The Dos and Don’ts of Personality Testing

By Jenn Steele - Jun. 19, 2014
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Personality testing was all the rage, oh, about 5 years ago. While the trendiness has worn off a bit (does that mean it’s hipster now?), personality tests can still give you an insight into how someone might behave (especially under stress). This can help you figure out whether they are naturally inclined for the specifics of your open role.

There’s a lot of debate around personality tests, both their validity and ethical boundaries.  In a survey of 8000 people, 44% felt that personality tests were an invasion of privacy. Couple that with the outcry of a bunch of psychologists against the subjectivity of tests & the misapplication of tests and there’s a minefield of stuff that could go wrong.

So if you do use personality testing, you have to do it correctly. Anything less and you could end up losing a valuable, quality candidate because they didn’t want to run through your mouse lab. Or, as has happened for some companies, you could end up in court.

NB: This article is not providing legal advice on personality testing. Laws in your jurisdiction may differ from the advice presented here. Please check with your legal counsel before doing any personality testing.


Remember that most personality testing is subjective.

And I mean super subjective.  First, the respondents’ answers are subjective by definition. Second, the way the answers are classified and broken down into groups is subjective. And third, the predictions of how their personality type will affect performance in your organization is subjective. Always take the results of a test with a grain or boulder of salt and use it as a single input rather than data for a definitive decision.

Ensure current employees can opt out of sharing the results.

Using the results of a personality test, even one such as the Myers-Briggs test, to make decisions regarding work career paths is unethical. If you’re providing your employees the opportunity to do personality tests, they also need to have the opportunity to keep those results confidential.

Be clear about confidentiality.

You must disclose who will have access to the results and for what purpose the results will be used.

Account for differences.

A respondent from a minority or ethnic group may score lower on a management selection test than Caucasian respondents because of different ways of approaching leadership and authority in different cultures. Or a man and a woman might test very differently depending on the questions. Seek guidance to ensure that the data you generate will be truly valid rather than horribly skewed.

Administer proven tests.

It is important that you are administering tests that, er, work! Plenty of them out there claim to be amazing but you really need to check the results of past hires to confirm that the test is useful to you. Always get an independent opinion that is not making money from your decision.

Administer tests that clearly relate to the role.

It could be a violation of the discrimination act to ask candidates to complete irrelevant tests. In a court case, Griggs vs. Duke Power Co, the court found that the results the tests revealed were not required for the job and the candidates successfully sued the company.

Pay attention to a candidate’s response.

A candidate doesn’t even necessarily have to take a test to reveal aspects of their personality. If a candidate refuses to take a test in an uncooperative, feisty, or rude manner, that tells you plenty about them – and you didn’t even have to pay for it! If, on the other hand, they question the validity of the test and provide reasons for not wanting to take it in a constructive manner, that tells you they have some decent soft skills and the guts to speak up about something they don’t agree with. On the other hand, if you’re looking for someone feisty and borderline rude to kick of an aggressive sales campaign, maybe hire the person who got upset about it…?


Make it compulsory for employees to submit to & share the results of a personality test.

You may want to make this part of your hiring process if the fit and validity of the test is right, but you can’t make current employees take a test or cough up their results.

Use the results of a personality test to judge future work performance.

Personality tests should be used to assist employees to work better together and grow themselves. They should not be used to determine whether someone is capable of performing their job in the next few months.

Assume that all your applicants will tell the truth

One study suggested that about a third of all applicants faked answers on a personality test when it related to a new job. Those with higher cognitive abilities and previous experience with tests will be able to tell which answers an employer wants to hear.

Be lazy about choosing a test.

Some can work very well and are good predictors of job performance. Others are just trying to cash in on the craze that is personality testing.

Assume that one test will apply to all roles.

The verdict on personality testing is that in some situations it works relatively well. The results are highly dependant on choosing the right personality test for the right situation. So don’t blindly assume that the test that rocked for your sales role will work for a developer.

Go with the cheapest tool.

Since the popularity of testing has exploded, a number of businesses have come on the scene providing low cost personality testing. Unfortunately, not all of these are reputable. Be wary of getting what you pay for.

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Here’s the bottom line: If you are using personality tests, make sure they are just one part of a range of tools and techniques you use to learn about candidates. And don’t forget to check with your legal counsel before you start!


Jenn Steele

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