Table of Contents
- What Do Personality Tests Measure?
- Why Do Employers Use Personality Testing to Hire?
- 5 Commonly Used Personality Tests for Hiring
- Problems With Personality Tests
- Personality vs. Behavior: Understanding the Difference
- Are Personality Assessments for Hiring Ethical?
- Getting the Right People in the Right Seats
Most of us have taken personality tests—what used to be lighthearted assessments of our strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits. They presumably allow us to learn more about ourselves, our future, and our compatibility with others. However, what was once just fun personality quizzes has transformed into something much more complex and slightly sinister. Today, there are more than 2,500 different personality tests on the market. Furthermore, if you’re a job seeker, you’re likely to encounter a personality test in the hiring process.
Psychology Today reports that about 80% of Fortune 500 companies use personality tests to vet for upper-level positions. A 2017 Society for Human Resource Management report further detailed that 32% of HR professionals use personality tests to vet executive roles, and 28% use them for middle-management positions.
It’s not all fun and games, however. Many large corporations have come under fire for discriminating against candidates based on their test responses. The HBO Max documentary, Persona, has additionally shed light on the accuracy of personality tests and raised questions about how ethical they are.
Which leads to the question: Are personality tests accurate enough to be used fairly in the hiring process?
- About 80 million people complete a personality test each year.
- Personality testing is expected to be a $6.5 billion industry by 2027.
- 80% of Fortune 500 companies use personality assessments for hiring.
- Personality tests assume traits are fixed and can unfairly impact candidates.
- Several companies have faced discrimination charges for using personality tests.
- Practicing strengths-based leadership is a better formula for building a successful team.
What Do Personality Tests Measure?
A personality test measures the components that make up an individual’s personality. Personality tests aim to build a picture of your morals, beliefs, and character based on your responses to a series of questions, ratings, and sample scenarios. The tests find elements of strengths and weaknesses and classify your personality, such as whether you’re an introvert vs. extrovert.
For example, someone who scores as an ISFJ, the most common Myers-Briggs personality type, according to Truity, is defined as “The Protector.” This person has strong traits of introversion, sensing, feeling, and judging. In contrast, an INFJ, the least common Myers-Briggs personality type, is defined as “The Counselor.” An INFJ has strong traits of introversion, intuition, feeling, and judging.
Assessing personality helps employers understand how well you’ll fit into their culture, perform in a potential position, or stay motivated and inspired. These key insights help them evaluate candidates to reduce the potential for costly turnover and low productivity.
Why Do Employers Use Personality Testing to Hire?
Having the right corporate culture is key to a company’s success, and is also important to prospective employees. According to Glassdoor, 46 percent of job seekers view good culture as an essential factor in their decisions. This is because when a good culture is absent, low engagement can result. TopResume explains that this situation can reduce productivity by 21 percent, and turnover can become 45 percent higher.
To combat this scenario and to save time, companies use personality testing and other screening tools to preliminarily filter out candidates. For example, if two candidates are equal in skill, but the company is looking for extroverted traits, they may have both take a personality test. Ultimately, many companies don’t just want those who are technically qualified. They also want employees who possess the right attitude in order to remain with the company long-term.
Furthermore, this approach has helped personality testing become a global industry. It’s estimated that about 80 million people worldwide complete a personality test each year. So, it’s no wonder that the personality testing industry reached $2.3 billion in 2019. According to Dr. Howard B. Esbin, the CEO of All Star Teams, this will increase to $6.5 billion by 2027.
5 Commonly Used Personality Tests for Hiring
“It is up to each person to recognize his or her true preferences.”isabel briggs myers
Many personality tests exist, but there are a few common ones that companies are turning to most. Here are the ones you’re most likely to see if applying for a job that pre-screens candidates.
Brief description: SquarePeg is a “smart recruitment platform that helps you source, screen, and hire the right talent.”
How it works: Participants answer questions about their work preferences (such as working alone vs. working on teams) and then receive a traits report. The traits report is entered into the database and is then used to match companies and candidates based on compatibility. If you score as an introvert, SquarePeg will match you with the best jobs for introverts.
The catch: This can be an excellent tool for candidates to receive general company “matches.” If the test is part of a job application, however, and you don’t match based on SquarePeg’s algorithm, you’re probably out.
Brief description: Psychologists developed Traitify to use “human interaction with images to create the fastest validated talent assessments in the market.”
How it works: Traitify sells a visual-based test to companies for talent assessment. The test claims to collect personality data 30 times faster than other assessments.
The catch: The visuals are all designed to prompt responses that reveal insight about your personality, not your skills, behaviors, or goals.
3. The DiSC Behavior Inventory
Brief description: The DiSC Behavior Inventory™ uses the oldest style of personality testing known, dating back to the time of Hippocrates in 400 B.C., according to TopResume. The DiSC website describes the assessment as “a personal assessment tool used by more than one million people every year to help improve teamwork, communication, and productivity in the workplace.”
How it works: Using a four-style behavioral model, the DiSC assessment begins with a test that aims to categorize your personality into one of four main types. It measures dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness.
The catch: Ronny Cheng, Vice President of Marketing at Digital Astronauts, explains it this way: “DiSC assessments completely fail to assess specific skills or your ability to solve/think through problems.”
4. The Hogan Personality Inventory
Brief description: The Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) is used to predict employee job performance based on personality traits.
How it works: It uses the five-factor model to help businesses better select and manage their talent. According to Britannica, the five-factor model evaluates the five traits that are said to make up one’s personality: extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.
The catch: The model has been criticized by scholars for being too narrow to accurately capture one’s personality. Additionally, the five factors are all very broad and therefore don’t provide very personalized assessments.
Brief description: The most widely recognized personality test, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), is used by more than 88% of Fortune 500 companies in 115 different countries, according to the test’s website.
How it works: The MBTI measures a person’s traits by evaluating their responses according to four groups: extraversion vs. introversion; intuition vs. sensing; thinking vs. feeling; and judging vs. perceiving.
The catch: The Myers and Briggs Foundation says it is overtly unethical to use the MBTI assessment for hiring. This stems from the belief that regardless of what the test results suggest about a person’s personality, they should have the liberty to choose the type they feel fits them best.
Problems With Personality Tests
If you’ve ever taken a personality test more than once, you likely received slightly different results each time. As proven by lead researcher and psychologist Sanjay Srivastava with 132,515 adults, personality is fluid and ever-changing. One problem here is that personality tests assume that your personality is static. For this reason, personality testing can be an inaccurate tool for predicting set personality traits.
Another problem is that some tests also ask questions that reveal responses about disability, race, and mental health. Cathy O’Neil, a journalist for The Guardian, shared the story of Kyle Behm, who had bipolar disorder. After Behm completed a personality test for a minimum wage job at a Kroger grocery store, he learned that he had been “red-lighted.” Behm’s results made presumptions about his mental health, so Kroger’s HR team dismissed his candidacy. Their dismissal was in clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The primary problems with personality tests come down to the false beliefs behind them. Randy Stein, a psychologist with California Polytechnic State University, dissects three untruthful validity claims in his publication, particularly for the MBTI assessment.
The three claims that the MBTI assessment and others all make include:
- The “True Type” Claim: Some test assessments advertise to help reveal one’s “true” self. However, this suggests that one’s sense of self is disconnected from their authentic self, and some hidden knowledge instead governs them that they need to unlock. According to Nina Strohminger, author and legal studies professor, this belief is symbolic, not fact.
- The Causal Claim: This is the idea that one’s personality is the dominating force behind their behaviors. However, Stein explains that “the causal path from trait to behavior cannot be assumed.” For example, someone can be introverted in personality but make an effort to be extroverted at parties as a learned behavior, regardless of personality.
- The Inborn Claim: This is the belief that people are inherently born with fixed traits that can be categorized into a particular personality type. Personality tests like the Myers-Briggs generally only evaluate a person’s preferences. Traits, however, are conclusive of a person’s total tendencies, abilities, and skills—not just biological preferences. Author Don McGowan debunks this theory and others in What Is Wrong with Jung?
Personality vs. Behavior: Understanding the Difference
When considering the ethics and accuracy of personality testing, particularly in a hiring context, it’s important to understand the differences between personality and behavior. This touches on what psychologist Randy Stein was pointing out with the inborn claim dissection.
The American Psychological Association defines personality as referring to “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.” Behavior, by contrast, is defined as “an organism’s activities in response to external or internal stimuli […]”
- Someone with a naturally extroverted personality: Thrives around people, isn’t afraid to take risks, and prefers to talk problems out with others.
- Extroverted remote workers with adaptive introverted behaviors: Make adjustments to excel at working from home or remotely. When in solitude, they learn to lean on virtual social gatherings and in-person meetups with friends and family for social support.
From this example, it’s clear to see that making judgments based on someone’s prescribed personality alone isn’t fair or accurate. Charles Gerhold, consultant at 3D Group advises, “Structured interviews with good behavioral questions can be really revealing of how a person behaves. And the best predictor of future behavior is truly past behavior.”
Are Personality Assessments for Hiring Ethical?
The question of whether or not personality testing has been ethical isn’t hypothetical. Several companies have come under fire for discriminating against applicants that respond in certain ways.
A 2018 press release from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) revealed that Best Buy had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by using personality tests during the application process from 2003 to 2010. This act prohibits discrimination from employment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
Facing charges of racial discrimination, EEOC and Best Buy reached a conciliation agreement, and the major retailer discontinued the use of the personality tests. Best Buy also then instituted new national “best practices,” modified their hiring process, and added staff to monitor the hiring of minorities.
Between 2002 and 2010, the EEOC found CVS Caremark Corporation guilty of using personality testing to discriminate against employees based on race and national origin. A 2018 press release revealed that the EEOC and CVS also agreed to resolve the discrimination charges, which violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
After receiving the charge, CVS stopped using the personality tests and developed a training program for managers focusing on diversity and inclusion.
In 2015, the EEOC discovered that Target had been using pre-hire employment assessments to discriminate against candidates based on race, sex, and disability. Violating both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act and negatively impacting thousands, Target paid $2.8 million. The monetary settlement with the EEOC was distributed amongst the affected candidates.
Following the charges, Target discontinued using those assessments and changed its applicant tracking systems. Additionally, Target agreed to provide the EEOC with detailed annual reports of the predictive validity studies the company will conduct on its expected use of exempt-level assessments.
Getting the Right People in the Right Seats
“We very often confuse personality with leadership.”simon sinek
In Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, author Jim Collins explains great leaders first get “the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats—and then they figured out where to drive it.” This mindset suggests focusing more on whether a person is in the right “seat” in the company and less on their personality.
Therefore, instead of relying on presumptuous and ethically-questionable tests, use the interview to integrate personality-revealing questions. For example, here are some questions you could ask outside of the test:
- “Do you prefer working on a team or on your own?”
- “How easy is it for you to adapt to new challenges?”
- “What are you passionate about?”
- “If you could change one thing about your personality, what would it be?”
These are broad questions that will help reveal more detail about the candidate. For more targeted insight, become very clear on the skills and traits you’re looking for. Then, build personality-focused questions from there. This will help ensure the right candidates are getting on the right bus and being placed in the right seat.
Continue learning how to shift your focus away from canned personality traits by reading “Strengths-Based Leadership: How to Optimize Your Team’s Abilities.”