Personality tests have been a key part of human resources functions – particularly recruitment – for some decades now. However, a lot of misrepresentation has occurred over the years around these tests. Some have positioned them as a final arbiter (which they shouldn’t be). Others have used them as a pre-screener (an effective but limited use). Some confuse personality testing with ‘abilities testing’. The main point is that, when used correctly, there is no question they offer significant advantages. That’s why I wanted to provide a simplified run-down of personality testing for those who can really benefit from them but are not sure where to start.

A little history…

In the 1940s, Raymond Cattell was the first to propose a multi-level model of personality, with 16 primary factors and a smaller number of global factors. These global factors became the precursors to what is now popularly known as the ‘big five’. Many questionnaires have been created since then, but no new assessments of personality have been developed.

Why personality tests add value

The interest in personality tests in recruitment and development work is their ability to help determine what behaviours may exist, how they may impact someone undertaking a certain role, and/or what development may be necessary to either improve what someone is doing or develop them for promotion.
Because there are 16 personality traits, personality testing is really about understanding each of these (however strong or weak they are), how they may impact each other and what behaviour that potentially creates. To give an analogy, imagine a small vehicle with four wheels. Each of those wheels has the ability to perform four functions, independently. Each wheel can accelerate forward or backward and turn left or right. Try to predict what action this vehicle might take – with sixteen different functions in total…and many combinations. For example, imagine if the right front wheel was accelerating forward, but the other three wheels were accelerating backward. What action (behaviour) would that create? This is both the insight and interpretative dilemma that personality tests offer.

Interpreting the findings

There are two central considerations with these tests: our typical behaviour (the behaviour we may display with no other pressures or influences) and our learned behaviour (the behaviour we acquire or learn to adjust through life experience). For example, if someone has strong ‘dominance’ in their personality, it may be useful in situations where control is needed, such as an accident scene, but in management meetings, they may have learned the need to temper that trait to avoid putting people off-side, stifling input from others or even creating a situation where no one wants to work with them. What we need to determine if someone has a ‘dominance’ trait is whether they have learned to manage it so it does not impact staff relationships.

Personality tests help people understand the underlying behaviours that drive what they do, whether for self-awareness or awareness of others (such as recruitment candidates). They aren’t designed to lock people in or out, but rather create insight. It is also important to remember that we are talking about certain behaviours in a given set of circumstances. If someone who is reserved comes to work and is moody and unsettled, perhaps they had an argument before leaving home and got caught in traffic on the way in. Different situations can cause non-standard behaviour. This is why a personality test is one part of understanding how someone will perform in a role from a recruitment stand point. As with any other insight tool, it is important to compare your results with what has been uncovered from a behavioural interview and to ensure reference checks are thoroughly completed to see what behaviours have been displayed and observed on the job.

Happy recruiting!