Personality Assessments for the Workplace: a Scientific Review of 13 Top Models

In this blog post we’ll go through a comprehensive review of 13 of the most popular personality assessments that are being used in the workplace setting. We compare the different models and assess their validity, reliability, cost and overall applicability to both employers and job seekers. Ready? Let’s get into it!

“Trait vs. State” Workplace Personality Assessments

First a primer on personality assessments in general…  You may recall from my other posts that personality has two key components: trait-based and state-based.

Generally speaking (and please don’t take offense to this), state-based personality is far too complex to measure for the untrained eye. It requires control, commitment and concentration. Measuring state-based personality correctly can take days, if not weeks – and if your schedule looks anything like mine, you just don’t have the time for that.

The other component, trait-based personality, is far easier to measure and apply and has, hence, become very popular in both research and in organizations.

This popularity of trait-based personality assessments in the workplace is not unreasonable or unwarranted either. There is a large amount of scientific evidence to suggest that our personality does indeed have important outcomes for both ourselves at work, and the organization we work for.

One example is a piece of research that found that an employees personality contributed to their workplace performance and motivation. This study was actually conducted in 1988, but even back then (all those years ago!) they highlighted that they were surprised that personality was only just being considered in the workplace.

Other studies have also found personality to effect relationship building between team members, specifically employee to supervisor. We must all know that when relationships are high within teams, there is greater job satisfaction and organizational citizenship behavior. There is nothing that creates more of a Debbie Downer than not getting along with your co-workers!

Finally, teams in the workplace who are made up of diverse personalities have shown to be more innovative, creative and demonstrate better problem solving skills. Also, these teams are found to have better communication and cohesion… and it doesn’t take a genius to realize that these are the types of teams that excel better.

So, clearly, it is important to understand trait personality in the workplace for both ourselves and our teams. We all want to be more satisfied and perform better. Based on this, more than ever, there is a great amount of popularity and interest when it comes to personality testing in the workplace.

How to Evaluate Workplace Personality Tests

Due to this popularity in recent years, there is also a huge amount of personality assessments, but which one’s should we be using?

One major problem we are currently facing is that there is a great researcher/practitioner divide in the field when it comes to assessments. Often, personality assessments are made with little to none scientific backing to please the demands of businesses and to make money. This can often leave researchers feeling frustrated and undervalued, and their well formatted tests are ignored.

In scientific language, when talking about assessments or questionnaires, the terms ‘reliability’ and ‘validity’ are used to discuss how much something should be trusted and used.

  • For something to be considered ‘reliable’ it must be consistent. This means, if you were to measure the exact same thing at a later date, you would expect to get the same, or if not a very similar, result.
  • One way to measure the reliability of a questionnaire is through a ‘test-retest’ method. This is where something is measured at one point in time. The same thing is then measured at a different point in time, typically a few weeks or months apart.
  • ‘Internal consistency’ is another popular reliability method. It is concerned with the extent to which the items on the instrument are measuring the same thing. It is a popular method because it can be calculated after only just one test administration. Essentially, it saves the hassle of having to administer multiple tests. Internal consistency is either estimated statistically, through a cronbach’s alpha. Or, by the ‘split-half method’, where the test is split into two halves and the same two forms are administered to the same group of people.
  • For something to be considered ‘valid‘ it must measure exactly what it is supposed to. There are several varieties of validity, including face, construct, content and criterion. Although all validities should be considered when deciding the usefulness of a measure, I will mainly be focusing on construct validity because, in all honesty, I don’t want to bore you!
  • ‘Construct validity’ is the degree to which an instrument measures the trait or theoretical construct it is intended to measure. It is the most valuable but also the most difficult measure of validity. In short, it measures how meaningful and valuable the instrument is when in use.

The 7 Most Well-Known Workplace Personality Tests

In this section, the seven most popular and well-known personality tests will be discussed in terms of their reliability and validity to give you a scientific view of what’s on the market!

1. The Big Five Inventory

Reliability: High
Validity: High
Time: Low
Cost: Low (free online)

Introduced by John and Srivastava in 1999, the Big Five Inventory measures our personality across five traits, namely: extroversion, neuroticism (or also known as emotional stability), openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

The inventory is short but sweet, consisting only of 44 questions. It sits proudly at the top of our list because it is based on the well known five-factor model, which is the most widely used model of personality for psychology researchers.

In general, this popular measure has demonstrated strong internal consistency time and time again. I even used this measure in my own research, and found it to be a reliable measure of all five personality traits.

The validity of the measure is good too, with it being found to measure similar things to other measures of the big five, meaning it measures what it is supposed to (which is personality, duh).

Overall, this assessment has been deemed acceptable for both research and practice by many academics. Based on this, if you’re going to assess your personality, especially with relation to the workplace, we highly recommend using this test!

2. HEXACO

Reliability: High
Validity: High
Time: High
Cost: Low (free online)

The HEXACO model was constructed as an addition to the Big Five model/Five Factor model. Designed to measure six major personality dimensions, namely: Honesty-Humility (H), emotionality (E), eXtraversion (eX), agreeableness (A), conscientiousness (C), openness to experience (O). The traits are the same as the Big Five, however honesty-humility describes sincerity, fairness, greed and modesty.

The full-length HEXACO personality inventory consists of 200 questions! The half-length inventory consists of, that’s right you guessed it… 100 questions!  It’s quite a long questionnaire, but it is perhaps worth it based on the research…

A highly regarded study of students and adults has found that the reliability (specifically, the internal consistency) of the HEXACO scale to be reasonably high. This same study also found high levels of construct validity, meaning the assessment measures what it is supposed to (your personality) and high convergent validities with the Big Five scales, meaning it measures the big five traits correctly. Overall, this study commended that use of the HEXACO model to measure personality.

If you’re running short on time and want to use the HEXACO-100 (the shorter version), a study of nearly 3000 participants found high internal consistency, meaning the scale was reliably measuring personality. The study also found adequate validity, meaning it does indeed measure the HEXACO personality traits.

So, there you have it, a reliable and valid measure based on actual scientific evidence – almost too good to be true.

3. Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R)

Reliability: Medium
Validity: Medium
Time: High
Cost: Prices vary dependent on how it is administered, but it is not free

Developed by Costa and McCrae in the 1970’s and later finalized in 2005, the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) was designed to measure and test the Big-5 personality traits that are outlined in the five-factor model – namely: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

The inventory also has six subcategories of each of the five traits, for instance, neuroticism consists of anxiety, hostility, depression, self-consciousness, impulsiveness, and vulnerability to stress. Whereas extraversion is comprised of the subcategories of warmth, gregariousness, assertiveness, activity, excitement seeking and positive emotion.

The inventory has a wide range of uses and is therefore relatively popular. It is used by counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists, educators, and doctors, it has also been increasingly used in organizations over the years.

Both the reliability and validity have been found to be acceptable, and this study even concluded that the test could be used as a supplement to vocational interests and abilities to help with career choice.

Based on the small amount of research and the idea that the NEO-PI-R could help match vocational interests and personality, it seems like a fair and valuable measure of personality for organizational use.

4. Eysenck Personality Inventory

Reliability: High
Validity: High
Time: Medium
Cost: Low (free online)

The Eysenck Personality Inventory measures personality on two independent dimensions: extroversion versus introversion and neuroticism versus stability.

The inventory generates three scores, the ‘E’ score which indicates how extroverted you are, an ‘N’ score which measures how neurotic you are. The inventory also gives a ‘lie’ score, which measures how much you have lied on the questionnaire to be socially desirable.

The full questionnaire consists of 100 yes/no questions and takes 20-35 minutes to complete.

A leading study found the psychometric properties of the EPI to be good for both reliability and validity. They did find that neuroticism was a slightly better/stronger scale, which perhaps limits the reliability and validity of the measure slightly.

Similarly, another study found good reliability and convergent validity – the EPI had been criticised for having strong socially desirable responses, which is when people lie about their answers to look better… let’s be honest, who really wants to openly admit that they are too sensitive and unorganised?! However, the study also found the scale was not susceptible to socially desirable responding, which increases the confidence that the EPI is a good measure of personality.

Overall, a short measure which could be handy if only wanting to look at extroversion or neuroticism. If you want a more complete picture, I would just use BIG FIVE or HEXACO.

5. Hogan Development Survey 

Reliability: Medium

Validity: Medium

Time: Medium

Cost: High

A popular assessment introduced by practitioners, the Hogan Development Survey is designed to measure dark personality in an occupational setting across 11 traits: excitable, skeptical, cautious, reserved, leisurely, bold, mischievous, colorful, imaginative, diligent and dutiful.

The traits measured are all qualities believed to emerge in employees at times of strain and are traits that can disrupt employee relationships, damage the companies reputation and derail peoples chances of success.

The questionnaire is designed to have no clinical reference or to diagnose any mental illnesses and is therefore incredibly valuable to organizations.

Unlike some other tests developed by practitioners, the HDS does have one study that demonstrates it to have good reliability (both using internal consistency and the test retest method). However, this study was conducted by the people who made the test, so it might be slightly biased!

The validity of the measure is hardly explored. In all honesty, this test is popular due to accessibility and ease of use, but its scientific value is questionable.

6. DISC

Reliability: Low
Validity: Low
Time: Medium
Cost: High

Introduced by Walter Clarke in the 1950’s, the DiSC personality profile was designed to measure dominance (D), influence (i), steadiness (S), and conscientiousness (C).

These four personality types are based on two dimensions in which Clarke believed influenced our emotional behavior. The first dimension is whether we view our environment as favorable or unfavorable. The second, is whether we perceive ourselves as having control or a lack of control over our environment.

The DiSC assessment contains 28 questions, where you are instructed to pick a word that is most like you, and a word that is least like you for each question.

Designed predominantly for organizational use, and designed to be easy to use and administer, the DISC assessment is viewed favorably by many organizations and is used over and over again. But, is it really worth it?

In general, the reliability and validity of the DISC assessment is questionable. In all honesty, a few small and rather inadequate studies have attempted to address the reliability and validity of the measure, but there are many questions still left unanswered.

Indeed, a study did find the reliability estimates to be impressively high at a first glance and the validity seemed reasonable. Similarly, Russell Watson (5)  89% of people surveyed agreed that the DISC assessment matched their perception of their own personality. However, this is only a really tiny amount of research in poorly viewed journals.

In general, the DISC is under a lot of criticism. The Buros Mental Measurement Year Book stated “whilst authors state the assessment has good reliability and validity, there is virtually no data to support these claims”. They concluded “such vague and incomplete information regarding the construct or convergent validities of the personal profile is unacceptable… the clear lack of data to support this instrument should preclude its use”.

And this is true, a few small studies have found mild support for the DISC assessment. But often, the tool is ignored and un investigated. The DISC is popular because it is simple and the scoring is already done for you, but as it was developed as a money making tool, not a research based tool, we can only suggest to use and apply it with caution.

7. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Reliability: Low
Validity: Low
Time: Low
Cost: Low

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is unquestionably the most popular and most used personality assessment to date. I’m sure you’ve heard your colleagues discuss whether they are ‘ENSP’ or ‘ENTP’.

Introduced by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers in the 1940’s, the MBTI is based upon an earlier theory, introduced by Carl Jung. Jung proposed that humans experience the world using four psychological functions: sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking.

The MBTI measures personality across extroversion (E) to introversion (I), sensing (S) to intuitive (N) preferences for information processing, thinking (T) or feeling (F) preference when making decisions or whether they have a judging (J) or perceiving (P) preference about how they do things.

The results from the measure place you onto one of 16 personalities, such as the ENFJ personality type, which is a combination of extroversion, intuition, feeling and judgement. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses.

But, despite the obvious popularity of the MBTI, how good actually is it?

To start with, a well regarded piece of research actually found that as many as 50% of the individual testing using the MBTI got differing results when they were tested again seven weeks later, using the exact same method. If you were listening carefully in my introduction, you’d know that this means that the MBTI is not a reliable measure.

The validity is also questionable, with research using a sample of over 1000 participants finding six different personality measurements – which is not supportive of the theory that personality is composed of four factors and means it isn’t measuring what it’s supposed to.

To put it shortly, many believe that the MBTI is a ‘pseudoscience’ for the firm conclusions it draws. Not favored by many academics, it is considered to demonstrate relatively poor reliability and validity compared to other assessments, and its popularity remains questionable.  That said, when it comes to widespread usage and acceptance by the market as a whole, the MBTI is perhaps the most popular of all assessments and many people claim to get great value from it – albeit less commonly in association with a workplace tool.

Lesser-Known Personality Assessments

This section describes some less common personality tests used in the workplace, and their associated reliability and validity.

8. Eysenck Personality Questionnaire

Reliability: Medium
Validity: Medium
Time: Low to medium
Cost: Low

Not to be confused with the Eysenck Personality Inventory, the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire was later introduced. It is based on Eysneck’s model, but measure personality across three dimensions: extroversion versus introversion, neuroticism versus stability and psychoticism versus socialization.

This questionnaire isn’t a particularly well known personality test so versions, and information on the questionnaire, are hard to find.

Yet, despite the questionnaire being unknown by many, there is quite a lot of research into it. The reliability and validity of all three scales has been found to be acceptable when using yes/no response. The study did also find though that the reliability and validity of the questionnaire goes up when more items are added to the answer (e.g., when score from strongly agree to strongly disagree)

The shorter version, that includes 48 items was tested on 343 participants and found the questionnaire to be robust – meaning they reliability and validity of the questionnaire was still solid, even in a shorter version .

Based on the scientific evidence, the Eysenck personality questionnaire appears to be appropriate for measuring personality.

9. Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)

Reliability: High
Validity: High
Time: Medium
Cost: Medium

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)  is a relatively well known personality assessment.

It measures adult personality and psychopathology across 10 scales: hysteria, depression, paranoia, hypochondriasis, psychopathic deviate, masculinity/femininity, psychasthenia, schizophrenia, hypomania, and social introversion.

This inventory is sometimes promoted for use in occupational settings, especially for high-risk workplaces such as the Army or the police force. However, it has a high clinical reference and is often used to diagnose and assist treatment plans for mental illnesses. So, it should be applied and observed with caution.

In general, the MMP has been found to have good reliability and validity (convergent and discriminant). However, it has only been explored in forensic and clinical settings. The MMPI has also been found to be far more valid than other measures, such as the inkblot test.

Despite some empirical support, due to the mental health focus we would recommend not using this to determine your career. Nonetheless, I thought I’d talk about it as it’s actually quite a good measure of personality.

10. The Birkman Method

Reliability: Low (none existent)
Validity: Low (none existent)
Time: Medium
Cost: High

The Birkman Method is an online assessment that measures personality, social perception and occupational interests.

The assessment is designed to provide insight into what specifically drives a person’s behaviors in an occupational setting and social context. It measures this across 32 different scales.

This assessment is often used in organizational settings for the purpose of leadership development, team building, career exploration, talent selection and to enhance sales and negotiation.

Due to it being a practitioner developed scale, there is no research evidence to either support or criticize it. Due to this, use this and apply the results with caution.

11. True Colours

Reliability: Low (none existent)
Validity: Low (none existent)
Time: Medium
Cost: Medium

Introduced by Don Lowry in 1978, the True Colours was designed to measure four factors of personality: independent thinkers, pragmatic planners, action-oriented, people-oriented.

Each of the learning styles represents a color (hence the name), and each person can be a unique blend of all of four colors.

In all honesty, I can find virtually nothing about this test online. There are no scholarly articles to criticize, or justify its use. Sometimes, no news is good news. However, in psychology this is not the case.

The lack of academic interest into this personality assessment suggests one thing: it’s not worth the interest. There are no reliability or validity statistics available for this test. Based on this, we recommend avoiding it to measure your personality, or applying the results with caution.

12. Rorschah Inkblot Test

Reliability: Medium
Validity: Low (none existent)
Time: Medium
Cost: Low (free online)

Invented in the 1960s, the inkblot test is perhaps one of the most unique and ‘quirky’ personality assessments out there.

In the inkblot test, you are presented with an inkblot (wow, really… you’d never have guessed it from the name, right?) and you have to describe what you see. Apparently, this perception of the inkblot can be interpreted and analyzed by psychologists to decide the participant’s personality.

In my honest opinion, I fail to see how this test has any backing. However, after endless (tedious) hours of trolling through google scholar, I did find one study that found cronbach’s alpha, so the reliability to be high. However, this is a small sample that used only students, so its results hold no real application.

Based on this, the inkblot test remains firmly in the past…

13. Szondi Test

Reliability: Low
Validity: Low
Time: High
Cost: Low

Developed in 1935, the Szondi test is based on the systematic drive theory and the dimensional model of personality.

You are shown a series of facial photographs which represent people who have been classified as homosexual, sadist, epileptic, hysteric, catatonic, paranoid, depressive and a maniac. You then pick the most appealing and most repulsive pictures.

It is believed that the one deemed most ‘repulsive’ displays something about our personality as we have formed an aversion, or become repressed to that psychological state.

This traditional personality assessment is not really used that much anymore and this makes perfect sense. A critical review found the validity to be ‘undetermined’ and it has also been found to have a low reliability in a factor analysis. Stay clear of this test, for everyone’s sake!

What about the RIASEC (Holland Codes)?

We opted not to cover the RIASEC model (aka Holland Codes) on this particular post as that model is more focused on career/vocation fit than it is on the personality of the subject being evaluated.  That said, we could easily make an argument to include it on here and indeed we plan to cover it a lot more on our blog in future posts as we find it to be an excellent assessment tool for workplaces.

Conclusion

So, there you have it. A list of some popular and not so popular personality assessments that you may or may not want to use.  How’s that for a CYA? 😉

This article took a lot of research and time to format, so like always, comments and feedback are greatly welcomed. I’d love to know if you’ve tried any of the assessments before and your opinions on them!

 

 

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