Which Personality Tests Do Employers Use And Are They Effective?


January 25, 2021


180 Engineering

Over the past decade, personality tests have become an increasingly popular tool in the Human Resources (HR) field.

In 2015, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that about 22% of companies used personality testing as part of the recruitment process. The SHRM further noted that the use of personality testing was growing by about 10% annually.

Given the costs of recruiting, training, and retaining exemplary employees who fill their roles well and fit comfortably within their company culture, it’s not surprising that some HR professionals chose to add to personality testing to their toolbox.

But that toolbox expansion accelerated quickly as many companies shifted to remote work in 2020.

Personality Testing And Remote Work

Working remotely holds a number of unique challenges and requires different ways of:

  • Maintaining communication and engagement
  • Managing time efficiently
  • Tracking performance
  • Building and maintaining trust
  • Creating cohesive teams
  • Dealing with isolation, loneliness, and distractions
  • Instilling company culture

Soft skills – such as communication, problem-solving, organizational skills, time management, and stress management – can help employees manage these challenges effectively. Knowing which soft skills an employee brings to the position can help managers better support that person.

How does HR know which soft skills a candidate has? That’s where personality tests come in.

What Is A Personality Test?

A personality test is a way to determine a person’s enduring personality or behavioral traits. Most tests focus on the “Big Five” personality characteristics, measuring things like:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

By analyzing and understanding those traits, an employer may be able to predict how well a candidate will manage the challenges that require soft skills. For example, someone with a high degree of agreeableness will likely be a supportive team member.

Although personality tests sound like a highly effective HR tool, they do need to be approached with some caution.

How Effective Are Personality Tests As A Hiring Tool?

Personality tests can reveal information about candidates and ultimately help to find the best fit for a position. But analyzing and applying the information gleaned from a personality test needs to be done with care.

Finding The Perfect Test

Psychometric Success reports that there are over 2500 different personality tests currently on the market, with more being developed each year. Finding a test that meets an employer’s specific needs may be a challenge, unless they invest in creating one specifically for their own positions and/or company.

Test-Takers Can Manipulate Answers

While there are no “right” or “wrong” answers, candidates may still try to manipulate selections to cast them in a more agreeable light. For example, if the job description indicates that the employee needs to be able manage shifting priorities, a candidate may try to choose answers that indicate they handle change well.

As well, candidates can “prepare” for these tests by searching out online prep guides. One such guide posted on YouTube is entitled, “Caliper Test – How to Get a Perfect Caliper Profile [2021].” The video description advises that, “Preparation is essential to achieve a high score and continue to later stages of recruitment.” In certain cases, then, these guides may provide tips on how to manipulate answers.

No One Personality Is The One Perfect Fit

It’s also important to keep in mind that there is no one best set of traits for any one job.

In a piece in The Economist, Marcus Buckingham, who was a researcher at Gallup Organization for almost 20 years, is quoted as saying:

The best nurses do not behave the same as one another, nor do the best salespeople, nor the best leaders . . . Instead, while all excellent performers in a certain role will achieve the same excellent outcomes, it turns out that their methods and styles for achieving these outcomes will vary, person to person; excellence at work is always idiosyncratic.

One Tool In The Recruitment Toolbox

Personality tests absolutely can offer valuable insights on candidates and can be useful during recruitment. But it’s important to select the right test and to ensure that those who are analyzing the test results are trained to do so.

As well, a personality test should be only one component of the evaluation process. Integrating personality tests with the other evaluation tools – like the traditional interview, skills testing, and situational judgement questionnaires – can provide a fuller understanding of a candidate’s suitability.

Common Personality Tests

There are literally thousands of personality tests on the market. But there are a few that are highly valued and consistently used by HR professionals.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the best-known personality tests available. It’s widely used in all types of situations and it certainly may be used as a recruitment tool. In fact, a piece at 4 Corners Resources reports that “The majority of Fortune 100 companies use the MBTI as part of their hiring process, according to . . . the test’s publisher.”

The MBTI evaluates a candidate’s personality by comparing these traits:

  • Extraversion vs Introversion
  • Intuition vs Sensing
  • Thinking vs Feeling
  • Judging vs Perceiving

Once the answers are scored, the test-taker is defined as belonging to one of sixteen different personality types.

A study reported in The Economist found that the MBTI had no validity for vocational performance. However, the test still has value as a way to determine if a candidate would be a good fit for a company’s culture. It can also be used as a tool to understand the types of support that employees need to improve their performance and professional development.

The DiSC Behavior Inventory

The DiSC assessment tool was designed as a way to evaluate emotional intelligence. However, it is very commonly used by HR professionals to gauge how well a candidate might fit into their organization.

“DiSC” stands for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. People tend to fall more heavily into one of those quadrants than others, which determines their personality type.

According to a blog piece at bryq.com:

the Dominance trait is associated with being direct and forceful. It is also strong-willed and results-oriented. The Influence trait is known for its energy, optimism, enthusiasm and being social. Those in the Steady category [are] said to be courteous, tactful, supportive and patient. Finally, people who identify as Conscientious are meant to be fact-focused and logical. They are also reserved and analytical.

While the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is more well known, the DiSC assessment is actually considered more reliable than the MBTI. For that reason, it is quite widely used for recruitment purposes.

The Hogan Personality Inventory

The Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) looks at general – “bright side” – personality traits. Evaluating how candidates relate to others when they are in a positive frame of mind can help employers determine if a candidate’s personality will be a good fit for both their company culture and a specific position.

Based on the Five-Factor Model, the HPI was developed specifically for employment settings, to assist with the recruitment of candidates and the professional development of employees. It consists of 206 true or false statements, which will categorize the test taker according to seven primary scales (personality traits) and six occupational scales (employment groupings).

According to the blog piece on bryq.com, the HPI has been administered to over 500,000 candidates (as of April, 2020). However, the test is expensive and requires training to interpret. For this reason, it’s mainly used for short-listed candidates or for executive-level positions.

The Caliper Profile

The Caliper Profile is one of the most commonly-used personality tests for recruitment purposes. It is highly valued by employers because it:

  • Is specifically designed to match candidate traits to job descriptions
  • Can be customized with questions regarding the position
  • Provides an easy-to-understand numerical score as well as a profile that highlights a candidate’s strengths and weakness as they relate to the position applied for

As well, it’s harder for candidates to manipulate the selections in the Caliper Profile because all the multiple choice options are positive ones. For that reason, the results are likely more accurate than with some other personality tests.

It’s clear that personality testing is not the perfect way to find the best candidate for a position. However, if chosen wisely and interpreted with care, these tests can often provide insight into how well a candidate will fit into the position they’ve applied for. Some personality tests, especially those developed specifically for occupational use, may also provide insight into how well a candidate will fit into a job role.

But regardless of which test is administered, a personality test should always be only one tool in the recruitment toolbox.