Pros & Cons of Personality Testing for Employment
Nobody in business wants to hire worthless employees. Sure, they sound good in the interview and their resume is awesome, but they turn out to be incompetent, unethical or insubordinate. Some companies turn to personality tests as a metric to weed out potential problems. Before going that route, you need to know the pros and cons of personality tests.
The first question you have to consider is the kind of test in which you want to put your trust. There are plenty of choices:
- The Myers-Briggs test measures personality on axes such as introversion/extroversion and thinking/feeling.
- The Big Five looks at personality traits such as extroversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness.
- Occupational interest inventories look at what jobs or tasks an employee would prefer.
- A DiSC inventory classifies job candidates based on their tendencies toward dominance, influence, support and control.
- Situational judgment tests enact simulations to see how your employee would react in a real-world situation.
Those are only some of the options. Some employers use graphology, or handwriting tests, to measure personality. While the law bans most private-sector businesses from using polygraph testing, it's still common in government hiring.
If you're going to exploit the advantages of personality tests in psychology, you have to know the uses and limitations of personality tests. One limitation is that no test can tell you if someone is a perfect job candidate. All tests can do is measure personality traits and tendencies that might affect a person's ability to fit.
Using Myers-Briggs, for example, you can figure out how introverted or extroverted someone is. Introverts find social situations draining, whereas extroverts find them energizing. Introverts can still do good work in teams, but they may need more time than an extrovert to brainstorm in private.
Everyone involved in the hiring process should know that you use tests and how much weight they carry in hiring decisions. Give job candidates or current employees enough time to complete the test with well-thought-out answers.
When listing the pros and cons of personality tests, one of the pros is that they're standardized. Even when you try to make objective hiring decisions, a job candidate's good looks or personal charm may influence you more than you realize. Like a resume, a personality test can give you a clear-eyed look at a candidate without subjective bias.
A big negative, however, is that the tests aren't scientifically sound. Polygraphs used to be known as lie detectors, but it's been repeatedly proven that they do a poor job of separating lies from truth. Myers-Briggs and other personality tests haven't proven themselves under scientific scrutiny, though testing companies claim they're valid.
Another drawback is that personality tests can only measure the answers the candidate writes down. That's great if they're truthful, but they may slant their answers according to what they think you want to hear.
A detailed look at the DiSC test offers more examples of the uses and limitations of personality tests. The DiSC, currently the top-selling personality test, measures four traits:
- Dominance: How strong willed and forceful you are.
- Influence: Are you sociable? Talkative? Persuasive?
- Support: A measure of your gentleness and compassion for others. The "S" component is also labeled "steadiness" or "submission" in other interpretations.
- Control: Also called conscientiousness, this is the measure of how analytical and logical you are.
The test is widely used in HR and is considered one of the more reliable tests, more so than Myers-Briggs. For managers desperate for a standardized, objective measure of job candidates, DiSC may be preferable to just going with their gut. However, it's not magic:
- There's no hard evidence that the test predicts job performance.
- There are multiple versions of the test, and not all of them work well.
- The test generates a lot of data, and the results aren't easy or quick to interpret.
- You'll have to pay for the test, though some versions are very cheap.