The always-helpful ShouldBeWorking has offered us her practical wisdom on so many occasions — and now she’s up to it again.
This time, she’s put together ALL her advice about how to use the DISC profile tool for understanding potential au pair candidates.
Not every Au Pair Agency uses the DISC profile, but for host families that have access to this tool, it’s one of the very few ‘nearly objective’ selection tools in our kit.
Dear Host Parents-— We’re all looking for the silver bullet — the tool, question, or insight that helps us select an Au Pair who’ll have a great fit with our family’s personality. While I wish there were such a tool, the closest thing I’ve found is the DISC profile. Below, I tell you everything I know.
Before you read on, however, I recommend taking the test yourself to help you understand it better. If you are going to take this test, which I recommend, take the test BEFORE you read all about it. Otherwise you will think too much and second-guess yourself!! Look for “Classic DISC” for about $35 dollars and do it online.
Disclaimer: I’m just a host mom with 3 kids, I have no qualifications in psychology or HR or management. What I can offer is my own research, interpretation and experience of the DISC test and how it relates to au pairs. YMMV. I might misunderstand many aspects of this. All responsibility for poor matches is hereby disclaimed!
How I got to be a Host Mom DISC aficionado
When CCAP started including these (or maybe I just noticed them) in the Au Pair applications about 4 yrs ago, I was intrigued. Finally a parameter that is ‘sort of’ objective, or at least does not depend on an agency employee’s evaluation (all of which praise all candidates highly) or a “reference” who might be fictional, a friend of the family, or who knows who–and let me add that with my knowledge of our Au Pairs’ native language I have seen that the translations of those references are sometimes, uh….creative.
The DISC is not an Au Pair agency thing. It is used in regular companies to help understand peoples’ approach to working with others and problem solving. I gather it is relatively effective in helping companies to organize teams, for instance, so that there is a mix of approaches, leaders, followers, rule-followers, rule-breakers and so on. I work solo at home, so I have never had reason to know much about HR.
I normally scoff at classification systems for human beings, believing instead in the uniqueness of individuals and being suspicious of corporate-capitalist pseudo-science . . . . but I quickly threw that all out the window in the face of a tool that could help me predict how an Au Pair would fit with my family.
What an Au Pair agency provides based on the DISC test is a very short, general and largely positive report on the candidates’ profile type.
It’s fine and interesting, but I wanted to really understand what that report meant and how I could read between the lines a bit more. So I found a website that offers the test for $35, took it, and got the result immediately online. I also made DH take it, and our then-Au Pair, and since then over a few years also some friends and others.
Unlike the truncated Au Pair applicant reports, the $35 got me a 15-page report about the whole test with more detailed discussion of my own profile AND a pretty good summary of all 16 possible profiles.
What DISC tool test tells you
The DISC isn’t a tool for achieving deep psychological insight. It is not about who you truly are or about your inner life, it doesn’t care about your childhood, your upbringing, your inner conflicts or nature/nurture issues in the first place. It is a superficial tool, meaning it simply describes how you tend to interact with people and situations, not about why you interact that way.
The DISC creators essentially identified or invented different outlines or general packages of qualities and says which package-description fits a particular person in their outward behavior and ways of dealing with situations and people.
Also note that these profiles are human inventions for HR purposes. They are not metaphysical, astrological or even deep-psychological (this is my interpretation, I remind you).
The DISC profiles are a convenient way to define general “packages” of ways that people interact with others. Each profile is a made-up category, it doesn’t make anyone behave a certain way and does not reflect deep, unchanging psychological structures (my interpretation). It just offers a general description of how someone with a particular package of qualities and tendencies tends to behave (wherever those qualities and tendencies came from).
Taking the DISC test
The test consists of about 20 questions. Each question consists of 4 phrases or words to choose from, you pick which seems most like you and which least like you. They are NOT on a spectrum concerning the same quality (as in, “lives in a pigsty”; “sloppy”; “somewhat neat”; “extremely tidy”). They are apples-and-oranges qualities to choose from, which can make it hard to answer each question (as in, “makes people laugh”; “is on time”; “is open-minded” ; “likes accuracy”).
Don’t think too hard about each question, just go with your gut. Do it quickly and don’t recheck your answers. Go with your first feeling of “yes! That’s me” and “No, that’s totally not me”.
I have wondered how the language barriers might affect an Au Pair taking this test–or maybe they do it in their own language, I’m not sure. But there are subtle differences in words and phrases, of course, that help native English speakers respond on a quick-gut level and maybe nonnatives might be more inhibited in their gut-response answer.
I took the Classic DISC, which shows results on a graph/grid, as a curvy line connecting 4 dots that represent my various levels of the four main factors that the test measures. Other versions of the DISC represent the profiles with a square composed of dots, and I think there are other versions beyond that. I prefer Classic even though it looks a little more complicated, because it shows the four spectra of qualities associated with each of the four factors.
Another Host Mom on AuPairMom (I think TexasHM?) found a free version that gives results in a pie chart with percentages of each quality. That’s useful too, but it doesn’t give you the sense of relationships among the qualities, i.e. how they interact as qualities to produce other general traits, which I find fascinating and helpful.
Your report of DISC results
If you pay the full fee, you’ll get the long report. It will have about 6 pp describing your profile.
I found my own DISC profile to be incredibly illuminating and accurate. It was even freeing to realize, for instance, that my inability to stay put at my desk all day is, despite its disadvantages to my productivity, part of my package of qualities that also makes me good at high-energy human interactions.
At the end of the report comes the more useful part for HPs. There is a short summary and graphic representation of each of the 16 profiles. It is really useful because it includes pithy elements like “What this type fears”; “How this type reacts under stress”; and so on. (The agency version of the report only hints at the details that the 15-page report provides.)
That last element, “How this type reacts under stress”, is to me the most accurate piece of the whole thing. In any case: To be able to anticipate how someone reacts under stress is very very useful!
The section “would increase effectiveness with more of the following” was, in my view, very accurate. How nice to have some action steps to help put these insights into action.
Reader, I know you didn’t take it yet! Now I’m serious: STOP HERE IF YOU HAVE NOT TAKEN THE TEST!!! This means you!
Spoiler Alert: Don’t read any further until you’ve taken the test yourself. If you do read on without taking even the online mini-test, you’ll mess with your ability to take the DISC in a meaningful way, since you’ll second-guess yourself when you ultimately do take the test.
And here, to spoil your last chance at not-second-guessing, are the basics. You can read about these four DISC factors on lots of websites.
The DISC Profile Factors
D: Dominance. “High D” means more dominant, likes to control situations directly, be in charge, makes things happen, gets things done.
High D can also include as part of its package elements of egocentrism, ruthlessness, and inconsideration. “Low D” means the person prefers to follow others’ lead, is more modest and gentle, and can also include lack of initiative, timidity, and uncertainty. There are of course also “middles” in each of the four factors. Most high-D people, however, have at least one other “high” characteristic that can mix with high or low D to varying effect.
I: Influence. High I means, roughly, being extroverted, sociable, enthusiastic, and likes to use verbal persuasion to obtain cooperation, rather than directly controlling situations.
It can also include qualities of being needy for attention, impulsiveness, emotionality, and taking things personally. Low I means, roughly, being logical, not taking things personally, and calculative. It can include an element of reserve, aloofness and suspiciousness. And then of course there is lots between low and high and it mixes with other factors in different ways, more to come on that.
S: Steadiness, as in “slow and steady”.
I would call it “patience” but high S also means “calm” and devoted to helping others (special needs, anyone?), and being ok with routine, repetitive tasks. High S can include passivity a hint of sluggishness and stolidity. Low S, in contrast, prefers more action and change. Low S can also include fault-finding and restlessness. (I myself am lowest possible S!).
C: Compliance, as in “adheres to given structures”.
High C is accurate, detail-oriented, restrained and diplomatic, and it can include rigidity and lack of big-picture thinking. Low C is independent and innovative, and it also can mean defiance, tactlessness and rebelliousness.
It is important to note that “High” and “low” as I use them here might sound like evaluative terms, but they are not evaluative.
High anything is not “better” than low anything.
The test could easily have been produced upside-down so that, for instance, instead of D for dominance the factor could have been called M for modesty, and then what the actual test calls “high D” would have been considered “low M”. So to be clear, “low” anything is not a negative, it simply reflects the test-makers’ choice of how to organize the scale (although my inner ideology critic supposes that some corporate-capitalist values are in play here with the arrangement of the factors as they are).
[Note that the D.I.S.C. stand for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Compliance. It took me about 4 years to notice this. ~cvh]
Combinations of Personality factors
The DISC gets REALLY interesting once you start combining these features into different profiles.
The makers of DISC have essentially come up with a way to analyze different combinations of the four factors to represent 16 different common combinations and their qualities. Each of these common combinations is called a “profile”. Please note that some of the names DISC gives to the profiles aren’t very helpful or descriptive, like “Agent” or “Promoter”. [Note: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) uses this same 16 profile strategy~ cvh]
So for instance:
- If you put high D and high I together with low S and C, you get an “Inspirational” profile, which is someone who tries to control situations by inspiring and enthusing others (but if that doesn’t work, might resort to more direct means, e.g. intimidation).
- If you put high I and high S together, you get a “Counselor” profile, who cares most about relationships with others and is a great talker/listener (but might not be so focused on accomplishing tasks).
- If you put high D and high S together, you get someone who will doggedly (high S) perform the tasks required to meet their ambition (high D) but is not as used to including others on her/his team (hence low S and low I).
There are also profiles with one single “high” factor; like with high I and low everything else, you have a highly enthusiastic, social person who might not be good at following through on promises and might talk so much that work doesn’t get done.
Combinations of high and low in just two factors can also be examined as representing more specific traits that help make up the whole profile.
You can find online descriptions of these “subtraits” that reflect various combinations of factors, like high D+ high I = assertiveness; or high C + low I = accuracy/caution.
It is very rare, or the result of too much second-guessing during the test, that someone does not score high and low on different qualities, and only scores “middling” on all of them.
How to interpret the applicant reports for Au Pair selection
Now the tricky part: Using your long test report to evaluate APs:
The AP report will not give you the graph that shows you the applicant’s results nor list the name of the profile that is associated with your applicant’s results (like “Promoter”, “Inspirational”, “Practitioner”, “Agent”).
Instead it will only describe in a few words the applicant’s results for the separate D, I, S and C factors.
It will also offer a few words about the candidate’s strengths and what the candidate might keep in mind to improve her/his performance. It is truncated and just gives some general characteristics in the most positive terms.
To make full use of the longer, more complete DISC report in order to understand what the agency is showing you, you need to match up the bullet-point descriptions and hints on the agency DISC report to the descriptions on your long DISC report of the different profiles.
(Remember that the long DISC report includes a lot on your own profile but also pithy and helpful summaries of all 16 possible profiles.)
It’s not hard to do, there are always a few key phrases that will match. As in, “you are an enthusiast”, which is a phrase that is listed with “Promoter” in the long report for which I paid $35; or “you have a strong inner motivation to achieve your personal goals”, a phrase that goes with “Achiever” in the long DISC report.
Interpreting those agency reports therefore requires some familiarity with the kinds of results the test may yield and the phrases that show up in descriptions of the different profiles. When I have written about “high I” or “low D” or whatever on the blog here, that refers to the graphing that is shown in the 15-page report/explanation that you receive when you take the test yourself.
The agency report, in contrast, doesn’t talk about “high”, “low” at all. It instead gives you some characteristics on a bullet-point list.
Focus on the CONTENT rather than the number of bullet points. Please note that understanding a particular applicant’s mix of factors is not achieved by counting the number of bullet points next to the factor being described. It’s a matter of what is being said in that bullet list. The description itself (however many bullet points are used) can be correlated, if you know the test well, to whether the factor in question is high, low or in-between.
Be Aware: People with the same profile can still be very different. It helps to see how these profiles play out in different ways in real life. If you know people who know their DISC, try guessing and see if you are correct.
What does all this mean for choosing your au pair?
I find DISC useful to exclude candidates.
I personally don’t want anyone with high D in almost any combination.
Exception: I would consider high D and high I together, because that I factor modulates the D to make the person more sociable, but as I have reported elsewhere, it can also mean that the applicant is defiant and stubborn. I’m giving up the likelihood of a strong natural sense of initiative with this exclusion of high D, however–although presumably some sense of initiative can be cultivated in someone who wants to please even if it’s not in their DISC.
High I is a mixed bag. We like lively talkers. But high I also means “needs attention” and can be a bit narcissistic. So I like high I if combined with S, which is patience and loyalty. Low I is less needy by far, but also less passionate. We’ve had low-I au pairs and it was smooth with them, but we did miss a little bit the high-energy laughter and chattiness of the high Is.
High S is important to us because of patience and loyalty. It correlates to low ambition, though. Our high-S AP could do melty beads all afternoon with the kids and it wouldn’t occur to her to organize an outing. High S is supposedly good with special needs, again that loyalty and patience. Initiative might be lacking though, and dullness is a possibility.
High C would be ok with me when combined with high I, again to make it more sociable and less task-oriented. I don’t want very low C, because it correlates to tactlessness and defiance. Middle-low C is ok though for me. CCAP uses the code phrase “prefer to try the untried” when referring to low C.
Oddly, CCAP does not make the most of this test, even though the Agency includes it in its applications. The Agency offers some silly recommendations to the effect that if you are an active family, you should look for someone whose profile reflects lots of activity.
Dig deeper to make this tool help you.
When to consult DISC in the selection process
YMMV. I look at photos first always; then most of the time letter second, family and lifestyle third, and then at the DISC if most of the foregoing elements look good.
Often the DISC confirms an impression I have that someone might be a good fit. Rarely does the DISC suggest a profile that I like if I haven’t already liked the photos or the letter. (This is rare because if I didn’t like the photos or letter then I wouldn’t have gotten far enough to even read the DISC).
The harder cases are when the DISC contradicts my otherwise-excellent impression of an applicant.
This usually happens when the candidate is “Inspirational”. This type comes on strong with big smiles, a great application, lots of energy, and good excitement, all very desirable. But knowing the downsides of Inspirationals–very low S&C–I am cautious. They are go-getters and fun but can be defiant and stubborn.
There are some other high-D profiles among the AP candidates, and maybe some of them would be good too–Achievers are high D and high S, and are dogged in pursuing their goals–so what if their goal is to be your best au pair ever?
Hint: If you have a candidate whose video shows her black belt in karate, her prize-winning art, and her standing on top of a high mountain, I’ll bet she’s high D of one sort or another.
In my experience there are many AP candidates who are high I + high S (Counselor profile) and Inspirationals (high D and I). There are also fairly many high S + high C (Specialist profile), and we have had two of these, they were responsible and easy to get along with but we missed the enthusiasm that comes with high I (whose downside, however, is drama).
Sometimes I wonder if DISC is as accurate as I fantasize that it is in predicting what kind of AP would work for us.
My statistical sample for noting outcome is anyway only 4 APs! I like to think I use the DISC as part of an overall picture–e.g. I did recently interview a candidate who had a fabulous application except the DISC was not at all my usual type (high D, low everything else). In interviewing this candidate some of her overconfidence and narcissism came out, which the DISC predicted. But even without DISC I would have given up on her because of her interview style.
So I hope that I use DISC as a kind of check on my own impressions during matching: If the candidate shows a certain quality I don’t like and it correlates to DISC, then that helps me to not overlook that quality even when everything else seems good. If the person shows a certain good quality that I like and it correlates to DISC, then I feel confident that I am choosing well.
I know others here have a lot of DISC insights, so we can gather more on this thread if you have not all had enough of me and DISC!!
Image: Kim Love on Flickr