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Workplace Personality Testing – a pointless fad or the key to a great hire?

Recruiting is no longer a glance at the CV followed by a few interviews. Personality tests are now part of the process in a majority of HR departments – but do they work?
personality tests recruiting HR

May 9, 2018

Personality tests are becoming more and more common in the recruitment process. According to a report from business advisory firm CEB, 62 percent of human resources departments now use personality tests to vet candidates during the hiring process. Proponents say that these tests can find the flaws and skills of a new hire before they’re challenged in a high-pressure situation on the job.

Despite the growing trend, not everybody is convinced that personality tests are useful. According to some studies, the most common types of personality test may be no more scientific than horoscopes. So if personality tests are unreliable, why test at all?

Exercises in foresight

Regardless of whether personality tests are totally accurate or not, they can still be useful exercises during the recruitment process. Completing a simple
personality test can be a great opportunity to anticipate potential scenarios and discuss how the candidate would react.

Say, for example, that a Myers-Briggs personality test identifies your candidate as an INTJ, with their highest results in introversion, intuition, thinking, and judgement. You might predict that this candidate would excel in analytical roles, but struggle to adapt to challenges that require intensive teamwork. You could then evaluate the candidate’s suitability for the role based on those predictions.

A more accurate test for many roles is the situational judgement test. While many personality tests, including Myers-Briggs, only give you a vague idea of how a potential employee might respond to a situation, the situational judgement test provides you with concrete examples of what the person judges to be the best course of action in a variety of likely scenarios. This is especially useful in high pressure workplaces, but can also be helpful to gauge suitability for a regular office environment.

Employers are missing the point

Problems arise when employers and hiring managers treat personality tests as an infallible guide to their personnel.

The truth is, when you distill someone’s entire personality down into just a few key traits, you’re oversimplifying something that’s very complex. Ask anyone their MBTI type and they’re likely to qualify it: ‘Oh, I’m an ESTP, but I’m really friendly!’ If it sounds familiar, you’re probably friends with someone who says things like: ‘The quiz put me in Gryffindor, but I always thought I really belong in Hufflepuff.’

The process that’s taking place here is the real key to personality testing: it’s the difference between the kind of person a worker presents to the world and the kind of person that worker wants to be. Personality tests in a professional setting are a jumping off point for an individual to examine the traits that they need to work on, not a foolproof guide to hiring the perfect employee. No one ‘type’ is best suited to a job – it all depends on the potential employee’s attitude to their strengths and weaknesses.

A good hiring manager will work with candidates to interpret the results of their personality test, and ask them to voice what they do and do not agree with. It’s then possible to develop an individual plan of action that will target their weaknesses and further improve on their strengths. In this way, you can utilise the results of a personality test to their intended potential.

Fake it until you make it

Unfortunately, a corporate environment where hiring managers constantly look for the right ‘type’ instead of the right person for the job fosters a culture of dishonesty in the hiring process. There’s a lot of pressure on candidates to focus on answering the questions ‘correctly’ rather than talking honestly about their strengths and weaknesses.

The only real way to combat this problem is to reassure the candidate during the hiring process, and emphasise that you aren’t looking for a ‘right’ answer to the questions, you’re just trying to determine which areas they excel in most. Explain the purpose of the test you have chosen, but avoid telling the candidate about the responses you’re hoping for upfront. An honesty contract – signing a commitment to be truthful at the beginning of the assessment process – might also make them think twice about lying to get ahead.

If you like a candidate’s background, but not their results this time, keep hold of their details and contact them again when the right opportunity appears.

A multimodal approach

So, what’s the verdict? In short, personality testing can be a useful tool throughout the hiring process and beyond. However, it cannot be the beginning and end of assessing a candidate’s suitability for the job.

Before you do anything else, you need to ensure that the personality test you are using will give you the information you need. If you aren’t prepared to utilise the results of the test to their full potential, it doesn’t matter if you use the MBTI or a Buzzfeed Quiz — you’re not going to get the results you want.

An MBTI test is great for when you have a very general role, but a very specific kind of candidate in mind. While reading through the results think about the other ‘types’ you have in your office already — do their answers, or their self-reflection, indicate that they are likely to clash and cause productivity problems? Or is this candidate filling an important niche in your team composition?

Now test those theories. How does your candidate perform in a situational judgement test? Remember that there are all kinds of factors that can make an MBTI result inaccurate, but given time to reflect on their answers almost all candidates will answer a situational judgement test in a way that accurately reflects their attitudes.

Finally, make time in the interview to talk about a candidate’s results and your observations, and pay attention to how they respond. At the end of the day, a worker’s personality type in itself doesn’t ultimately matter – what really makes a difference is the candidate’s willingness to reflect on themselves and change for the better.


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