Personality Tests as Hiring Tools: The Newest Trend in HR

Are you ready to Take a Personality Test? Picture this: Sara submits her CV to Management Consulting, Inc. and impresses hiring managers with her outstanding qualifications and experience. She is invited to a round of interviews, and meets with several managers and an HR representative. They determine she’s a perfect fit for the job and make a generous offer. But 6 months after her onboarding, Sara isn’t happy, and her division director is frustrated that she is not performing as expected.

personality test

This scenario is sadly familiar to most organizations. Why? For one thing, the interview process is frequently flawed, particularly when hiring managers try to measure the wrong things, or judge a candidate based on gender or physical appearance rather than know-how.

And the costs of bad hiring are high – lost productivity, financial and otherwise. It can cost a company as much as 150 percent of the annual salary to lose and replace a senior-level employee. For years, organizations in sectors like sales have relied on screening tests in addition to interviews to decide whether a candidate possesses the right personality for a position.

The number and use of personality tests has since broadened, and companies ranging from restaurant chains to investment banks now rely on the data these inventories reveal to hire talent. Personality tests as hiring tools are becoming more and more common – here’s what you need to know.

As personality assessments grow in popularity across all industries, it is highly likely you will be asked to take one at some point in your career. Take a look at this list of common tests and what they measure:

The Big 5

The format: A series of statements you rate according to a 5-point scale ranging from “not accurate” to “very accurate”. Examples: I make friends easily, I believe in the importance of art, I trust what people say.

What it reveals: Also known as the Five Factor Model, this test examines five personality dimensions – Openness, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Extraversion, and Neuroticism – and rates the candidate either high or low on each dimension.

In the area of Agreeableness, for instance, a low score means you are skeptical of human nature, prefer working alone and judge others’ characters quickly. On the plus side, you tend to be an independent thinker, and good at decision making and objective reasoning.

If you fall into this category, you are more likely to prefer a job in a field that involves power and independent action, like law, politics or law enforcement.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

The format: The most well-known personality test worldwide, the MBTI instrument provides a series of statements that you respond to with a “yes” or “no”. Examples: You think that everything in the world is relative, You trust reason rather than feelings, You frequently and easily express your feelings and emotions.

What it reveals:  The test is based on the idea that people differ systematically in what they perceive and in how they reach conclusions.

The inventory categorizes users according to four dichotomies:

  1. Favorite World, measured as introvert (I) or extrovert (E)
  2. Information, how you accept or interpret information measured as sensing (S) or intuition (N)
  3. Decisions, how you base decision making measured as thinking (T) or feeling(F)
  4. Structure, how you deal with the outside world measured as judging (J) or perceiving (P)

Upon completing the inventory, each user receives a code consisting of four letters to indicate their type. These 16 possible types are described specifically. If you are an ENTP, for example, you might be described by others as “energetic, inventive, logical and change-oriented.”

Caliper Profile

The format:  The test features 180 questions with multiple choice answers. You select one answer that  best matches your viewpoint and one answer the least matches your viewpoint. Example:

  1. I rarely have second thoughts about decisions I have made
  2. I’m very careful not to be aggressively demanding of others
  3. I usually stop at yellow lights, rather than race through them
  4. People will often take advantage of you without giving it a second thought

What it reveals:  Caliper measures 26 personality traits that relate to job performance. These skills fall into four broad categories:  leadership/persuasiveness, interpersonal skills, problem solving/decision making, and personal organization/time management.  Employers determine the skills they need in their staff and measure your results against this list.

Clifton StrengthsFinder

The format:  The online-only test presents over 170 pairs of “self-descriptors”. You choose one of the two options that best describes you. Example: I dream about the future versus People are my greatest ally.

What it reveals: The test is based on 34 “talent themes” and measures how many of these a candidate possesses. Examples of these themes are Ideation (fascination with ideas and able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena) and Achiever (possessing stamina, work ethic and a clear interest in productivity).

Users are presented with their top five themes as well as all others that match their personality. The focus of the test is to allow users to single out their strengths or their potential for building strengths for the purposes of career planning and work performance.

16PF Questionnaire

The format: The inventory features 185 statements about everyday situations. You rate each statement on a 5-point scale, from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”. Examples: I like to solve complex problems, I continue until everything is perfect, I am not especially interested in abstract ideas.

What it reveals: The assessment looks at 16 primary factors of personality – such as Warmth, Emotional Stability, Privateness, Self-Reliance and Perfectionism – and measures were a candidate lands on the scale for each factor.

For example, within the category Warmth, the candidate will measure as “reserved”, “warm” or somewhere in the middle. For Perfectionism, the candidate will be on the continuum between “tolerates disorder” and “perfectionist”. The PF16 is considered a good predictor of behavior and performance, and is widely used in career coaching and talent selection.

Personality tests always raise the question of reliability. Do they really result in better hiring? Some companies say screening with assessments has resulted in less employee turnover, while other employment experts insist that personality tests do not predict how well a person will perform in a job.

Applicants can also “game the system” by giving answers they believe the employer wants to see rather than being fully honest. It’s clear there is no perfect path to recruiting the right people, but pre-employment tests are becoming the norm in many companies. If you are job seeking, you will probably be taking a test soon, too.

About the Author:

Kate RodriguezKate Rodriguez is a freelance marketing copywriter based in Munich. She has over 20 years of professional experience in public and private organizations. A former international trade analyst for the U.S. government, she also worked as a university career coach, specializing in international career search. Most recently, she was employed at Experteer as a customer service agent and online marketing manager.


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