The secrets of personality tests in recruitment (and how to master them)

A personality test helps you know who you are

One-third of HR professionals are using personality tests in their recruitment process.

(Data from the Society of Human Resources Management)  

In an interview test, you must have encountered or heard tales of some strange reflective and personal questions. Those questions are probably part of a series of questions in your recruiter’s personality test. 

The nature of work is constantly changing. Therefore, recruiters want to get talented folks who can adapt favorably to the ever-changing landscape of today’s workplace. To achieve this, they are adding personality tests to their recruitment arsenal. These tests are inserted into the interview process in subtle ways. Their argument: your personality is an excellent indicator of job performance. 

They are right. Your personality is the force behind your habits, behaviors, and attitudes. It is formed due to social, cultural, and environmental influences. A careful study of your personality reveals much information about you. It can be used to predict your decisions with a high level of accuracy in specific scenarios. 

Recruiting goes beyond assessing your raw ability or last accomplishments. Recruiters must consider if you are likely to be in for the long haul and how engaged you will be at the company. Interestingly, these things can only be determined by how satisfied you are with your job. The best way to do that before you’re employed is to predict with information about personality. 

Recruiters also want to know how well the potential can perform in different circumstances. For instance, when there is an abrupt change in information for a task or change in the job description, how will you process the data, and what steps will you take? In addition, they want to know how you will get along with your teammates, what your tolerance range for spontaneity is, and how creative you are with rules. 

These things offer insight into the kind of person you are. Personality tests are great starting points to get these kinds of information. 

‘So what exactly are these tests?’ ‘How do they work?’ ‘What more do these tests reveal about candidates?’  This guide will answer these questions and tell you more about how personality tests are used in recruitment processes.  

What are Personality Tests?

We assess our personalities every day. When we talk about how someone or ourselves behaves, we often refer to certain traits that make one unique. These traits and behaviors are what make our personalities. Psychologists do the same things with our personalities, but they take a systematic approach to it.

Personality tests are techniques used to assess human behavior patterns and characteristics. 

The earliest known form of personality tests is phrenology and physiognomy. These methods were popular in the late 18th and 19th centuries. They linked personality traits to the shape of one’s skull or outer appearance. Though these methods are crude, they were used extensively and even determined the kinds of people to hire. 

Modern personality tests are built on either psychologist Raymond Cattell’s factor analysis of over 4000 English words or the Woodworth Personal Data Sheet. During World War I, the United States Army used the latter for psychiatric screening of potential soldiers. 

These tests are forms of self-report inventory that depend on the subject’s objective assessment of themselves. Other personality tests make the test taker interpret a scenario or mysterious object. These tests are called projective tests. They are used to gather lots of information about the candidate quickly. 

Personality tests are one of many psychological tools that have extensive use history in many fields. For instance, it is used in clinical medicine, human resources, psychotherapy, and even the military.

Personality Tests in Recruitment

Employers or recruiters use personality tests to help them screen candidates and find individuals with character traits that are a perfect fit for their companies. Its purpose is to reveal certain aspects of candidates’ personalities and predict whether or not they will be successful in specific positions.

Role-specific tests are commonly used to recruit specialized positions such as computer engineers or data analysts. In addition, personality tests have become a new addition to the process as they provide employers with more targeted insights into the candidates’ behaviors, skills, and characteristics.

Why Recruiters Use Personality Tests

A better understanding of the candidates leads to better employer-employee relationships

With personality tests, recruiters have better insights into the kind of person they are trying to employ. This understanding can help foster better employer-employee relationships. 

Recruitment processes without personality tests focus on past accomplishments and behaviors. However, humans change, and so do their behaviors. With personality tests, recruiters would get a concrete understanding of what fuels the behavioral changes. 

Consistent hiring leads to increased productivity

There are no limits to the wonders that happen when the person hired is a perfect fit for the job role. In addition, the employee would be able to express themselves and show their passions. Thus, making it a win-win for both parties. 

Now, when this kind of hiring is done consistently, productivity for the company is bound to be at the optimum. With personality tests, recruiters can achieve this. 

Increased Objectivity

It can be difficult to assess one’s personality in a short interview. Different interviewers in the same room might likely get another read on someone’s personality. This sets the stage for biases in the hiring process. 

Personality tests add another level of objectivity and consistency to assessing each candidate’s personality, allowing for a complete picture of every candidate.

Faster Hiring

This doesn’t sound good, but it is the truth. When personality tests are used in a hiring process, it is faster. This is because candidates are quickly screened off based on whether they have the innate traits for the job or not.

These tests are also easy to administer. They can be delivered online. Therefore, recruiters can mass distribute them and choose candidates that meet their requirements for further screening. 

It is cost-effective

The cost of hiring and retaining talents in a company is extremely high. Hiring the right talent seems to be the solution to the problem. Including personality tests in the recruitment processes is one cost-effective way they adopt to achieve this. In addition, they can be implemented quickly. Some of these tests are administered online, and results are obtained in hours. 

When Do Recruiters Use Personality Tests?

Recruiters administer personality tests at two points during recruitment exercises. 

  • Pre-selection Phase: This is the beginning of the application process. Recruiters use the tests to sort a large pool of candidates and select the ones to proceed with. 
  • Final Decision Phase: They use the tests to decide which candidate to pick from a small pool. The tests serve the purpose of validating the selected candidate.

Types of Personality Tests Used in Recruiting

There are quite a lot of personality tests used today in recruitment processes. This guide will discuss seven popular types and how they are being used. 

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Isabel Briggs Myers and Katherine Cook Briggs developed this personality test in 1962. They based it on the work of famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. He was the one who introduced the 16 personality types in his book: Psychological Types. 

The MBTI is the most popular personality test used today because of its simplicity and accessibility. It was initially designed to be accessible and available to individuals and groups. However, these days, the test has been repurposed for use in the hiring process. 

How does it work?

The 16 personality types are made from 4 dichotomies:

  1. Extraversion or Introversion (E or I)
  2. Sensing or Intuition (S or N)
  3. Thinking or Feeling (T or F)
  4. Judging or Perceiving (J or P)

Each of these dichotomies describes an aspect of human personality. For example, the Extroversion or Introversion traits describe how a person interacts with the world around them. When extroverted, you enjoy frequent social interaction and are energized when you spend time with people. The flip side is being introverted. This means you are energized when you spend time alone. However, it also means you prefer fewer, deep, and more meaningful social interactions. 

The Sensing or Intuition dichotomies explain how to gather information. The person who falls in the sensing category pays keen attention to reality and what they can learn from their senses. Those who use intuition pay more attention to patterns, impressions, abstract ideas, and imaginative instances. 

The last two dichotomies explain how you handle the information you gathered and how you deploy your energy. These dichotomies describe why your decisions are firm and influenced by facts and data and why your friends tend to yield to her emotions and are amenable to changing their minds. 

The four dichotomies are combined in different ways to yield sixteen distinct personality types. Each of these personalities is represented by the letters of the eight traits. 

A chart with descriptions of each Myers–Briggs personality type and the four dichotomies central to the theory. By Jake Beech – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
What recruiters learn

A recruiter learns more about a candidate’s likes and dislikes, motivators, strengths, and weaknesses. For example, recruiters will be able to understand where you get your energy, how you process information, how you make decisions, and what kind of lifestyle you prefer.

An MBTI test’s results assist recruiters in answering the following questions:

  • Is the prospective employee an introvert or an extrovert?
  • How do they process information (intuitively or emotionally?)
  • Is it more likely that their decisions are based on logic or emotion?
  • Is the candidate’s behavior based on perception or judgment?
How it is administered

The test consists of forced-choice questions in which candidates must select which of two statements best describes their personality.

The answers generate a four-letter code based on the traits to determine the personality type. 

The DISC test

The DISC personality test is based on the behavioral assessment paradigm developed by psychologist William Marston. In his 1928 book, Emotions of Normal People, he made his theory public. Since then, many others have expanded the approach and built it up to where it is today. 

The basic premise of the test is that we are made up of all four archetypes (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness) in varying degrees. You can be dominant in one archetype; however, there are still subtle elements of these archetypes in your personality. The test was designed as a source of self-knowledge for the test taker. 

How does it work?

The DISC test  divides your emotional expression into four categories:

  • D – Dominance: This indicates that you are self-assured and goal-oriented.
  • I – Influence: You prioritize the development of high-quality relationships. You are persuasive and prefer to work in a team environment.
  • S – Steadiness: You are calm, cooperative, and work well with and under pressure.
  • C – Conscientiousness: You prioritize accuracy, making you quality and detail-oriented. You also place a premium on independence.

The test outcomes will be one of 12 possible combinations of the letters D, I S, or C. You can either clearly fit into one category or be a combination of two adjacent categories.

DISC personality wheel
The DISC wheel – By Thierryler – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
What recruiters learn

The recruiter would be able to identify your main character trait and predict your behavior. They will know how you will likely perform in challenging situations and collaborative roles. The results from the assessment will also influence the communication style they adopt with you if you’re eventually hired. 

Recruiters would be able to answer questions like the following about candidates.

  • What is the preferred work style for this prospective employee?
  • How well do they believe in themselves to get things done?
How it is administered

The DISC test is administered on 48 different personality statements as a self-evaluation form. You will rank yourself on a scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree for each statement. The results will determine your personality’s dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. 

The Enneagram Test

The Enneagram personality test is based on the works of Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo. Its premise is that nine different personality types can explain someone’s core belief system or worldview.

As it is fondly called, the Enneagram of personality is popular among advocates of self-improvement and self-analysis. They use it to identify faults and weaknesses and work toward self-awareness and self-actualization. 

The standard form of the test is the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI). The Enneagram Institute administers it to willing test takers for a fee. 

How does it work?

The Enneagram is a map of the nine personalities and how they are connected on a nine-point diagram. Each of these nine personality types is characterized by dominant behaviors, motivations, and fears.

Enneagram figure
An Enneagram figure

The nine Enneagram personality types are as follows:

  • Type 1: The Reformer
  • Type 2: The Helper
  • Type 3: The Achiever
  • Type 4: The Individualist
  • Type 5: The Investigator
  • Type 6: The Loyalist
  • Type 7: The Enthusiast
  • Type 8: The Challenger
  • Type 9: The Peacemaker

The Enneagram theory posits that no human being has a single personality type. Instead, we all have a dominant personality type and two adjacent personality types. These two adjacent types, called wings, influence the overall personality, but they do not change one’s dominant type.

The Enneagram theory further explains that you do not always express all aspects of your personality. Factors like your health condition and the habits you keep influence how you express yourself. 

What recruiters learn

This personality test assesses your approach to interpersonal relationships in the workplace. As a result, the recruiter will be able to understand what motivates and scares you. 

The Enneagram helps answer the recruiter the following questions:

  • How does a candidate connect with others?
  • What drives the candidate’s decisions to connect and relate with others?
How it is administered

Like MBTI, the Enneagram test is also a series of forced-choice questions where the candidate has to pick the question that applies most to them. You can be asked to choose between statements like these:

  • Friendship over fairness – OR – Fairness over friendship
  • I speak my mind about other people’s lives – OR I am withdrawn and somewhat ambiguous in my communication.
  • I am determined in times of hardship – OR – I withdraw and am demotivated when faced with hardship.

Sometimes, you might be asked to answer a prompt like this:

Describe yourself as you generally are now, not as you wish to be in the future. Describe yourself as you honestly see yourself, in relation to other people you know of the same gender you are, and roughly your same age.”

Your answers to these questions are analyzed to determine your Enneagram type. 

The Big Five Personality Traits Test (OCEAN or CANOE)

The Big Five Personality Test is the most researched personality test available today. It is widely accepted by psychologists and used by HR personnel across the globe. The personality test was published in 1991. After a hundred years of research, researchers reduced over 4000 traits first highlighted in the 1880s by researchers to five. 

The objective of this test is to describe your personality by analyzing five essential personality elements, which are: 

  • Openness to experience
  • Conscientious nature
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

The first letter of the traits is arranged to the acronyms OCEAN or CANOE. 

How does it work?

The Big 5 personality test evaluates one’s expression level of five personality traits. Unlike MBTI, the expressions are in a spectrum. They rank from one extreme to another. 

  1. Openness:  ranges from inventive, spontaneous, and curious to consistent, strategic, and cautious.
  2. Conscientiousness: ranges from disciplined and careful to impulsive and disorganized.
  3. Extraversion: ranges from sociable and energetic to reserved and thoughtful.
  4. Agreeableness: ranges from trusting and compassionate to challenging and suspicious.
  5. Neuroticism: ranges from sensitive and nervous to resilient and confident
The big five model
The Big Five model, also known as OCEAN or the five-factor model – By MissLunaRose12 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
What recruiters learn

The Big Five test gives recruiters a big picture of how you behave. Your scores for each of the traits reveal a specific detail about your performance in the workplace. This helps them to predict how you will behave under different circumstances.

If you score high for openness, you will be willing to learn new skills and adapt to fast-changing working conditions. Meanwhile, scoring high for neuroticism makes one unsuitable for such high-stress levels roles. 

Recruiters will consider people who score high for agreeableness for roles where people skills and ability to be at the service of others are required. These people can be predicted to perform well in collaborative environments. People who score low for the trait would not be considered for such roles. 

How it is administered

The Big Five test makes you do a self-evaluation questionnaire of your behavior. You will be asked to score various statements of opinion on a scale of values (from 1(very inaccurate/I strongly disagree) to 5 (very accurate/I strongly agree). The score you give each statement is used to rank you on the spectrum of each factor. 

The Personality and Preference Inventory (PAPI) Test

The Personality and Preference Inventory (PAPI) was designed, in the 1960s, by Max Kostick, a Professor of Industrial Psychology at Boston State College. He made the test easy for non-psychologists, yet this test has a sound theoretical base.  Another of his aims is to make the test cover the aspects of human personality relevant to the workplace. 

Nowadays, employers use the test to assess potential employees and evaluate their personality, habits, and work preferences. As a result, they get valuable information on a candidate’s behaviors and choices that may affect their suitability for a job role.

How does it work?

PAPI focuses on seven dimensions of personality and behavior: motivation at work, leadership skills, activity, sociability, working style, temperament, and subordination ability. These dimensions are measured on ten ‘role scales’ and ten ‘needs scales.’ 

‘Roles scales’ measure one’s perception of themselves in the workplace. It essentially describes how you behave in the workplace – how much attention you pay to details and plan well. The ten role scales measure are:

  • Leadership role (L)
  • Organized type (C)
  • Attention to detail (D)
  • Conceptual thinker (R)
  • Social harmonizer (S)
  • Ease in decision making (I)
  • Work pace (T)
  • Emotional restraint (E)
  • Role of the hard worker (G)
  • Integrative planner (H)

The need scales assess your tendencies to behave in specific ways, such as the need to complete a task or to belong to a group. The measures show your preference to do certain things based on what you have done before. The following are what ‘need scales’ estimate in a PAPI test. 

  • Need to control others (P)
  • Need for rules and supervision (W)
  • Need for change (Z)
  • Need to finish a task (N)
  • Need to be noticed (X)
  • Need to belong to groups (B)
  • Need to relate closely to individuals (O)
  • Need to be forceful (K)
  • Need to achieve (A)
  • Need to be supportive (F)
What recruiters learn

This test evaluates and assesses your personality traits, habits, and work preferences. Not just that, the test could explore things such as your morals, intelligence, and interpersonal skills.

This result of the test arms recruiters with valuable information on whether or not you will fit into their company’s ethos. If you do fit into their company, they will also be able to suggest where you work the best and perform the greatest.

How it is administered

The PAPI test consists of either forced questions (yes or no) or single statements where you rate your reaction. You can complete the test in about 15 minutes. 

There are two kinds of the PAPI test: PAPI-I (Ipsative) and PAPI-N (Normative). The PAPI-I test compares and contrasts elements of one candidate’s personality. In contrast, the PAPI-N test compares and determines the candidate’s profile with others. 

The PAPI-N test is the most relevant to a recruiter. It comprises about 126 single statements, and you are meant to rate each on how well you relate to them.

The SOSIE test

The SOSIE personality test was designed with the recruitment process in mind. It is based on the work of Leonard V. Gordon, an eminent psychologist. He created three personality assessment inventories: Gordon Personality Professional Inventory (GPPI), Survey of Interpersonal Values (SIV), and Survey of Personal Values (SPV).  These questionnaires form the core of the test.

Organizations use the SOSIE test for assessment and development purposes. Many companies often use it as a recruitment assessment test to reduce large candidate pools. SOSIE helps recruiters juxtapose the candidate’s traits and values and the company’s environment and requirements.

The test is also used alongside cognitive skills tests to assess a candidate’s aptitude and behavioral patterns for a complete picture of their job fit. Some companies make their employees take the examination the former described to help facilitate career guidance and development. 

How does it work?

This test measures twenty dimensions of human personality, which are categorized into three:

  • Eight Personality Traits
  • Six Interpersonal Values
  • Six Personal Values

The personality traits are based on the Big 5 Factors, and they determine how you behave and the kind of employee you would be. These traits are dominance, stress resistance, sociability, cautiousness, original thinking, personal relations, and vigor. 

SOSIE measures six interpersonal values: support, conformity, recognition, independence, benevolence, and power. These traits influence how you interact with other people and perform as part of a team.

The six personal values explore your motivations at work and other professional activities. They are significant influences on your work style and ethics. They are:

  • Materialism
  • Achievement
  • Variety
  • Conviction
  • Orderliness
  • Goal orientation
What recruiters learn

SOSIE test combines personality tests and values assessment in one test. Thus, the results of a SOSIE test offer rich insights into one’s personality, motivators, and behavioral patterns. Recruiters can use the information to determine one’s suitability for a job role or organizational culture.

The wealth of information from a SOSIE test helps recruiters answer essential questions about a candidate’s predicted job performance level, job satisfaction, leadership styles, and collaborative abilities. 

How it is administered

The SOSIE test is a multiple-choice questionnaire made up of 80 – 100 questions. It can be completed in twenty-five minutes. The questions are statements of opinion which you have to indicate on a scale of value how much you agree or disagree with them. 

The test is usually administered online.

The Caliper Profile Test

The Caliper assessment, or Caliper Profile, is a challenging pre-employment test that measures your personality traits and cognitive skills. The test is based on sixty years of research describing and measuring a person’s personality, motivations, and behaviors. 

The history of this test goes back to psychologist Herb Greenberg. A large insurance company asked him to develop a test that could predict high job performance in potential employees. He released the original Caliper Profile in 1961 and founded a company that manages the test the same year. 

Big companies like IBM and Tricon Energy use the test to select candidates whose personality profile best fit the job requirements.

One reason why it is preferred in recruitment processes is that the test can be customized to include the values and customs of the host culture. 

How it works

The Caliper Profile assesses 22 traits and how they may be beneficial or counterproductive in the workplace. These traits can be categorized into four groups:

  • Interpersonal skills such as helpfulness, empathy, global mindset, collaboration, and teamwork
  • Persuasiveness and leadership skills, particularly assertiveness, urgency, attitude to risk-taking, delegating, ego, empathy, and resilience
  • Decision-making and problem-solving ability, including the level of creativity, flexibility, attention to detail, and abstract problem-solving
  • Time management and personal organization traits, such as motivation, self-awareness, accountability, and continuous learning
What Recruiters Learn

 The test results of the Caliper Profile reveal the candidates’ dominant traits and motivations. This will help recruiters forecast their behaviors on the job and their potential to excel.

The Caliper Profile helps the recruiter to answer these three questions:

  • Will this candidate fit in with our company’s culture?
  • Is this candidate passionate about this role?
  • What are the candidates’ priorities?

A candidate’s Caliper Profile can be used throughout their time in the company if recruited – from selection, development, promotion, and team building to replacement planning.

How it is administered

The Caliper assessment test comprises multiple-choice questions, and it takes about an hour to complete.  There are two sections in a Caliper test: Personality and Cognitive sections. 

The personality section includes questions to identify your behaviors and traits by presenting you with statements you rate on a value scale. The cognitive questions are more complex and test how well you identify patterns.

Tips on Answering Recruitment Personality Tests

So far, we have talked about why recruiters use personality tests during the recruitment process, the kinds of tests, and how they use them. Now, let’s discuss tips on getting the best of these tests and getting your desired job. 

Before we proceed, here is one thing you should know:

Personality tests are not exams. There are no wrong or correct answers. 

In recruitment processes, it is less about passing personality tests. It is more about putting out your best self. Recruiters are not expecting the right answers. Instead, they want to identify people who fit their description. So try to answer the questions as truthfully as you can.

Now, the tips.

Stay Confident

Don’t stress about a job test. It affects your answers, especially in a personality test. Calmly answer the test questions, and don’t overthink the questions.

Answer honestly

Just as discussed earlier, the point of the test is to get a look at the real you. Avoid attempting to guess what you believe to be the “ideal” answer. These tests are designed to detect when you’re trying to answer in ways you think are in your favor. Be honest with the answers you give and put out your best self.

Be Consistent

Some questions will be repeated slightly differently to test your honesty. Try as much as possible to remain consistent with the answers you provide. 

Read the instructions

If you don’t understand the guidelines or questions, your results may not be an accurate reflection of you.

Issues Raised on the Use of Personality Tests in Recruitment

There are limits to what personality tests can do to help the recruitment process. For example, the publisher of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator has once stated that their test was not designed for hiring. 

One of the limitations of using personality tests in the recruitment process is that self-opinion is subjective and biased. Most personality tests are dependent on what the test-takers think of themselves. Thus, the risk of losing objectivity in the hiring process is high if personality tests are administered improperly. 

Personality tests are not the golden bullets for recruitment for specific reasons. Some of these reasons include: 

  1. Human personality is complex. The human persona is not static; thus, behaviors are constantly evolving. Therefore, the results of these tests are bound to be obsolete soon enough.
  2. These tests can’t possibly explain the whole complexity of the human personality – one’s motivations, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses.
  3. Personality tests depend on the test taker’s integrity. Results can be easily manipulated. If that happens, the aim of the test is defeated.

That is why personality tests are rarely used alone in a recruitment process. They are self-evaluations and subjective on the test takers’ opinions of themselves. However, they are often used with other tools for maximum impact. These multiple sources of information enable recruiters to obtain enough elements to form an objective and reliable opinion.  

Legal risks

Currently, there are no rules that prohibit the use of Personality Tests in recruitment processes. However, there are still legal risks attached to them.

Test publishers may sue a company for inappropriate usage of their tests. Prospective employees can also sue if they perceive the recruiter using the test as a discrimination tool. Some individuals successfully sued employers because their tests discriminated against persons with disabilities. 

Companies are advised to evaluate their approach and understand why they use the tests to avoid this. Also, they are told to make sure that the personality tests they use are valid and reliable. This means one person can take the test more than once and still get the same results. 

Final Words 

The trend of including personality tests in the recruitment procedures is an old one. And it is not expected to stop anytime soon. The constant evolution of work environments makes it a strategic and essential tool in the arsenal of recruiters and HR personnel. 

Designed by experts in human psychology, today’s most recognized personality tests can shed light on the interpersonal qualities of candidates with varying degrees of accuracy.

Regardless of whatever stage you might be on the career ladder, self-awareness is crucial to success in your endeavors and the workplace. Recruiters know this, and they use personality tests to find out among pools of self-aware candidates. 

Make it a priority to keep growing in self-awareness. This practice is an excellent investment for career development and growth. Consequently, you won’t be surprised when you ask those strange questions next time.