video interview with a recruiter to go over the DISC results, and was one of two or three others (out of a field of about 20 candidates) selected for an in-person interview with Adler and two members of her team.
The DISC provides an opportunity to delve deeper in an interview than standard interview questions, according to Keller Williams.
“Hiring managers discuss the results with the candidates and ask for professional examples to ‘validate’ the results. Candidates are encouraged to push back if the results are inaccurate and provide examples to explain why,” a spokesperson said.
“A candidate cannot prepare or rehearse, and the discussion is candid. By the end of the Recruit Select process, hiring managers and candidates are quite certain if the connection is a good fit.”
In general, job candidates who take the assessments are excited to learn about themselves, Adler said.
“It explains a lot to them … especially the whole validation process. It’s really a self-discovery process,” she said.
It’s not unusual for someone who applies for one position to be hired in another position better suited to their behavioral style, she added.
Which is not to say that the assessments are the only factor Adler considers in interviews. She looks at the candidate’s career trajectory, for example, as an indicator of future growth.
“I look for someone with a background of service because (for) each role on the team, client service comes first, so they always have to demonstrate areas in which they went above and beyond for a client. And I look for that with references as well,” she said.
If the candidate is a serious contender for the position, the lead agent then has him or her take an Activity Vector Analysis (AVA) assessment, which Keller Williams considers more accurate and in-depth than the DISC.
The AVA measures assertiveness (how fast someone moves into action), sociability (how someone enters into new relationships), calmness (whether some tends to remain calm and patient and avoids situations involving unexpected change), and conformity (a tendency to avoid unfavorable situations and censure), according to Davis. There are ideal profiles for each specific position, such as a team leader or market center administrator.
“Let’s say that I’m looking for a lead listings specialist — someone that’s going to go out and take listings. I’m going to want their assertiveness very high,” he said.
“I’m going to want them to have midlevel to upward-level sociability because they’re going to be interacting with the client and (should) be able to read the subtleties for the people at the listing table.”
Their conformity and calmness levels should be low because they should be self-reliant and ready to act, he said.
Davis admits that he himself is a highly assertive and sociable person. But that does not mean hiring managers should hire only those who are just like them.
“We love all behavioral styles,” Davis said.
For instance, good transaction coordinators tend to have high calmness and conformity scores, and are often extremely methodical, consistent and focused on quality, according to Davis.
“These are the people that can get this listing from taking the listing to the closing table. So we’re not looking at good people or bad people — we’re looking at complementary behavioral styles in an organization,” he said.
“(The lead agent and transaction coordinator are) communicating in a highly functional way so production goes to a higher and higher level.”
Keller Williams declined to provide sample questions from the AVA, but Bulwith said the AVA she took had three sections. One asked her to list several adjectives based on how other people would describe her, and another asked her for adjectives based on how she would describe herself.
The third section asked her to describe herself in essay form — not something she was used to.
“I had to think about it a little bit. It was a reflective experience,” she said.
At first, the short length of the AVA made Bulwith doubt its scientific rigor. How accurate could it be?
But when she got the results she was “really blown away.”
“They were extremely accurate in describing my behaviors and personality both professionally and personally,” she said.
The 13-page report she received included several sections, including a behavioral overview, strengths she has that can be overused, and tips to coach her.
Excerpts from her behavioral overview:
- “Melissa is a strongly achievement-oriented individual. She has a strong goal orientation and is hard-driving.”
- “She tends to complete tasks and projects quickly, and is usually calm and controlled in her approach.”
- “Melissa is comfortable working in unstructured and vague situations.”
- “Melissa can be resolute and unyielding when dealing with people. She probably works most effectively in one-on-one and small group situations.”
Overall, the results said she was very organized; able to multitask; didn’t need a structured environment; and took direction well, but was able to work independently — all traits that would serve her well in her new position as Adler’s assistant, she said.
The AVA also allowed her to pinpoint behaviors that she’d like to work on.
“Both tests came back and accurately reflected that I work to attain a big-picture goal … but I do sometimes have a tendency to pay too close attention to the little things and lose sight of the big picture,” she said.
As with the DISC, Bulwith went over her AVA results with Adler. Bulwith considered the bulk of the results “spot on,” but there was one finding she questioned: Her sociability score was low. Adler explained that this did not mean she did not have any social skills.
Adler gave her this example: If she needed to get something done, would she prefer to go off and do it on her own or collaborate as a team?
“I said I would just rather get it done on my own, and she said she would have answered it the same way,” Bulwith said.
Indeed, Adler herself had the same sociability score on her AVA. “That made me feel better,” Bulwith said.
The secret sauce
Bulwith said she definitely talked about herself more when interviewing for Keller Williams than in previous job interviews. She thought the assessments were a good instrument to get candidates to “really explore who they are as a person and how that translates to the professional field.”
“(It) gave me a great arena to discuss the type of employee that I am and will be to Sue and her team,” Bulwith said.
“You get to lay a good foundation, open up the lines of communication. It opens you up as an employee and kind of humanizes you a little bit — you’re not just a candidate.”
She found the reverse to be true as well. When Adler talked about her own scores, that helped Bulwith see beyond Adler’s “big name” and made her feel less intimidated, she said.
That gets to what Davis called the “secret sauce” of Recruit Select — it’s the process itself that matters, not any behavioral assessment.
“The behavior assessment just slows the person down to see what they’re really like. (It) is just a tool to get them talking,” he said.
Often, when a lead agent is going over test results with a prospective employee, he or she “will start telling their life story, about who they are and what makes them tick,” he said.
Meanwhile, the agent is gauging whether the interviewee would be a good fit for the job, and whether he or she would thrive in the position.
“We create opportunities around (people’s) strengths. Rather than putting a square peg in a round hole, we want to put a round peg in a round hole,” Davis said.
The “validation” process after the behavior assessment helps lead agents get to know someone before they make the hire, not after, he said.
“(It) helps the person doing the role and the lead agent understand each other and create a richer, fuller relationship,” Davis said.
That, in turn, helps the lead agent’s business become more productive, more profitable, and run at the highest levels of efficiency, he added.
The hire is not the end of the road for the behavioral assessments. While certain behaviors can sometimes be a predictor of someone’s success, Keller Williams said, that does not mean that top producers are simply born.
“You can’t just say ‘I gave birth to a listing specialist.’ The person has to be fully trained,” Adler said.
Lead agents use the AVA results to help them set up the kind of training that would best suit the new hire. Some people learn best through face-to-face training, others through a computer, others by watching, and still others by trying tasks themselves and then discussing them, Davis said. The AVA also helps hiring managers understand what motivates the new hire and the kind of training techniques they are likely to respond to, he added.
If people are not well-trained from the get-go, at some point “a wildfire starts” and three months down the road there’s another and then another, he said.
“If they were trained upfront, there’s a higher probability those wildfires never would have happened,” Davis said.
Bulwith started training towards the end of October.
Editor’s note: For the benefit of new members, over the holidays Inman is bringing back a few of the best stories that debuted with the launch of “Select.” This story was originally published Nov. 20, 2014.