Personality Tests: Is It Necessary for 21st-Century Businesses?

by Sarah Reyes

Many organizational and industrial psychologists cringe at the mere mention of personality tests in modern recruitment and hiring processes. They say that personality testing oversimplifies human nature, categorizing people into one of two “labels.” 

More intriguingly, detractors of personality assessments sugar-coat people’s perceptions about themselves. For example, despite its unreliability and inaccuracy, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator remains more popular than the highly valid and reliable Hogan Personality Inventory. Seasoned psychologists say people do not want to know unpleasant things about themselves, which the HPI unearths. 

Unsurprisingly, nearly nine out of ten (88%) Fortune 500 companies use MBTI to assess employees for team building, coaching, and personal development purposes. We can only assume that business organizations outside the magic circle of 500 rely on personality assessment tests for their hiring processes.

After all, an SHL survey revealed that more than three-quarters (76%) of companies with at least a hundred employees use assessment tests for recruitment purposes.

Nevertheless, the question remains. Are personality tests necessary for 21st-century businesses?

The Amtrak Experience

In 2015, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (known to the world as “Amtrak”) rocked the job hunting market by requiring applicants to undergo a “cultural fit” assessment online. The American transport giant wanted to guarantee only high-caliber, “right fit” candidates join their ranks. 

The enterprise sought to assess job applicants’ personality traits that showcase safety consciousness, collaborative abilities, integrity, and customer awareness.

The first month of Amtrak’s 45-minute online personality tests saw more than 5,000 job applicants taking the assessment. Two in five candidates showed a “strong fit” for Amtrak’s culture and organizational vision, while 36% had a “moderate fit.” 

It’s worth noting that Amtrak’s path to personality testing is not the run-of-the-mill assessment tool almost all businesses use. To be clear, the organization wanted test-specificity for its vision, mission, and corporate goals. 

Amtrak didn’t bother utilizing ready-made personality assessments because these do not capture the traits the organization wants to measure from potential employees. Instead, the transport giant collaborated with an expert to devise a personality test specific to its needs and requirements. 

Today, Amtrak still requires job applicants to take the online test. Although some organizational psychologists might argue that personality testing doesn’t have a place in 21st-century hiring and recruitment processes, Amtrak’s experience shows otherwise. 

The principal takeaway here is to create a personality test that reflects your organization’s culture, vision, and strategic objectives and never rely on the work of authors who don’t know your company.

Do Personality Tests Matter?

The Society for Human Resource Management said that 11 out of 50 businesses use personality tests as screening tools during recruitment, while most organizations utilize such assessments for career development. 

Hence, it’s safe to assume that personality testing matters in today’s corporate environments, empowering decision-makers to evaluate candidates and employees’ cultural fit, role and team fit, and communication preferences and style.

In recruitment, personality testing can help businesses analyze a candidate’s character traits and determine their fit in the organization and team. After all, no organizational unit will want to work with a member with “attitude” or “personality” issues. The Amtrak “Cultural Fit” test showed that such screening techniques could help enterprises achieve their strategic objectives.

Personality tests are indispensable for HR professionals, training consultants, and unit managers. These assessment tools give organizational decision-makers an idea of employees’ varying styles, allowing them to customize training programs and other continuing professional development activities. 

Coaching activities can also benefit from personality insights. Business leaders can create a more conducive work environment, while supervisors can focus on team development.

If personality testing provides many advantages to business organizations, why do many organizational and industrial psychologists have reservations about these tests?

Are Personality Assessments Accurate?

Many psychologists cite accuracy issues as the most glaring concern about personality tests. Studies show that personality assessments are the worst predictors of job performance at less than six percent. By comparison, aptitude or general mental tests are excellent predictors of operational performance.

Interestingly, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator states on its official website that organizations “SHOULD NEVER USE THE TOOL FOR RECRUITMENT OR EMPLOYMENT SELECTION.” 

The publisher also explains that MBTI “DOES NOT PREDICT PERFORMANCE OR MEASURE APTITUDE.” It further adds that entities should not “pigeonhole” people using personality preferences.

Despite these pronouncements from the most popular personality assessment tool worldwide, many organizations still use it.

The principal issue with personality tests such as the MBTI is that they look at personality as a black-and-white phenomenon. For its part, MBTI categorizes people into one of sixteen “personality types,” denoted by four prevailing themes. 

The organization dichotomizes the personality scale. For example, a person might be introverted or extroverted, intuitive or sensing, uses feelings or prefers thought processes, and perceive or judge.

Unfortunately, one cannot “classify” a person as being “introverted” for the rest of their lives. There are also situations when a person is an extrovert, given the right social circumstances and other parameters.

For example, some people are outgoing when in the company of friends and acquaintances yet become passive when talking to persons in authority. Hence, this person could be an introvert at times and an extrovert at other times. Sadly, the MBTI and other similar tests put people into a box, as if saying they are inflexible.

Although not 100% valid, the Five Factor Model offers a more accurate description of personality.

The test assesses a person’s traits or personality dimensions, including openness to experience, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Each personality attribute has six facets. For example, openness to experience needs imagination, intellectual curiosity, artistic interests, diversity tolerance, emotional depth, and willingness to experiment. 

Studies show that the Five Factor Model has excellent construct validity, with many facets having Eigenvalues higher than 0.60. The Big Five Personality Test has been the subject of validity testing for many years, passing the scholastic evaluations with flying colors.

On the other hand, the DISC Test and similar four quadrant personality tests are even less accurate than the MBTI. Organizational psychologists say the assessment tools are too simplistic, arguing further that HR professionals cannot categorize people into a few personality styles.

Although the Predictive Index personality assessment meets the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidelines, it still suffers from validity issues. This test allows people to write their answers instead of relying on predetermined multiple-choice responses. Psychologists argue that self-report assessments are subjective because job applicants will only write answers they believe prospective employers want. To put it simply, test-takers fake their answers.

So, are personality tests valid or accurate? Everything depends on the personality assessment tools. It’s worth noting that there are thousands of personality screening tests worldwide. The US alone has about 2,500 of them. A few of these tests are valid to some extent, but most are inaccurate.

This observation is the principal rationale for Amtrak’s decision to create an organization-specific “Cultural Fit” test in 2015. The enterprise knows the inaccuracy of existing run-off-the-mill tests, prompting it to work with an expert in formulating its personality assessment tool. 

Are these Tests Reliable?

Reliability differs from validity because it focuses on a test measure’s consistency. In simple words, does the assessment tool produce the same results across cases and under similar conditions?

Psychologists computed the Five Factor Model’s Cronbach alpha values to determine its reliability. Statisticians consider any alpha score of 0.60 as reliable, with 0.80 values being highly consistent. 

Studies show that the FFM has a reliability coefficient of 0.88, with neuroticism garnering an impressive 0.91921 Cronbach alpha value. Conscientiousness follows with 0.90888, extraversion with 0.89249, agreeableness with 0.86265, and openness to experience with 0.81564.

On the other hand, the MBTI showed high variability in the test-retest method. For example, MBTI test takers might fall under extraversion and sensing during the initial test. However, the same people might become “introverted” and “feeling” during a second test a few weeks after the first assessment. The variance in scores reflects the MBTI’s low reliability, which it shares with similar personality tests.

Surprisingly, the DISC Test shows high reliability, with a test-retest reliability of 0.86 and a 0.87 coefficient alpha. Psychologists say this observation is not unusual because the assessment tool only has fewer personality dimensions than the MBTI. It is possible that test-takers “remember” their responses during the initial testing, making it easier for them to use the same answers during the re-test.

Unfortunately, psychologists say personality assessment tools must be highly accurate (valid) and highly consistent (reliable). Otherwise, there is no point in using these tests to screen job candidates or develop employees. The DISC Test might be highly reliable, but its validity suffers, making it no better than the MBTI.

Like concerns in test accuracy, companies can only ascertain a personality test’s consistency if they develop it themselves. 

Amtrak showed how a well-crafted personality assessment tool could advance the organization’s employment selection strategies and continuing professional development efforts. Businesses should take their cue from Amtrak’s experience and cease relying on ready-made personality testing methodologies that do not reflect the company’s culture and inherent needs.

Is Personality Testing Fair?

The third point that organizational and industrial psychologists don’t like about personality tests is their bias or partiality. Unfortunately, these tests discriminate against certain people, especially those with mental illnesses. It’s worth noting that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits entities (companies included) from discriminating against persons with disabilities, especially when applying for a job.

Sadly, mentally-challenged persons might produce “low scores” in personality assessments. For example, people with autism might have a “red score” on these tests. However, science shows a strong correlation between intelligence and autism. 

Cognitive correlates heighten the relationship, especially in visual-spatial abilities, sensory perception, increased attentional focus, enhanced synaptic functions, and deliberative decision-making.

Did you know Charles Darwin (yes, the Father of Evolution) had autism? Microsoft’s founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, Apple CEO and tech genius Steve Jobs, world-renowned sexologist Alfred Kinsey, and the greatest mind of all time, Albert Einstein, all had autism.

Children’s storyteller Hans Christian Andersen, former US President Thomas Jefferson, inventor Nikola Tesla, classical composer Mozart, and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton also had the health condition. Would you not employ them even though their personality assessment test scores fall below average?

Unfortunately, no personality test can lay claim to being fair when used as a pre-employment screening tool. Not the Five Factor Model. Certainly not the MBTI nor any other assessment tool. Even Amtrak’s proprietary “Cultural Fit” test discriminates. 

So, Why Do Businesses Still Use Personality Assessment Tests in Recruitment?

A few personality tests are valid and reliable. However, most are neither consistent nor accurate, and none is fair, begging the question of why businesses still use these assessment tools. Are these tests necessary?

To be fair, personality assessment methodologies offer distinct advantages to employers and HR professionals. Knowing your employees’ unique personalities allows you to devise more effective continuing development programs. Moreover, personality testing promotes interpersonal relationships, collaborative team dynamics, and cultural fit.

Sadly, the test’s use in pre-employment screening deserves a second look. 

Business leaders say the risk of hiring a culturally “unfit” candidate is the most significant reason companies use personality assessment tools in recruitment. The US Department of Labor says a “bad hire” can cost a company to lose as much as $240,000. If the company errs in hiring ten new employees, it will cost them up to $2.4 million.

It’s worth pointing out that employees don’t necessarily underperform in their work because they don’t have the aptitude, knowledge, and skills for the job. Interpersonal dynamics can also be a factor.

For example, an introvert might find working with an extroverted team more challenging than anticipated. Or, the supervisor has a different approach to handling employee issues than what the worker’s personality desires.

Unfortunately, these aren’t compelling reasons for choosing a generic personality test to help uncover the character traits of each potential employee. The best way forward is to follow Amtrak’s organization-specific personality testing methodology. It’s the only way 21st-century businesses can guarantee that personality tests work for them.

Things that Businesses Must Look for in Personality Assessments

Not all businesses have the resources to develop their personality assessment tools. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t help that the market has several thousands of such tests that vendors peddle like hotcakes. However, businesses can choose the most appropriate personality test for their respective organizations by considering the following.

·        Measurable Personality Attributes – The personality assessment test must measure character traits the company desires from its employees. For example, they might want conscientious workers to fill positions in the business, making the Five Factor Model a suitable test. Decision-makers must be clear about how the chosen personality test will benefit the company.

·        Accuracy and Consistency – Not all personality tests are valid and reliable. A company’s HR department must research a particular personality test’s accuracy and consistency ratings. Otherwise, they must be ready to validate these things themselves. Alternatively, they can commission a third-party organization to conduct scholarly measurements to establish the personality test’s accuracy and consistency.

·        Predictive Ability – Although personality assessment tools have low predictive abilities for job performance, businesses can still use them to forecast essential organizational metrics. For example, companies can use the test results to generate insight into employee turnover, customer satisfaction, and sales.

·        Job Analysis Tool – This feature is essential for companies because it allows them to identify behavioral requirements for every job position. Human resource personnel can use the test parameters to revisit and refine their job descriptions, enabling them to improve job fit.

·        Ease of Administration – Personality assessment tools should be convenient for employers and candidates. It must be easy to administer, and job applicants should have no issues taking the test. Hence, companies must assess the personality test for clarity and comprehensiveness. If they cannot understand the tool, it’s highly likely job candidates will also find it confusing.

·        Multilingual Form – Many businesses are embracing the idea of diversity and inclusion. It’s no longer enough that pre-employment tests are in English. These assessment tools must also be available in other languages to encourage qualified candidates globally to apply.

·        Interpretability – Although it’s the psychometrician’s responsibility to interpret personality test results, the assessment tool must still be easy to draw reasonable inferences about job candidates.

·        Compliance with Federal Laws and Guidelines – The government has laws that protect people against discrimination. Although we have yet to see a personality test that doesn’t discriminate, psychologists remain hopeful. This attribute of a personality test might be the most challenging to look for.

You might also like: Pre-Employment Testing Blog for Successful Hiring in 2022

Final Thoughts

Personality tests are necessary for 21st-century businesses to ensure culture and organizational fit, enabling them to avoid costly bad hiring decisions. 

Of the thousands of personality assessment methodologies worldwide, no test is specific to any organization. Hence, it’s in the company’s best interest to work with organizational or industrial psychologists in creating and developing a personality test explicit to its culture and needs. 

Most businesses consider the costs of developing a personality assessment tool specific to their organizations. However, Amtrak showed the strategy pays for itself by minimizing bad hires and ensuring that future employees fit the culture and the organization.

Offer your candidates the best experience – Use our Smart testing platform and make the recruitment process smoother and better for everyone. Book a demo with us today!

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