People Strategy

HR’s Top Questions About Personality Tests at Work, Answered

October 4, 2021
February 22, 2024
Manasi Patel
Lattice Team

As an HR leader, you want to ensure a harmonious employee experience for every person in the workplace. You want teammates to develop positive relationships with their colleagues, and most importantly, you want people to feel like they’re part of a strong and aligned community. If this sounds like a tall order, you’re right. Building a collaborative workforce and healthy company culture requires extra care and attention, especially when it comes to hiring and placing people into the roles best suited for them. While a big part of this process is about employees’ interests and skills, another integral aspect of compatibility in the workplace is personality. 

Assessment companies, like Criteria Corp, enable businesses to build high-functioning workforces through the use of personality testing during the hiring process. By providing insight into candidates’ unique mix of passions, skills, and motivations, these assessments help businesses make informed talent decisions based on reliable data. 

To learn more about the potential of personality assessments in the workplace, we sat down with Dr. Brad Schneider, Criteria Corp’s VP of Strategic Consulting and Industrial and Organizational psychologist.

1. Can you tell us a little about what an I/O psychologist is?

Industrial and organizational psychology is psychology applied to business. Some of the fields within it include personnel selection, executive assessment, leadership, coaching, and training. People with a background in I/O psychology help organizations identify the characteristics needed for success in given positions, how to structure roles to be more enjoyable and productive, identifying candidates with the greatest likelihood of success in a role, and how to make the most of a company’s most valuable asset, their people. Personality assessment is integral to all of this.

2. How are workplace personality tests useful?

Every job requires a certain degree of cognitive ability, as well as personality characteristics that lead to success in a given position. Success in a call center role, for example, is based on one’s ability to solve customer issues (cognitive), as well as one’s desire to help those customers (personality). Characteristics such as work ethic, integrity, motivation, sales ability, customer service orientation, safety awareness, and many others, are all personality characteristics.  Possessing them can make the difference between those who are happy and successful in a job and those who are not.

3. What are the makings of a good personality test?

[A good personality test] should be based on a sound model of personality, such as the Big-Five –– the most prolific taxonomy of personality. It should also be comprehensive, as well as developed and extensively validated on the general population. A comprehensive personality assessment, based on a sound model, that is well-validated and designed for the general population will have a greater propensity for being predictive of job performance across a wide range of roles. It will also be more relevant to employment settings.

“You want to get highly accurate results, while engaging candidates and providing a pleasant testing experience for them.”

4. Are personality tests difficult to administer?

Personality assessments are extremely easy to administer. It’s important to use an assessment that is accurate and brief. You want to get highly accurate results, while engaging candidates and providing a pleasant testing experience for them.

5. Do employees like taking personality tests? 

Many candidates enjoy personality assessments because they’re interesting, fun, and informative. Personality assessments often afford candidates and current employees the chance to learn more about themselves, their strengths, as well as opportunities to become even better than they are today.

6. Is there anything specific that personality tests should not be used for?

It’s important to use personality assessments for the purposes that they were designed.  Personality assessments that are used to assist in selection decisions should be developed and validated based on the general population, and they should be validated for the target positions for which they are used. Using a test like the Myers-Briggs, for example, for personnel selection is ill-advised because that assessment was never designed for selection purposes –– it does not predict job performance. There are also some personality tests, such as the MMPI, which were designed to diagnose mental illness. Tests that are designed to assess mental health should never be used for employment purposes, except in a few rare instances (e.g., to assess fitness for duty of law enforcement candidates after a conditional offer of employment is made).

7. How can businesses ensure there are no “wrong” or “right” personality types?

There are some personality characteristics that are almost always desirable, such as work ethic, getting along with others, and having integrity. So, in that regard, there are definitely some personality characteristics that you’ll likely want. However, after that brief list, almost every trait is good for some jobs and not so much for others. Competitiveness is typically beneficial for sales roles, yet less desirable for customer service positions (e.g., you probably don’t want your customer service reps arguing with customers because of their strong need to win every discussion). 

“There’s almost always a role somewhere where your personality is going to be a really good fit.”

Some personality characteristics are beneficial to a degree and then potentially problematic at their extremes. Being detail-oriented might be helpful to some degree for roles where it is relevant, such as entering financial information. However, managers very high on detail orientation can err toward micromanaging their teams and alienating their employees, causing friction, reductions in productivity, low morale, and turnover. So, to a large extent, there are personality characteristics that are helpful for some jobs and less helpful for others. In that sense, there’s almost always a role somewhere where your personality is going to be a really good fit.

When you’re recruiting and hiring new employees, informed decisions can mean the difference between a disengaged workforce with high turnover rates and a seamlessly collaborative one comprised of complementary personalities and skillsets. Hiring isn’t an exact science, but mapping out personality traits can help HR teams be more thoughtful and intentional than ever before about the company cultures they build.