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Pros and Cons of Using Personality Tests for Jobs

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Written by

Kerry Wang

CEO, Co-Founder

Published

March 3, 2020 9:17 PM

Categories

Best Practices

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Why do we use personality tests for jobs we are hiring for? 

Hiring isn't “The Bachelor” — even if it certainly feels that way when we conduct season after season of one-on-one and group interviews in search of “The One.” Unlike the beloved reality show, I aim to take any emotion out of the final hiring decision and objectively assess job candidates to reduce bias. The best way to do this is to rely on a data-driven strategy.

Employers use tests like DiSC, Myers-Briggs, and other modern assessment tools to identify culture fit, communication style, and career trajectory. 

Unlike other pre-employment tests that focus on hard skills, there are no wrong answers on a personality test. According to a Society for Human Resource Management survey, 22% of HR professionals use personality tests. They assess traits like “persuasiveness, detail orientation, conscientiousness, rule following, optimism, goal orientation, data rational and proneness to boredom.” These tests give hiring managers a behind-the-curtain look into the emotional intelligence and self-awareness of the applicant.

While I support any technology that helps hiring managers make better hiring decisions, here are some thoughts on what makes these personality assessments helpful and where they ultimately fall short. 

How They Work

Personality tests for jobs are focused on matching results within personality archetypes. 

Let's consider the results from two of the most popular personality assessment tools.

1. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test scores people on the basic psychological functions by summarizing multiple-choice test answers to reveal which one of 16 personalities candidates align closest with. Each personality type is assigned a four-letter acronym that's made up of one letter from each of the following categories:

  • Extraversion or Introversion (E or I): This metric refers to where candidates get their energy. Are they energized by external interactions with people (E) or by solo time (I)? Introversion does not mean they don’t like people. It means their interior world informs their actions more than the influence or opinions of others. 
  • Sensing or Intuition (S or N): Sensing here refers to experiencing the world through the five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch). Intuition is based on detecting patterns in one's experiences. The latter tends to rely less on facts and more on impressions.
  • Thinking or Feeling (T or F): This trait is about how a person makes decisions. A candidate may rely on objective information (T) or the many perspectives of the people involved (F) before drawing conclusions. Thinking is driven by logic and feeling is driven by compassion.
  • Judging or Perceiving (J or P): Does the candidate prefer a controlled and predictable lifestyle that’s marked by an ability to take decisive action (J) or are they flexible and sporadic in their ways (P)? This area is most easily perceived by how someone moves through the outer world.

This was extremely popular at McKinsey. During my onboarding, everyone shared and identified into their MBTI groups. It served as a great icebreaker.

2. DiSC Assessment

The DiSC assessment works similarly but instead of the multiple-choice format, it provides statements that the test-taker then ranks themselves against on a scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The results determine the levels of dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness in the test taker’s personality. 

Depending on the traits within the profile, the results will be one of 12 possible combinations of the letters D, i, S, or C. The idea is that we are comprised of all of the archetypes, only in different measures.

The archetypes are categorized as:

  • Dominance: Those with a higher percentage of this archetype are confident and results-oriented with an eye on the bottom line.
  • Influence: A high dose of this archetype shows someone who is persuasive and prefers a collaborative environment.
  • Steadiness: This category represents dependable types who work well under pressure and prioritize cooperation.
  • Conscientiousness: Candidates who align with this archetype are people who prioritize accuracy and autonomy above all else.

How Personality Tests Help

Personality tests for jobs: Rubik's cube

With MBTI testing alone driving $20 million in revenue per year it’s hard to imagine that it’s just smoke and mirrors. 

In a perfect world, personality tests that accurately unlock a candidate's inner world would be a powerful matching tool. These types of tests have the potential to help candidates and employers during the hiring process. 

Candidates

I'll admit that I've been known to dabble with BuzzFeed's finest variations of “What Kind of Pizza Are You?” quizzes on a lazy Sunday. While these amusing results are strictly for entertainment, it confirms what we already know on some level — humans seek meaning in their lives. 

These tests can reveal new information to candidates about their strengths and weaknesses. This growth in self-awareness may uncover a gift they didn't realize they had or an opportunity to upskill and improve their professional profile.

Exploring personality traits in greater detail helps confirm the type of work environment a candidate thrives in and can even help predict their career path. For example, an introverted type wouldn't likely enjoy working for a bustling startup where lots of collaboration is expected. It's better for candidates to know this before hitting the "Apply Here" button only to find they are disappointed later, mid-interview process. More candidates developing a greater understanding themselves saves everybody time and energy.

Employers

Hiring managers, what's the most important metric from your hiring process? For me, it’s a quick and solid hire. 

Using personality assessments early on in the interview process weeds out unsuitable candidates and provides a more focused talent pool right off the bat. Whether your goal is to complement or rebalance the current team chemistry, aptitude tests can help zero in on what each candidate brings to the table. 

Understanding the deeper motivations of team members helps to support them on their career path. It also predicts team chemistry which is a key component in reducing turnover. The Globe and Mail reports that nine out of 10 cases of turnover are because of poor people skills within teams. Knowing a candidate has a high level of agreeableness and steadiness beforehand plays a part in stronger team dynamics and greater talent retention.

How Personality Tests Hurt

If these tests are so productive then why isn't everyone using them to create utopian-like work environments? These tests are under fire by many experts who believe they provide skewed or inaccurate results. 

Candidates

Not all software is created equal. By hastily selecting the tests that profile the wrong things, it can cost you great candidates. Even if you have the best Myers-Briggs type indicator, you may scare off skittish candidates who feel overwhelmed by the task of completing a personal assessment before building trust with the employer. 

While I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt, it’s quite common that some candidates may be tempted to answer the questions based on what they think you want to hear rather than their true answer. This skews the results and leaves you with a potentially ill-fitted match post-assessment. 

It’s not a perfect system to rely on a candidate’s self-awareness. There is the potential that the results you get from the test are not truly accurate if the candidate has an inflated (or deflated) self-assessment. It’s usually best to gather similar information from objective third-party professional references. This is a big reason why we built Searchlight.

Employers

Discernment is required when selecting the appropriate testing software. Relying on industry trends to inform your choice comes with the risk of having a pile of irrelevant data that doesn't move your hiring decision in the right direction. 

Without a strategy, assessments may reinforce bias. It’s an imperfect science that ranks candidates against what you assume is working well. Results are defined by the traits of existing high-performing employees. By matching more of what you already have, you can end up with a saturated team that lacks diversity. Worse, you could be missing out on a new kind of candidate that has the potential to take your business to the next level.

3 Answers You Need Before Using Personality Tests

Personality tests for jobs: Hands stacking over sheets of data

With 60% of workers being asked to take workplace assessments, we can see that personality testing is a major trend. While assessments you do with potential candidates gives you some idea about compatibility and culture fit, there is no magic formula when it comes to curating a well-rounded team. Before you ask yourself whether personality tests are right for your business, ask yourself about:

  1. Team priorities: Define the most essential goal of the team. What important problem needs solving?
  2. Potential gaps: Assessing personalities is only helpful if you know which gaps you are addressing. Diversity is a necessary ingredient for constructive collaboration. Where can you stand to improve?
  3. Bias: The personality test results are only half of the equation. How you are interpreting the results is the other half. How can you effectively counterbalance the human bias factor? 

Personality tests focus the talent pool by assessing culture fit and career development opportunities. Still, a healthy dose of context on what the tests can and can’t provide is crucial in evaluating the merit of their results.

Are Personality Tests the Right Match for Your Business?

Personality tests that are completed in a matter of minutes online can be a great complement to your business practice as long as you go in understanding the potential blindspots. 

Take a moment to assess your team priorities, potential gaps, and bias to before using these tests. Personality tests should always be rounded out with reference data and interview screening that includes behavioral-style questions for a balanced picture of the candidate’s external and internal world.

Since there is no perfect solution to give you accurate insights 100% of time when reviewing candidates, the goal remains to objectively assess our own blindspots when interpreting the results in order to distill strong and diverse teams. 

Further Reading

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