What Personality Tests Don’t Tell You

Posted by Maria Talley on Feb 3, 2016 7:48:00 PM
Maria Talley
Find me on:

We’ve been using personality tests for more than a century. During WWI and WWII, when the military desperately needed able soldiers and officers to fight enemies abroad and take care of supply lines and equipment, personality tests were created to determine who was capable and who was not. Today, personality tests are used by organizations to attain a 360 degree view of the candidates, so they can be placed in the right roles for the best possible culture fit.

It’s been estimated that the personality testing industry brings in $2 billion to $4 billion a year. However, a recent study determined that personality tests predict employee’s job success by only 5%, while the other 95% suggests that there is no correlation between personality and performance.

Some researchers believe that companies unwisely spend money on tests that have little predictive validity when it comes to performance. Sure, we want to make sure that salesmen we hire are extroverted and that accountants are methodical. But if personality predicts performance only 5% of the time, can we really rely on these tests when making important hiring decisions?  

Here are five secrets personality tests don’t tell you:

1. It All Depends on a Situation. Personality type can’t really predict how a person will act in a certain situation. A chatty professor may be extroverted at the university, but force him to go to a rooftop party in downtown Miami, and you will see how shy and introverted he becomes in this unfamiliar setting. Every encounter calls for different behavior. The way we act at our core will be adjusted according to the demands of the outside world.

2. Wrong Assumptions Based on Introversion-Extraversion (I-E). Sometimes we assume you’re either introverted (shy) or extroverted (gregarious). However, I-E is a measuring scale, not a label, and as a scientific proof, psychologists have recently discovered an ambivert type that falls in the middle of this spectrum. Ambiverts are not limited to any one type. They possess both I and E traits in a healthy balance. That’s why it’s hard to predict how ambiverts will act based on the traditional classification.

3. Social Desirability Can Misrepresent Data. When taking a personality test, your employees will do everything in their power to be viewed favorably. Social desirability is a phenomenon which shows that a test taker will over-report the good behavior and under-report her undesirable traits. Faking is universal; we are all human and want to be viewed in the best possible light. Be aware that test results will be skewed based on the way each employee perceives to be seen.

4. The Results May Be Skewed Based on the Way They View Themselves. The biggest flaw in personality testing is the disparity between what it can assess, and what the test taker reports. If an individual believes she is analytical, her answers will reflect that perceived trait. Personality tests do not measure analytical abilities. They only measure whether a person thinks she is analytical.

5. Not Many Tests Score for Integrity. Hiring someone with low moral character can cause serious damage to your organization. As such, it is important to select employees that exhibit the highest levels of integrity. Unfortunately, not many personality tests offer this important measure.

All things considered, we don’t disavow using personality tests in evaluating candidates because personality tests do provide a more in-depth view of the individual than a simple interview. Just remember to take the final results with a grain of salt. Personality often times depends on a situation, and it can be hard to pinpoint where a given candidate ranks on a certain attribute. If you’d like to get a more accurate estimate of whether or not a candidate can be a good match for your company, check out our culture matching prediction engine.  


Follow our story on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. We look forward to connecting with you! 

Topics: recruiting productivity, personality assessments, hiring decisions

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all