Cult of Personality Part 3 – Personality Tests – A Waste of Time, or a valuable Hiring Tool?

Posted On: May 5th, 2016 By Helen Main 1 Comment »


Previously, we’ve discussed ways of using applicant interview time as a way of getting insight into a candidate’s personality. Although personality assessment at this stage is crucial, there are many variables that can sway an interviewer’s perception of an individual, from ingrained prejudices or negative associations, to misunderstandings or even a bad day.

If you were looking for a more neutral way of assessing job suitability, personality testing could seem like an easy solution. But like most shortcuts to success, this solution comes with its own set of challenges and risks – ones that could lead you up the wrong path and even into murky legal debates – so we thought we’d take this time to discuss the ups, downs, ins and outs of personality tests.

What’s Wrong with Personality Tests?

Personality tests have had a bad rap over the years, and with good reason. Without a proper understanding of what you’re looking for, how to test for it and how much importance to put on the results in terms of your decision making, you run the risk of making poor hiring choices.

You can miss out on great candidates

If you approach personality tests as the ideal means to finding your best candidate, you run the risk of missing out on candidates that would overall be a better fit for the role. For example, while bar staff need to be able to stay calm and approachable under the pressure of a hectic happy hour – a character trait that can be assessed – other traits can be more difficult to assess.

If someone asked you what character traits would make a great website developer, for example, you are unlikely to come up with a straightforward answer that can be uncovered through personality tests.

Assessment is not discrimination-proof

Depending on the test you’re using, you could open yourself up to claims of discrimination.

For example, someone with chronic depression could be faced with a statement like ‘I frequently experience mood swings throughout the day’. They may have learned to manage their illness to a point where it doesn’t interfere with their work, but without the opportunity to clarify their response, an honest response may impact negatively on their chance of employment.

If they chose to, they could pursue a claim of discrimination upon their failure to land the role, unless you were able to defend the inclusion of this statement.

Errors in Results

We already know that candidates will be trying to put on their best performance in interviews, even going as far as to rehearse their responses to commonly asked questions. So it makes sense that they will do the same thing when it comes to assessments. Candidates will often give answers that they think the employer will want, rather than honest answers that would allow you to accurately gauge their suitability for the job.

Errors can also be made even earlier on. In order to get helpful results, we need to make sure we are assessing the right things. No matter how carefully you vet your applicants, if you’re asking the wrong questions, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

When misused, personality tests will give misleading results, causing bad hiring decisions that will land you right back where you started – needing to hire someone because the previous hire left!

So, what’s RIGHT with them then?

Interestingly, those who feel they are well equipped to assess personality aren’t always so. Small business owners are often confident in their abilities in the business world, and rightly so, but being business savvy and being able to accurately select team members are two very different skill sets. Without an understanding of HRM and effective hiring processes, executives and business owners risk hindering their companies success through hiring errors.

This can be where applicant testing can benefit the company, as it offers a way to neutrally assess candidates and provides measurable, normative results. It goes without saying that applicant testing alone is not enough, but it can certainly make things easier.

Another way that personality tests can benefit the hiring process is by allowing us to focus on the needs of the role. It’s human nature to like some people more than others, but just because we like someone as a person, doesn’t mean they are a good choice as an employee. Using personality tests can help us make a more objective hiring choice, which improves our chance of making a successful hire.

How can we use personality tests effectively?

So far, we can see that personality tests can be useful sometimes, depending on how we use them. So how can we make sure we use them to our advantage and not to our detriment?

Know what you’re looking for

While some roles have more obvious requirements when it comes to character traits, other roles may have less clear cut needs. Rather than guessing, it might pay to collect some data about employers character traits and their longevity and success in their role, and use the results to help guide you. For example Xerox began to explore ways to reduce turnover in their call centre.

After spending six months collecting data about new hires, as well as those ending their employment and those who outlasted others, they analysed the data and used it to inform their hiring process, which included a personality assessment element. For example, they were able to deduce that prior experience in similar roles had no connection to an employee’s longevity with Xerox, but that ‘creative’ types outlasted those who were deemed ‘inquisitive’.

Information like this helps companies select or design tests that will gather useful information about applicant suitability.

Pick your test wisely

The first thing you’ll discover when you begin to look into personality assessment for recruitment is that you are seemingly spoiled for choice. With so many tests and assessments on offer, how do you decide what is useful and what is uninformative or worse, misleading?

Once you have a clear idea of what it is you want to test you can begin shopping around to find an assessment that suits you. There are plenty of free assessments available, but it might be work spending a bit of money on this to ensure you’re getting a test that will help and not hinder your hiring.

Overall, you want tests that are business focused, rather than just generalised personality assessment. Gallup’s Stregnthsfinder helps you identify a candidate’s strengths in a way that allows you to compare your candidate’s results in an objective fashion. DiSC Profile focuses on specific qualities that are relevant to the workplace, with a focus on teamwork in particular. Caliper Profile has been developed to adhere to the best practice guidelines of the US Department of Labour and was designed for use in the workplace.

Whatever tests you look into, remember to ascertain whether the test is validated, will focus on areas important to your business and provide measurable, comparable results.

Decide how they will fit with your hiring process

Another thing to consider is where this kind of assessment will fit in the recruitment channel. To do this you first need to consider the importance of personality in the role you’re hiring for, in relation to skills and experience. Hiring a retail assistant who has an approachable, positive attitude but has never sold anything in their life is less risky than hiring an amicable mechanic who has had no professional or academic training!

Once you have an idea of how much weight to give your personality testing, you can decide whether you use assessment as part of the initial selection process, to help decide who to interview, or perhaps to inform your final decision.

Assessment can be useful if you have multiple decision makers for example – it provides uniform data for all to see and can be discussed in a team meeting at the initial selection process or when interviews conclude, depending on how your hiring map looks.

Monitor Your Results

Once you’ve planned and carried out your new hiring process, it’s important to keep track of your results. Even the best-laid plans may need to be adjusted as new data rolls in, and in order to keep bettering your results, you will want to keep track of issues, successes, and surprises encountered along the way. Who knows, if you come up with a winning road map or a personality assessment that produces consistently good results, you might be able to package it up and market your new-found wisdom to others!


If you’ve been enjoying our Cult of Personality series, let us know! We’re going to continue down this road for a while, and if there’s anything you’d love to read about, leave a comment or send us an email. Similarly, if you’d like to share some knowledge or experience you’d had relating to personality and recruiting, don’t hesitate to get in touch – we’d love to hear from you! 





madhumithra says April 17, 2018 at 1:47 am

I have to agree with everything in this post. Thanks for the useful information.


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