The rise of personality tests in hiring, to use or not to use?


With an increasing amount of applicants per job opening, workplaces are looking for ways to simplify the hiring process whilst ensuring the best quality candidates are chosen.

We have previously spoken about hiring for a cultural fit and the effects of demotivation in the workplace. While the interview process continues to remain an integral part in determining how cultural fit and the resulting motivation occurs in the company, there are complimenting strategies to make the best possible hiring decisions.

A personality test is one such option. They are generally designed to evaluate and measure an individual’s motivation, ideologies, temperament and overall morality. Often it is these social and behavioural qualities that determine whether the applicant will have a positive or negative impact on the company.

Personality tests are in no way shape or form a new invention. They have been used historically by executive coaches and career placement organisations. The personality test is however, gaining recent traction from companies looking to streamline the hiring process and find the best possible candidates.

Personality tests can be used as one of many options to weed out the often-overwhelming amount of applicants, particularly if hiring for a cultural fit is an important goal.

The question is, does this type of onboarding assessment enhance or hinder your hiring goals? Are personality tests simply another gimmick, or will it positively affect your organisation’s culture?

Firstly, let’s look at the Downsides of Personality Tests:

  1. Cheat the System – When travelling overseas, some countries will ask you to check the box of all that is applicable to yourself. Questions can include the likes of ‘are you planning to commit genocide in the host country?’ In the unlikely event that you were planning to commit genocide, there is a great chance that you would not admit that on any subsequent forms.The same logic can be applied to personality tests. If answering some questions truthfully will be perceived in a negative way, to get the position you may just simply lie. Chances are we understand what the company is looking for and how to answer accordingly, defeating the purpose of the personality test in the first place (FastCompany).
  2. Potential Bias – Certain personality traits are often not relevant to job performance. While an individual’s personality may not fit within the company guidelines, their motivations, drive and passion could potentially bring a lot of benefit to the organisation. These qualities may be missed if questions aren’t structured to reflect such.
  3. Gut Feeling – Data will only take you so far. It is often up to the human component to make the final decision. Many critical hires are made due to a ‘good feeling’ that could have been overruled by test results and automation (Inc).

Often when reviewing the impact of personality assessments, there appears to be a lack of evidence to support the use of such tests. We are taught to never judge a book by its cover, yet personality tests provide you with a complete overview of candidates. All in all, this removes the ‘leap of faith’ often associated with hiring, and it is sometimes these instinctive decisions that result in acquiring the best talent.

What are the Advantages of using such Tests?:

  • Can reduce the number of Candidates – If the personality tests are taken prior to the interview process, this helps reduce the amount of candidates by identifying the quality ones. This can be done through the creation of ‘red flag’ questions and the relating answers to them.
  • Lower turnover and Cultural Fit – If applicants are selected for traits that are correlated with current high performing employees, this may improve the turnover ratio and the culture of the organisation. If employees are alike in nature, chances are communication, collaboration and teamwork will all be improved.
  • Specific Traits – These tests can be highly effective at identifying candidates for certain positions. For example, customer facing roles require specific personality attributes to be successful, such as empathy, which can be tried and tested through personality assessments.

Tips on how to run a Personality Test:

If your going to utilise a personality test, the most important question to ask yourself beforehand is “who are we” and “what are we looking for?” If your company motto is something broad such as “a team of hard-workers driven for success,” what are the traits you’re looking for that would determine who you hire for an organisational fit? Create a clear outline for the answers you’re looking for and adjust your test in response.

It is important that these tests not be the sole instrument used for selecting applicants. Rather, they should be used in conjunction with other procedures.

Forbes provides a look at various personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire that might be helpful to your organisation.

Personality tests and their usage are incredibly dependant on your organisation and its overall projection. Hiring has become increasingly automated, with technology such as artificial intelligence being used to crawl resumes. In many ways, the human element has become lost. While human involvement may come with a significant time investment, it can be crucial to determine the organisational fit of the employee that the software may miss.

For a company that is stretched for time and driven by the need to hire for a cultural fit, a personality test may be necessary and beneficial. For a smaller business, a ‘gut feeling’ may be enough to steer you towards the right hiring direction.