Once upon a time all you needed to land a new job was a typo-free résumé, some interview smarts, and a few good references.
But these days more and more candidates are finding that getting the gig may very well come down to ... your innate personality?
According to a 2014 trends report from business advisory company CEB, 62% of human resources professionals are using personality tests to vet candidates in the hiring process. That’s compared to less than 50% in 2010, per research firm Aberdeen Group.
So if you haven’t had to take a personality assessment yet during an employment search, chances are you soon will.
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Get started with a free financial assessment.
The reason? Companies are increasingly looking for ways to ensure that they’ve brought on the right individual.
Specifically, they want to not only weed out someone who won’t perform—and need to be replaced, at a cost of time and money—but also avoid hiring a candidate who will flee the minute the next big thing comes along.
Enter personality tests, which “look at behavioral traits, and by analyzing them can indicate competency for a job,” says Paul Gorrell, Ph.D., founding principal of development firm Progressive Talent.
Employers use these assessments to compare potential employees’ scores against a given job’s requirements to see if there’s a match. And while there are no absolute “right” or “wrong” answers, replies can suggest whether you might have the attributes that do or don’t line up with what a company’s looking for in a candidate.
“For instance, if it’s a sales position, and results come back that a person is slow-moving, risk-averse and too accommodating, that person might not be a strong fit,” Gorrell explains. “But if there’s a service position at the same company, she may be very good for it.”
That said, not all assessments are created equal. While there are a slew out there that have substantial accuracy in selecting ideal candidates, other, less-sophisticated tests can be poor predictors of future job performance.
“All the hiring tools are good for employee development—but not all the development tools are good for hiring,” Gorrell cautions.
So we decided to assess the assessments. Our findings? Three popular personality tests pass the, well, test—and two actually fail because they say very little about your at-work worthiness.
The Caliper Profile
What it is: This assessment, which has been around for some 50 years, measures personality traits—from assertiveness to thoroughness—that relate to key skills needed on the job, such as leadership ability and time management.
Take empathy, for example. The test screens for “a combination of traits that can help you see how well a person reads a room,” Gorrell explains. “Are they flexible or rigid? That’s extremely insightful when hiring someone who has to be responsive to customers or change in an organization.”
Sample question: Candidates are asked to select one statement that best reflects the viewpoint most like theirs in a grouping, and fill in the “most” circle on an answer sheet. From the remaining choices, they then select the one statement that least reflects their viewpoint, filling in the “least” circle.
A. Sometimes it’s better to lose than to risk hurting someone.
B. I’m generally good at making “small talk.”
C. Established practices and/or standards should always be followed.
D. I sometimes lose control of my workday.
The verdict: Pass! The Caliper Profile is especially strong at discerning what really drives a person, Gorrell says. Unlike other tests, it examines both positive and negative qualities that, together, provide insight into what really motivates a person.
What it is: This test was created a few decades ago, when research by Gallup (yep, the same folks who conduct all those polls) suggested that personality assessments focused too much on weaknesses.
Based on responses to 177 statements that speak to 34 positive traits that the test-taker might possess—from discipline to communication—the test IDs the top five strengths out of all 34 that most strongly represent the prospective employee.
So let's say you rank highly in positivity. This might mean you’d be stellar in a position that has you dealing with rejection on a regular basis, such as at a call center or in fund-raising.
Are you an achiever? You could naturally excel at Type-A gigs, like an executive or another high-level manager role.
Although the Myers-Briggs is an interesting tool for self-discovery (“Me? An extrovert?”), it hasn’t been proven to be valid for job selection.
Sample question: Two statements are presented on each screen of the test.
For instance: “I like to help people,” and “When things get tough and I need things done perfectly, I tend to rely on the strengths of people on my team and don’t try to do it all myself.”
Respondents must pick the statement that best describes them. They can note that it “strongly describes” them, that their connection to both statements is “neutral,” or it falls somewhere in between.
The verdict: Pass! Unlike the Caliper, Gallup looks at strengths that are real indicators of success, rather than simply sussing out people's negatives and downsides—and the results revolve around that, Gorrell says.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
What it is: Probably one of the most well-known personality assessments around, the Myers-Briggs looks at where you fall in four different dichotomies—sensing or intuition, introversion or extroversion, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving—to come up with 16 different personality types labeled by combos of initials.
Case in point: You may have heard someone describe themselves as an INTJ—an intuition/introversion/thinking/judging type.
Around 80% of new hires at Fortune 500 companies have been given the MBTI in the past decade, and countless other companies use it as part of the actual employee selection process.
Sample question: Questions are framed in an A/B format. For example: When dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options?
The output for these responses is Judging (J) or Perceiving (P), respectively.
The verdict: Fail! Essentially, this assessment is designed to suss out innate preferences. And although it's an interesting tool for self-discovery (“Me? An extrovert?”), it hasn’t been proven to be valid for job selection, Gorrell says.
HR departments who choose employees based on its results could miss out on superstars who might actually excel in a given position, or mistakenly bring on workers that don’t live up to expectations—all because they relied too much on what they thought the MBTI was telling them.
In fact, CPP—the test's exclusive publisher—is so concerned about misuse of the personality test for hiring that it has gone out of its way to warn people that it should not be employed for that purpose (both in the media and on the test website), and that companies who do could be held accountable.
The reason, Gorrell says, is partially because the nature of the responses may lead to hiring biases against women and other groups.
Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire
What it is: This test, which is also referred to as the 16PF, was devised in 1949 by psychologist Raymond Cattell, who identified 16 traits that we all posses in varying degrees, like warmth and tension.
The 170 questions on the test differ from those on most other personality assessments (including the ones we've covered), in that they ask how you might react to a certain situation on the job, rather than get you to describe your overall personality in some way.
Can you be counted on to finish the tasks you start? How well will you handle high-stress situations? The 16PF can give you a good idea.
Sample question: Candidates must answer “true,” “false” or “?” (meaning you don’t understand the statement or aren’t sure) to such phrases as “When I find myself in a boring situation, I usually ‘tune out’ and daydream,” or “When a bit of tact or convincing is needed to get people moving, I’m usually the one who does it.”
The verdict: Pass! It’s a “terrific instrument” for hiring and also for employee development, Gorrell says, thanks to its focus on practical situations rather than general personality traits.
“The information that the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory asks about is not business-related. Companies have tried to use it, been taken to court, and lost.”
Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory
What it is: This one is a personality test—but it's meant to be administered by a clinical expert, like a psychologist, in order to assess a patient’s needs therapeutically.
In fact, unlike the other tests, which can be taken online or administered by HR pros, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2) can only be given and interpreted by a psychologist. And the only workplace situations in which it might be used effectively is to screen employees at high risk of psychological issues, such as members of the police.
Sample question: Answers are true or false. For example: "I wake up with a headache almost every day," and "I certainly feel worthless sometimes."
The verdict: Fail! “The information that it asks about is not business-related,” Gorrell says. “Companies have tried to use it, been taken to court, and lost.”