Personality assumes a pivotal role in the professional realm, influencing how individuals respond to challenges and navigate work scenarios. Whether maintaining composure in adversity or persisting in the pursuit of ambitious goals, individual personality traits significantly impact organisational dynamics.
And they’re being used more often. According to Psychology Today, around 80% of Fortune 500 companies utilise personality tests for screening top-level positions. Additionally, a 2017 report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that 32% of HR professionals employ personality tests for executive roles, while 28% use them for middle-management positions.
Still some scepticism
Acknowledging the universal meaning of certain personality traits, such as extraversion or agreeableness, has led to the widespread adoption of personality testing in organisations. However, not all personality assessments are necessarily created equal, which has led to some recent critics raising questions about their fairness and effectiveness in the hiring process.
In response to the scepticism surrounding personality assessments, a recent Psychology Today feature delves into why they are needed for organisations. Co-authors Andrew B. Speer and Matt I. Brown advocate for a strategic approach, emphasising the need for organisations to align personality assessments with job requirements and industry standards. In all, they share three important best practices for adopting personality assessments.
1. Focus on job-relevant personality traits
It very much sounds like a logical thing to say, but there’s more depth to the authors’ first point than first meets the eye. Speer and Brown stress the importance of conducting a meticulous job analysis. By systematically studying the intricacies of a particular role, organisations can identify the specific personality traits essential for success in that position. This targeted approach ensures that personality assessments are aligned with the unique demands of the job, fostering accuracy in identifying high-quality applicants.
“Many attacks on personality testing do not discuss the importance of job analysis”, Speer and Brown say. “Instead often addressing assessments that have practically no science-based evidence for use in organisational settings, such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI was developed by two non-psychologists and classifies people into personality types rather than the contemporary practice of measuring continuous personality levels.”
2. Lay off the MBTI for recruitment
So while the MBTI may be fun to take, Speer and Brown do not recommend it for making hiring decisions. “Although this personality assessment is fun for many to take, it is not recommended for making hiring decisions. Not only are people difficult to sort into discrete personality types, but there is practically no scientific evidence to link scores from the MBTI to important behaviours at work.”
“The key is being able to identify traits specific to a job and then focus on those traits when making hiring decisions.”
“There are, however, a large number of other available personality assessments that are explicitly built for the purposes of applicant hiring”, the authors say. “The key is being able to identify traits specific to a job and then focus on those traits when making hiring decisions. Good assessments are capable of this, and good assessment vendors will suggest job analyses to determine which traits should be measured.”
3. It’s all about the context: a job
In addition to focusing on job-relevant traits, Speer and Brown advocate for personality assessment questions within the work environment. By framing statements in a work-specific context, organisations can glean insights into how individuals are likely to behave in professional settings. “Rather than asking ‘I like to tidy up’, which applies to behaviour generally across contexts, a work-contextualised statement might be: ‘I like to keep things tidy at work.’ Such distinctions are simple yet important, as behaviour is a function of individual traits that occur in response to environmental stimuli. People exhibit personality differently across situations.”
By framing statements in a work-specific context, organisations can glean insights into how individuals are likely to behave in professional settings.
In other words: it is a good caution against using personality assessments with invasive or irrelevant questions. Shaffer and Postlethwaite (2012) conducted a study that synthesised existing research. It revealed that personality assessments with contextualisation demonstrate approximately twice the predictive accuracy for job performance compared to non-contextualised assessments.
4. Keep validating it
The article underscores the importance of adhering to psychometric standards when developing and implementing personality assessments. Reliability and validity are paramount, with good assessments consistently measuring targeted attributes and demonstrating a correlation between assessment scores and actual job performance.
“Personality assessments are often used because they relate to outcomes like turnover, job performance, and engagement at work.”
“One of the most straightforward methods of establishing assessment validity is showing that assessment scores correlate with important work outcomes”, Speer and Brown say. “As an example, if those with higher assessment scores have better performance at work (e.g., they sell more cars), that would be evidence of validity. Personality assessments are often used because they relate to outcomes like turnover, job performance, and engagement at work.”
5. Not perfect but standardised
Finally, a word of warning towards all recruiters and hiring managers. “Even against best intentions, a lack of standardised methods results in hiring managers being left to their own idiosyncratic preferences and judgments”, Speer and Brown say. “Anyone who has been around enough hiring knows that too often hiring managers rely on superstitions or vague and unarticulated criteria. Personality testing is by no means perfect, but it does offer a standardised method to assess important applicant attributes, and when done correctly can be useful for organisations.”
If you liked this article and want more insights on attracting and retaining the best talent in Europe, subscribe to ToTalent’s weekly newsletter. You’ll get exclusive content, events, and expert insights.