Now more than ever, the relationship between employers and their employees is a major point of focus for HR teams. Recently, companies have started to use personality tests to get to know their employees and build thriving relationships in the workplace. According to Psychology Today, approximately 80% of Fortune 500 companies use personality tests to assess employees, and the personality testing industry exceeds $3 billion.
As more companies turn to personality tests to understand their people and make thoughtful decisions, we asked businesses to weigh in on the use cases, benefits, and limitations of personality tests in the workplace. Here’s what they had to share.
Personality tests can be used to enhance multiple aspects of HR, but they are commonly associated with the recruiting and hiring processes –– also known as “pre-hire.” These assessments are completed by potential candidates and reviewed by recruiters, hiring managers, and HR administrators to provide value in a number of ways.
1. Finding a Culture Fit
Personality tests are often used to gain insight into a candidate’s compatibility with their team and the company at large. Hiring isn’t an exact science, and mapping out personality traits helps businesses avoid unnecessary turnover by gauging if a candidate aligns with company values.
“Hiring the right person for a job often consists of factors that go way beyond skills, knowledge, experience, and professional expertise. [Personality tests] help us realize if the professional, personal, and cultural visions of our company and future employee will align, at least to a reasonable extent,” said Ihor Shcherbinin, Director of Recruitment at DistantJob.
It’s important to keep in mind that companies should avoid searching for a perfect culture fit in every candidate. Rather, HR teams and hiring managers should broaden their focus by looking for employees who can add new depth to the company’s culture.
“You can’t have a team of personality clones, and the most creative teams are a diverse crowd of personality variations. So the tests often serve as a helpful guide for putting together the best teams,” said Alex Mastin, Founder and CEO of Home Grounds.
Seeking out a specific set of shared qualities in your future hires might sound intuitive, but it’s worth noting that employees who share the same skills may also share the same weaknesses. Personality tests can be used to recruit candidates with complementary strengths and build rich company cultures.
2. Satisfying Role Requirements
As we said before, hiring isn’t an exact science. The recruitment process can be costly and time-consuming, so when a company decides to open up a new role, it means that there is a significant need for employees who can deliver on certain requirements. This puts a lot of pressure on recruiting teams and hiring managers to make accurate assessments of candidates’ potential in real-life situations.
“Certain positions require someone who is more detail-oriented or more analytical,” said Charlotte Kackley, HR Manager at Merchant Maverick. “By having candidates complete the assessment, we can get a better understanding of which of those qualities the candidate possesses.”
Personality tests can provide granular insight into candidates’ thought processes and working styles. If a company is looking to hire someone with strong leadership abilities, for example, a personality test can be a valuable tool for understanding their approach to conflict management and problem solving. The best part is that hiring managers can rely on tangible data instead of making long-term decisions based on limited interactions during the interview process.
3. Improving HR Efficiency
There’s a lot that happens behind-the-scenes during the recruitment process. Vetting candidates requires time and coordination, which can be a major bottleneck for companies during hiring sprees. According to Brad Touesnard, Founder & CEO of SpinupWP, “Personality tests can speed the recruitment process by filtering out unsuitable applicants before the interview stage.”
Personality tests have proven to be especially helpful for remote hiring efforts where accessing and engaging with candidates can be logistically challenging. The process of scouting employees looks completely different than it did a year ago, and personality tests play an important role in ushering in a new, streamlined era of recruitment.
“Web-based test interface and evaluation significantly reduces recruitment time while increasing our chances of making a quality hire. It also extends the reach of talent scouting as it lets HRs go beyond physical boundaries to assess skills and make a hire from anywhere in the world,” said Matthew Paxton, Founder of Hypernia.
The value of personality testing doesn’t end at the recruitment stage. Businesses have a lot to gain from using personality tests in the post-hire stage to improve the employee experience. Here’s how some of them have applied personality tests successfully in their existing workforce:
1. Nurturing Talent
When companies bring in new employees, they’re making an investment in their long-term success. Learning and development is a crucial area where businesses can build strong relationships with employees while helping them reach their full potential. But not every employee has the same pace and style when it comes to learning new skills, which means businesses need to tailor their training efforts at the individual level.
“[Personality tests] help us identify key ways to nurture the talent we just recruited. By doing this, we create custom training plans that allow our recruits to deliver their expected work threshold and still grow their skills at the same time,” said Katherine Brown, Founder & Marketing Director at Spyic.
Another perk of personality tests is that they allow companies to identify employees with compatible traits and create opportunities for successful partnerships. This is especially important during onboarding or development stages when employees are finding their footing. In these cases, guidance from a peer or mentor that is able to relate to the employee can make a world of difference.
“Mentorship is important for us to train up new salespeople. We make use of personality tests to help them to define their style as a salesperson. We also try to match new salespeople with experienced salespeople who work well with them in terms of personality to help them get used to the company and learn faster,” said Shawn Plummer, CEO of The Annuity Expert.
2. Managing Performance
Personality tests help employers gain deeper insights into each employee’s organizational habits, communication styles, and information processing –– all of which inform the performance management process. Managers can use the knowledge they gain from these tests to drive effective conversations in one-on-one meetings and establish balanced team dynamics.
For David Dhoklia, Director of Operations at Force by Mojio, personality testing is all about fine-tuning how performance is managed for each employee. “Our rationale was that knowing whether an employee was driven by emotions or logic, whether they were spontaneous or a planner, and whether they were introverted or extroverted would help us manage them better in a team environment,” he said.
But using personality tests isn’t just about providing employers with insights on their people. Employees themselves can utilize these assessments to gain clarity and direction on their own goals and areas of growth.
“We use [personality tests] post-hire because we want to provide new employees with a sophisticated introspection tool so that they better understand themselves, particularly their interpersonal strengths and weaknesses,” said Trevor Larson, CEO of Nectar.
The process of completing a personality test almost always raises one’s self-awareness. If an employee notices that they struggle with managing large groups or projects that are highly collaborative, they might choose to seek out management training or pursue a career path as an individual contributor.
3. Engaging employees.
By shedding light on employees’ preference and behavior patterns, personality tests can play a hand in improving employee engagement. For leadership and management, personality tests help understand how to keep employees interested and satisfied at work. When John C. Simmons, CMO of InboxAlly, noticed that some of his people weren’t motivated by bonuses, he was able to use personality tests to find alternate incentives for different types of employees, such as public recognition or extra time off.
“It's really hard to figure out what makes your employees tick, and [personality tests] are a really good way to help you in this process,” said Simmons.
Personality tests can also be fun opportunities for team bonding. Completing these assessments together encourages employees to discuss their experiences and insights with each other. This can help team members better understand how to communicate and work together effectively, and even lead to greater alignment on personal values.
Potential Drawbacks of Using Personality Tests at Work
There are many ways that personality tests can make a positive difference in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean they are foolproof. Some argue that these assessments can only shed light on an employee’s current state (which can change in different situations) rather than their enduring personality traits.
“We found that the nuances of how a person conducts themself in a job setting couldn’t really be captured with a single personality test,” said Dhoklia.
A potential pitfall of personality tests is the risk of pigeon-holing employees into overly simplified categories. Multiple choice assessments are convenient and easy to scale, but they can’t capture the type of rich data needed to paint a full picture of someone. As Brad Touesnard, Founder & CEO of SpinupWP, pointed out, “Personality tests can also fail to account for factors like cultural background or language barriers.” These are important things to consider, especially when it comes to DEIB strategies.
The accuracy of data collected from personality tests should also be interpreted with a grain of salt. Chances are that potential candidates and current employees have done their research on which qualities and skills your company looks for in its people, and this knowledge might affect the authenticity of their responses.
“The primary drawback to using a personality test, either post or pre-hire, is that if the employee knows these tests will be seen by management, then they have an incentive to tailor their answers to appear more capable or impressive,” Larson said. “Someone may feel that they will be passed over for a leadership career track because they ranked too low on extraversion or intuition, for example, and distort their answers.”
At the same time, Shcherbinin pointed out that “[tailoring answers] can mean a candidate has taken the time to grasp your company’s visions and possibly possesses the sensitivity and adaptability to tailor his/her answers accordingly.” If versatility is something that your company is looking for in an employee, a personality test could be a good way to find it.
A Tool, Not a Solution
Personality tests provide insight into employees’ minds, behaviors, and preferences, and they can be extremely useful for enriching learning and development and improving workplace relationships. But as helpful as they are, personality tests are only a small part of the larger performance management process.
“It's important not to attribute too much value to the assessment and to remember to use it simply as one tool of many in your toolbox," said Charlotte Kackley, HR Manager at Merchant Maverick.
While personalities and culture fits are important, there is much more to building a workplace where everyone has the opportunity to improve and advance. Test results alone aren’t enough to determine whether a person will be a successful addition to your company.
As Shcherbinin pointed out, “[Personality tests] can do you a lot of good as a complement to the hiring process, a reinforcer, and a facilitator, but not as a dictator. They should be used as a stepping stone to getting to know someone even better and asking the real questions yourself while letting the person give real, unautomated answers.”
Above all, employees need to know that there are no “right” or “wrong” results when it comes to personality tests. By using personality tests to drive diversity and inclusion rather than conformity, companies can reinforce the message that all personality types are equally necessary and valued in the workplace.