What You Need to Know About Personality Tests

Congratulations, you aced the interview! You’re feeling positive and think you may really have a shot at landing the job you’ve been aiming for. There’s just one thing in your way: you’ve been asked to take a personality test.

If you’ve never taken a personality assessment before, an employer asking you to take one as part of the interview process can feel a bit unsettling. But, personality tests are nothing to fear. They are simply tools that interviewers use to gain a better sense of your perceptions, personality, and communication style.

If you’ve been asked to take such an assessment, there is no need to feel singled out. In fact, according to research from the Society for Human Resource Management, 32% of employers use personality assessments when hiring for executive-level roles, and 28% use them for middle-management interviews. Skills testing is even more prevalent with a whopping 64% of hiring managers claiming it as a vital piece of their screening process. 

With so many applicants applying for every open position, it has become necessary for companies to narrow down the pool of candidates to the most qualified for the role, both in terms of skill set and personality.

Why Employers Use Personality Tests

Onboarding is time-consuming and expensive, so it’s in the employer’s best interest to vet potential candidates carefully. Since the average employee tenure with a company is 4.1 years, investing resources into the hiring process to ensure a good fit benefits the company as well as the new hire. 

It’s hard to truly know if someone will be a great fit through interviewing alone. Some employers feel that personality tests can give them a bit of extra insight to make a better hiring decision.

Of course, personality tests vary greatly in terms of quality and reliability. Meanwhile, many candidates skew results by trying to give the “right” answers instead of answering candidly.

We aren’t saying that all personality tests are accurate or useful. In fact, some are downright misguided. However, if you’re asked to take one, it’s smart to go into it with some understanding of why the company is using it and what to expect.

Reason 1: To see if you are a good fit for the company culture

Every company has a particular workplace culture, and it’s important for some employers to determine if your personality will be a good fit with the overall culture of the company.

For instance, if you are a very serious-minded person, you may not do well in a company that has a more laid-back and easy-going atmosphere. By the same token, if you value a looser environment, you may not do so well in a more stringent corporate setting.

In this scenario, it’s unlikely that they’re looking for everyone to fit into a narrow personality profile. Rather, they are most likely trying to get a general sense of work values and/or preferences.

Reason 2: To see if you are a good fit for the role/team

Sometimes a company uses a personality test to determine if a candidate has the right attitude for a particular type of work.

We see this most often with sales roles. Not everyone is cut out to be in sales and deal with rejection and the pressure of meeting a quota. An assessment can help the manager see if you have the potential to thrive in a sales role, especially if you don’t have sales experience.

Reason 3: To determine your communication style

Good communication is essential in any work environment. Your communication style may be particularly important to the company if you are interviewing for a management and/or customer-facing position. This type of assessment is designed to help them understand how you prefer to communicate, handle conflict, and collaborate with teammates.

What a Personality Test Is Not

Now that you have a sense of why a company might use a personality assessment during the hiring process, it’s important to remember what a personality test is not.

Because of the language surrounding tests and the process of responding to a lengthy list of questions, it’s easy to slip into the mindset that you’re taking a test in an academic setting, where passing or failing would have far-reaching consequences.

Before your imagination can run away with you, let’s take a look at some of the things that personality assessments are not:

A judgment on who you are

The very mention of the word “test” can bring to mind painful flashbacks of anxiety, school days, and late-night cramming sessions, but a personality assessment should not be anxiety-inducing.

What’s important to remember is there are no wrong answers; you are not receiving a grade and you cannot pass or fail. The results of the assessment are not a judgment on who you are as a person or a reflection of what you are capable of achieving in your career and other areas of your life.

A magic “tell-all”

While it’s entirely possible that your assessment may lead you to some discoveries about yourself, it is not a magic formula that will reveal every aspect of who you are and how you handle every situation.

Human beings are multi-faceted and, as much as we may desire answers about who we are, there is no way to be given those answers from a personality test.

Most companies understand this and will be far more interested in your experience and what you convey in your interviews. The personality test will never be the primary consideration in a hiring decision.

What To Expect From Personality Tests

Most personality tests are based on the “Big Five” global factors of personality, as defined by the study of psychology. These five traits are:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

These five building blocks are the foundation for all personality types. Studies have looked at over 50 cultures around the globe and have found that these basic traits are not only universal but have roots in human biology. 

While studies show that nature and nurture have significant influence over the development of personality, these five foundational traits are present in every person around the world.

Personality tests employers love

There are many, many personality assessments available, but we’ll take a look at five of the most common in order to give you an idea of what to expect. 

Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI)  

Perhaps the best-known is the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI). The MBTI was inspired by the work of Carl Jung and designed to assign one of 16 possible personality types to the test taker.

The MBTI is intended to assess how you work, learn, and communicate by measuring preferences regarding four primary factors:

  • How we receive energy
  • How we take in information
  • How we make decisions
  • How we organize our world

Your type is determined by how you answer a series of questions, and your results will include an assignment of a four-letter type to describe your personality. The letters indicate personality traits in four different dichotomies: Extraversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving.

For instance, you may be an ESFP, (extroversion, sensing, feeling, and perceiving) or an INTJ, (introversion, intuition, thinking, and judging) depending on how you answer the questions on the assessment.

The MBTI is formatted to ask questions in 93 sets of two. For each set, you will be given two sentences and asked to choose the one that best describes you.

Though the MBTI uses words like “sensing” and “judging,” the terminology can be misleading. Ideally, the MBTI will be taken with a qualified coach who can guide you through the interpretation of your results to avoid any confusion and gain the clearest insights possible into your personality.

It’s important to note that there is no “bad” MBTI type. The focus is on preferences, not capabilities. The assessment is not meant to be used to judge a person’s potential or performance.

There are countless books and articles about the MBTI and many viewpoints on its validity. Many corporations use the MBTI for internal career development and team-building purposes.

If you’re asked to take the MBTI assessment as part of the hiring process, your best approach is to relax and answer the questions honestly. An attempt to “game” the process won’t get you anywhere.

DiSC 

The DiSC is another assessment that is widely used and particularly favored in corporate training programs.

Similar to the MBTI, the DiSC assigns a combination of dominant traits to the individual, operating on the assumption that everyone is made up of a blend of four primary qualities: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness.

Typically, each individual favors one of these qualities over the others (though there are some people who score similarly in multiple categories). Broadly, the understanding of these traits can be broken down as follows:

If you favor Dominance, you are likely:

  • Strong-willed
  • Results-oriented
  • Direct
  • Forceful

If you favor Influence, you are likely:

  • Enthusiastic
  • Energetic
  • Social
  • Optimistic

If you favor Steadiness, you are likely:

  • Courteous
  • Supportive
  • Tactful
  • Patient

If you favor Conscientiousness, you are likely:

  • Logical
  • Fact-focused
  • Analytical
  • Reserved

Instead of choosing one sentence out of a set like the MBTI, the DiSC offers a series of statements that may include some variation of the following:

  • I work best as part of a team
  • I tend to avoid conflict
  • I am very goal-oriented
  • I can be very vocal with my opinions

For every statement, the test-taker can choose from a scale ranging from; strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, or strongly agree.

Again, there are no wrong answers. Be honest and as specific as possible to get the best results from your assessment.

16 Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF) 

Unlike many personality tests, the 16PF asks questions that get to the heart of how you react in real situations at work. Because of this, it’s one of the more useful tests employers use in the hiring process. 

Composed of 185 questions, this personality test was created in 1949 to measure 16 traits that we all possess. These traits are structured around the “Big Five” global factors of personality.

Questions are in true/false format and may include such examples as “When people need some convincing to get moving, I’m usually the one who does it.” or “When I get bored, I tend to daydream.” 

The 16PF, like other personality tests, is not meant to give an employer a complete picture of you as a person. Rather, it takes a snapshot of how you react in certain situations and how you may behave when presented with specific circumstances. 

Answer honestly. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers, and this is just one step in your interview journey. 

Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ32) 

While a popular personality test for jobs, the OPQ32 is unique because of its format. Most tests have you select multiple answers from a group of options or rate each statement along a spectrum. OPQ32 asks you to select a single answer that is “Most” or “Least” like you out of several options. 

This assessment measures your work style and preferences. It is designed to help employers determine which candidates will be the best fit and where they will perform best within the company culture and structure. 

For this reason, it is important for you to be honest and consistent when answering the questions. It would not help anyone, candidate or company, for an introvert to end up in a position that requires extroverted qualities or vice versa. 

The OPQ32 is, as many personality tests are, based on the Big Five model of personalities. As personal growth and development can change a person’s behavior and response to circumstances, the results of this assessment have a “shelf-life” of approximately 12-18 months. After this period, the test should be repeated to maintain accurate results. 

KOLBE Assessment 

The KOLBE assessment is entirely unique in this collection of tests because it is NOT a personality test. It does not measure personality or anything related to your affective mind or the Big Five model of personality. 

It is set apart entirely because it measures the conative mind; the part of the mind which controls creative problem-solving, decision making, and action taking. The KOLBE assessment measures how you naturally do things best (most efficiently and effectively). 

A remarkable point of this assessment is that the results do not change over time. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that the results are 90% reliable for 20+ years. The way we innately perform tasks and make decisions – the way our brains work – doesn’t change over time. KOLBE determines this for the individual and provides the results. 

Here’s a video that explains their process:

Results from personality tests will likely provide some general assumptions about your preferences and/or personality. There will be no magic, incontrovertible decree that you are a good fit or not a good fit.

You may disagree with some of your results, and that’s okay. Some of the findings of your assessment may be true in certain circumstances and completely untrue in others.

It can be frustrating if you feel your results are not accurate and put you at risk of being passed over for a job you want. However, keep in mind that the personality assessment is just one small part of the hiring decision for most companies.

We have never heard of a great candidate missing out on an offer solely due to a personality test.

And if a company is overly focused on specific personality test results, you’re probably better off focusing on other opportunities.

Should You Prepare for a Personality Test?

Since personality tests are not “tests” in the sense that they are not meant to measure knowledge and skills, there is no need to study for a personality assessment.

However, if you find yourself feeling anxious about the test, you may find it helpful to do some research on the assessment you will be given and see some sample questions to help give you a more concrete idea of what to expect.

Beyond that, your time will be much better spent preparing for the interview!

The Crux of the Matter

Personality tests are used by many companies during the hiring process. They are designed to help employers gain more insight into each candidate’s work style and preferences.

It’s important to remember that your assessment is not a complete picture of who you are or a judgment of your personality. There are no wrong answers and no way to fail, so relax, be yourself, and remember you’re taking one step closer to landing the job. Don’t obsess over this step. Focus on preparing for your interview instead!

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Alia Sinclair

Alia Sinclair

Alia Sinclair is the former Head of Content at Big Interview and the Editor-in-Chief of Patchwork Mosaic, an online magazine for creatives. She lives in Seattle with her ever-increasing library of books.

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