From Career Treadmill to Fast Track

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Dr. Dan Harrison, International Leader in Behavioral Assessment: Achieving Career Success by Knowing Yourself

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What makes some people prefer working in teams and some prefer independent project work? Why do some people thrive as engineers, while others are born to be writers? It is fascinating to think about the underlying preferences and behavioral traits that determine what careers best suit each of us. International leader in behavioral assessments, Dr. Dan Harrison (, shares his unique assessment instrument and how our behavioral preferences impact our career choices and performance success.

Dan Harrison, Ph.D., has a diverse background and over 30 years of experience in Mathematics, Personality Theory, Counseling Psychology, Human Potential Psychology, and Organizational Psychology. He used the Paradox Theory to create and develop Harrison Methodologies, and in 1990 he founded Harrison Assessments with a vision of helping companies optimize their human capital by leveraging their deep understanding of human resources and psychology.

Throughout his early career Dr. Harrison was involved in clinical and human potential psychology. He later became interested in organizational psychology, and as he consulted with companies he began investigating assessment instruments to help facilitate his team building and coaching work. As he analyzed various instruments he found that many lacked significant psychological depth, so he decided to create his own assessments. As a result, Harrison Assessments has gained international acclaim and enjoys impressive commercial success.

Enjoyment Performance Theory

Dr. Harrison shared the ideas, methods, and theories behind his assessment instrument. The general theory that has driven the development and effectiveness of his instrument is rather simple and quite intuitive: people who enjoy their jobs are more responsive to their work situations, perform better, and possess the drive and motivation to succeed. Dr. Harrison calls this the “Enjoyment Performance Theory.” “It is counterproductive for an individual to perform in a role that does not match his or her behavioral preferences because not only the individual’s level of enjoyment and job satisfaction decreases, but so does job performance.” Dr. Harrison added that when mandatory tasks make up more than 25 percent of a position’s responsibilities for which there is a poor fit, job satisfaction and performance will often suffer. He emphasized that organizations should consider behavioral fit when they evaluate for hires and promotions and not focus exclusively on skills and eligibility. According to Dr. Harrison for optimal success, a job needs to be mostly about what you enjoy doing. Every job comprises tasks and responsibilities that can be mundane, and most positions will require us to try on different hats based on the circumstances. However, in general these conditions last for brief periods of time, and then we return to what we enjoy doing… or performance suffers.

Reliability, Validity and Consistency

Harrison Assessments‘ extensive research has developed a unique assessment instrument that produces reliable and valid results with high test/retest scores. Dr. Harrison also incorporates performance research to enhance his instrument, and in particular he focuses on the relationship between job performance and behavioral traits. Rather than abstract concepts in psychology, Harrison Assessments measures the things that people like doing and the behavioral traits related to those things. When an individual’s personal traits match with his/her job description and job requirements, that individual tends to perform exceptionally well, demonstrating a close relationship between empirical data and construct validity.

We asked Dr. Harrison if the type of stress that many people are currently experiencing due to layoffs or the fear of layoff could affect assessment feedback. He mentioned that if a person is under significant stress this may affect how they respond to questions, but since the instrument is very sensitive to inconsistencies, it will indicate that the results are not accurate or reliable. Moderate stress and other factors or conditions, however, minimally influence results because individual preferences are remarkably stable over time and do not change significantly from one situation to another.

Paradox Theory

In its simplest form the paradox theory suggests that an individual can possess and demonstrate seemingly contradictory traits simultaneously. Dr. Harrison illustrated this fascinating reality of the human psyche’s polarity with the following example:

“An individual possesses the qualities of frankness and diplomacy, two apparently antithetical behavioral traits. Most behavioral assessment instruments would score these traits on a linear scale, and eventually produce results that would reveal the individual as either a frank or a diplomatic person. In contrast, Harrison Assessments investigates just how frank an individual is compared to how diplomatic, since a person can possess both traits, or neither. The instrument compares the individual’s frankness to his/her diplomacy by measuring each trait independently and then analyzing the results together. The relationships between complementary behavioral traits are identified as part of an interconnected system, and therefore the tool reveals the complexities of the human behavior and performance to produce results of enormous value.”

Your Paradox Traits – It’s a Balancing Act

Dr. Harrison expanded on the Paradox Theory and how it reveals profound information about performance success. By understanding the complex relationship between two antithetical traits, Harrison Assessments measures the potential for stress responses. An imbalance between paradoxical traits in individuals provides a clear insight into how they will respond under stress. Dr. Harrison again employed the example of the diplomatic and frank individual to illustrate how this works:

“If an individual tends to be much more diplomatic than frank and he/she encounters a situation that requires directness or frankness, the individual will immediately withdraw or become evasive in response to what he/she perceives to be a stressful situation. Tension and stress will build so that the individual eventually flips in the opposite direction and becomes overly blunt.”

This insight allows us to see where and how our natural tendencies can benefit us and also where they may hinder us in stressful situations.

Know Your Weaknesses and Give Power to Your Strengths

The paradox concept demonstrates how our strengths and weaknesses influence each other. Dr. Harrison emphasized that when it comes to the relationship between contradictory traits, it’s really all about understanding and balancing the two. For example, if you have a strong sense of empathy, then you know that this quality’s corollary trait is permissiveness and less willingness to enforce rules. However, when you understand your weakness, you can work on developing it: in this case if enforcement is important to the performance of your job, you can develop your ability to enforce. By doing this you can actually give more strength, power, and depth to the empathy you naturally possess. How fascinating that we can actually add more value to a strength by developing and improving our weakness in a particular paradox! The additional advantage of developing balance in an imbalanced paradox is the elimination of the potential stress behavior and the enhanced flexibility in responding to a given situation and in your interactions with others.

Improving Relationships by Mastering the Paradox

Dr. Harrison also shared some of his insights on how understanding paradox and polarity in our own behavior and in those around us can help quell fears of termination and neutralize office politics. Tense situations arise because people with opposing personality traits polarize each other. For example, if your boss is frank and blunt and you are diplomatic, there will inevitably be tension between you because you are each other’s “disowned selves.” In other words, any antagonism you feel toward your boss stems from the reality that you have “disowned” the frank trait in yourself in favor of being diplomatic. To counter these tense situations, Dr. Harrison suggests knowing what your natural stress behaviors are and teaching yourself to exercise the opposite behavior in stressful situations. For example, if you tend to be more diplomatic than frank, just being a little more direct in the beginning of an interaction will significantly help that interaction to stay on track, usually avoiding the stressful situation in which the other person doesn’t respond to what you want and you need to tell them.

A Panoramic View of Career or Position Fit

While other behavioral instruments measure 10 to 20 behavioral traits, the Harrison Assessment evaluates over 150, providing a range and depth of information that is comparable to a broad picture window view of behavioral preferences vs the limited kitchen window view of many style indicators. Dr. Harrison explained that any given position, job, or work situation requires more than five, 10, or even 20 qualities because there are so many situations that elicit different behaviors. For any career or position success profile, the Harrison Assessment evaluates a set of 30 to 40 traits that influence performance. Harrison Assessments provides a comprehensive evaluation of an individual’s potential fit with careers and positions making it ideal for both career evaluation and selection for hiring and promotion.

Personal Growth and Career Selection

Individuals can use the feedback from Harrison Assessments for personal growth by investigating how one of their paradox traits has the potential to help or hinder its complementary trait and their performance. In addition, the instrument adds value to job searches and career transitions because individuals can review their report and see how their behavioral traits match with over 600 careers. This allows them to determine the degree to which they fit various roles and identify what careers will give them the greatest amount of satisfaction.

Dr. Harrison emphasized that understanding your strengths is the most important variable in the career selection process, and after completing the assessment you can begin to look at how your strengths apply to various career paths. When you really know yourself you can go through the process of researching, investigating, and gaining knowledge for suitable careers. This is a very valuable way of determining and validating your career path.

Applying the Harrison Assessment to Your Job Search

Having utilized the Harrison Assessment for many years, we have assisted clients in targeting areas of self-improvement and workplace preferences as they sought to better understand how to advance their careers and make career changes. Additionally, the instrument’s comprehensive report has helped clients compose more detailed and powerful reference letters highlighting their strengths. Finally, the instrument’s Interview Report benefits our clients by helping them prepare for behavioral questions in a job interview.

Behavioral Questions for Hiring

For organizations, the Interview Report objectifies the interview by providing behavioral questions specific to the position. For example, if an individual’s assessment reveals that he/she is enthusiastic about their goals an interviewer can probe further to learn how their goals relate to the job for which they are being interviewed.

Assessing Eligibility

Organizations can employ the Harrison Assessment as part of an online system to assess job applicants’ match to a particular position’s eligibility requirements. These questions are related to education, work experiences, and skills, as well as behavioral characteristics and tendencies. Setting up online screening systems with the Harrison Assessment allows a company to get a complete assessment of an individual applicant even before reviewing the resume. This saves companies as much as 80% of the time typically required for the selection process because it allows them to interview applicants that most closely fit the requirements without having to first sift through resumes and conduct interviews with individuals who do not match eligibility requirements.

In addition to new hires, the instrument can be applied to selection for promotion because it examines both performance and potential. When an individual is introspective and understands his/her own behavior, that individual has the opportunity to develop certain behavioral preferences, which can impact whether or not he/she receives a promotion. However, Dr. Harrison cautioned to evaluate whether the position for which you are being considered for promotion is a good fit for you.

HATS off to Talent Management and Recruitment!

The latest enhancement to Dr. Harrison’s remarkable assessment provides a comprehensive resource for applications across talent management within an organization. Called Harrison Assessments Talent Solutions (HATS) it assesses eligibility as well as suitability, both essential to evaluating appropriate job or position fit. In the recruitment module, companies are able to customize online questionnaires for potential applicants and recruits, regarding education, training and skills, experience, and work preferences for specific positions. A person within the company then evaluates the questionnaire responses in lieu of reviewing resumes to determine which candidates to interview. As the candidates go through the interview process, companies can use the Harrison Assessment to assess behavioral suitability as well. This enables a company to more effectively determine which candidate is the best fit for any given position.

In the recruitment module organizations establish job criteria and requirements in detail before evaluating candidates, providing structure to the selection and hiring process. Additionally, the module enhances the legal standing of the selection process because the job requirements the clarified and quantified in advance so that all applicants go through the exact same process. Dr. Harrison revealed that companies can integrate the recruitment module with their own automated HR systems so they can use both to screen and track applicants.

Reliable Results

HATS is designed to minimize “gaming” or manipulation of the assessment. He explained that the consistency score, which goes along with the suitability assessment, tracks repetitive cycles throughout the system and cross-references them mathematically to measure whether an individual answers consistently. For eligibility, Dr. Harrison revealed that the questions are structured to elicit multiple responses, and questions can be revisited in the interview, which minimizes manipulation.

Comprehensive and Expedient

The HATS prescreening system presents a complete set of factors to give a comprehensive picture of how a person fits a job’s behavioral / suitability and competency / eligibility requirements. This helps companies minimize the number of unqualified candidates and increase the number of qualified individuals under consideration beyond the initial screening process. The HATS position template incorporates questions about education, training/skills, and experience as well as behavioral suitability questions in order to provide the most comprehensive picture of a candidate’s potential for success in a job. Additionally, organizations can weight the various aspects of the assessment and regulate other factors to determine the optimal picture of their applicants or employees for the assessment application they need. According to Dr. Harrison, the instrument eliminates an estimated 80 percent of the administrative workload by allowing companies to deal only with individuals who fit the job requirements. Dr. Harrison called this comprehensive, inclusive picture of applicants the “job success” formula.

Self-Knowledge Leads to Career Success

The Harrison Assessment success formula has complemented Job Search: The Total System time and again. The self-knowledge that individuals in job and career transition gain from the assessment helps them better understand their strengths and learn how to apply them effectively in the right career and job situation. When they combine this knowledge with The Total System’s job search and career advancement principles they create the best opportunities for themselves.

Indeed, finding your ideal career begins with understanding yourself — your strengths, passions, behavioral preferences, interests and goals. Self knowledge helps set the course of your job transition and career advancement for optimal satisfaction and success. Dr. Harrison concluded with these powerful words of wisdom: “In terms of careers, know what you’re good at, and stick to it. Know how that applies to different jobs and keep developing your strengths. That’s the key to job and career success.”

Listen to the entire show.

This interview was conducted on the Total Career Success radio show via VoiceAmerica Radio with Ken and Sheryl Dawson, principals of Total Career Success, Inc. and co-authors of Job Search: The Total System.

Sheryl Dawson is a certified Harrison Assessment distributor and has helped organizations as well as individuals apply the assessment to their needs across the talent management applications. For additional information, contact

Categories: Career Development · Job Search · Linkage · stress management · Total Career Success

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