What to consider before using a personality test for hiring

It looks like we convey up personality at work on a regular basis. Bosses use it for hiring, division heads use it for group constructing, particular person staff use it for profession improvement—it actually appears an important component for how issues work at work.

Sadly, what most individuals don’t understand is that the science of personality is extremely advanced and faces ongoing debate, even within the educational literature. Even worse, the overwhelming majority of the personality assessments utilized in enterprise settings are flawed and lack scientific proof. As a doctoral pupil in psychology who research personality at work, I’ve three warnings for everybody who desires to use personality assessments at work.

First, you need to know that hottest personality assessments depend on flawed theory. They falsely assume that folks may be categorized into personality sorts—a theoretical framework that has been thoroughly discredited. These assessments—the Myers-Briggs, the DiSC, the Colour Test, and the Enneagram—all try to categorize individuals into contrived sorts. Asking somebody in the event that they’re an introvert or an extrovert isn’t the suitable manner to strategy personality. Folks don’t match into neat packing containers; they’ll’t be categorized into “solely introverted” or “solely extraverted.”

As an alternative, personality is greatest considered a continuum: Folks can fluctuate in levels from low to excessive on a given trait. Presently, probably the most scientifically supported principle is the Big 5, which identifies the diploma to which somebody is open to new experiences, conscientious, extraverted, agreeable, and emotionally steady. In depth analysis has demonstrated that the Large 5 predicts work-related outcomes similar to performance, leadership, and teamwork. However even this principle is hotly debated and much from excellent.

As well as to being primarily based on imperfect or discredited theories, most personality assessments depend on flawed measurement. Even most Large 5 assessments nonetheless use a conventional Likert-type scale, which asks members to fee themselves “on a scale of 1 to 5.” Scientists have been conscious for many years that this measurement methodology is fraught with biases—in spite of everything, how can we actually belief that somebody’s response of “4—I considerably agree” to the sentiment of “I like going to events” is actually reflective of their stage of extraversion?

There are some higher measurement strategies, similar to forced-choice tests (which ask respondents to select which assertion, out of a number of, greatest describes them) or AI-based tests (similar to measuring personality primarily based on social media posts). Nevertheless, these approaches are computationally advanced and tough to perform with out superior statistical coaching, making them impractical to implement in workplace tradition.

Lastly, most personality assessments depend on flawed assumptions in regards to the stability of personality. Scientists have begun to understand and discover proof that personality modifications not solely throughout one’s lifetime, however even throughout the day. Depending on the situation you’re in at any given second, your conduct will replicate your personality in another way. In different phrases, even if you happen to used a extremely correct measure of personality and received a rating of prime 10% in your “agreeableness” trait, that gained’t maintain in all conditions. It’s possible you’ll be extra agreeable together with your boss, however much less agreeable together with your coworkers, or vice versa.

So ought to we cease speaking about personality at work altogether? Possibly. Even if you happen to get the idea proper (and use the Large 5), get the measurement proper (and don’t use Likert-type measures), and incorporate the impact of the scenario—all of that are nonetheless ongoing areas of analysis within the educational literature—you’ll nonetheless encounter a discouraging chance: Maybe personality merely doesn’t matter as a lot as we expect it does.

However the standard response I hear after I inform somebody not to use personality assessments is, “oh, however it sounds so correct, and it helped me uncover who I’m!” There’s truly a time period for this: the Barnum effect, which is a phenomenon whereby individuals have a tendency to understand obscure, summary personality statements to be extremely correct and personally related, regardless of a lack of scientific proof.

From a private standpoint—I get it. In school, I took a Large 5 test that advised me I scored within the seventieth percentile for introversion. Positive, it was a Likert-type measure and didn’t embrace any consideration for situational variations. Nevertheless it helped me understand that it’s okay for me to embrace the truth that I choose to be on my own with a good e-book, as opposed to attending a giant home celebration. Later, that realization helped me determine what I needed to pursue in a profession.

Though they’re not all the time scientifically excellent, personality assessments can nonetheless be helpful, particularly by way of producing dialogue or self-reflection. We see this type of pragmatic strategy to personality in lecture rooms as nicely. The idea of “studying types” (that college students differ in how they take up info, and that instructors ought to purpose to match the popular fashion) has been discredited, and but most lecturers will agree that it’s essential to current info in numerous mediums to assist college students be taught. In any case, personality assessments could also be helpful in office discussions and for team-building. Nonetheless, the idea of personality needs to be dealt with very rigorously and administers and test-takers needs to be made conscious of the warnings and limitations of this model of personality science.


Steven Zhou is a PhD pupil in industrial-organizational psychology at George Mason College, the place he researches management, personality, and psychometrics. He beforehand labored in HR information analytics at a giant worldwide client providers startup and in school pupil affairs.