Solving the Debate: Should we be Personality Testing in the Workplace?

The Institute of Student Employers reported that 92% of employers used some form of personality testing in the hiring process. Clearly, personality testing is more popular than ever. But should companies really be using personality testing in the recruitment process?

Should companies be using personality testing in the work place?

Many businesses are using tools created by psychologists that are designed to measure our personality. Some of the most popular tools include the Myer-Briggs type indicator, 16 personality factors, Five-factor model tests, and the Hogan Personality Inventory.

Granted, our personality makes up a huge part of our-self. But should it be used to predict our chances of getting a job? We didn’t get into schools because of our personality – we got in based on our skills intelligence. Neither did we have to decide upon our degree choice based on personality. So, is it right to base hiring on the results of a (sometimes not always accurate) personality test?

Argument 1: Yes, we should use personality testing in the hiring process!

Personality testing is certainly legal and also quite a helpful tool for both employers and job candidates. In most countries, it is perfectly fine to use personality testing throughout a business, whether it’s for team development or for hiring. However, it can only be used as long as there is no intention of discriminating against any current employee or potential employee.

For many employers, the hiring of a new employee is one of the biggest investment a business will make. So, why would they not hire someone based on how they behave and act in their everyday activities?

Richard Branson, one of the best entrepreneurs that ever graced this planet, once said in an article that “Company knowledge and job-specific skills can be learned, but you can’t train a personality”. Bransons company, Virgin, hire all their new recruits, from gym staff to leading managers, based on personality. He continues to say in the article that “the first thing we look for when hiring new staff is personality. In my eyes, personality always wins over book smarts…. These personalities make our staff successful, and, in turn, our businesses successful – they also keep our company culture vibrant.

So, if it works for Richard Branson, an entrepreneur with a net worth of 4.2 billion dollars – why wouldn’t you use it?

Below, are two key benefits to personality testing in the hiring process…

1. Company culture

Indeed, personality testing can highlight some truly fantastic candidates and fit the pre-existing culture of the company. For example, a loud company with a focus on group work may prefer to hire extraverts. Finding these employees that fit the culture of the business is important to a company: it encourages employees to get on, which leads to more work satisfaction and team success. In fact, studies have found that employees who fit in with the company, team and their supervisors are more satisfied, more successful and more likely to stay within the business. This will save you money, as having a high employee turnover rate will cost your company lots of money.

Generally speaking; skills and intelligence can’t predict how well someone will fit into the current culture. Think about how many people you’ve met throughout your life who are as good as you (or even better) at something. Does this mean you instantly get along and work well together?  Probably not. But, think about the people you’ve met who show the same energy, get excited over the same things or behave in similar ways? Are you more likely to thrive off each other? Probably.

2. Company reputation

The use of personality testing to hire employees can be beneficial to businesses that place a large emphasis on customer interactions. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that extroverts will be far better at dealing with customers than introverts. Or that those who are naturally persuasive, confident and pushy will be better at selling products.

So, surely, if the right personality would complete a team that focuses greatly on customer interactions, for example, you should obviously factor personality testing into the recruitment process.

Argument 2: No, we shouldn’t be using personality tests in the workplace

Despite the clear positives, there are still many parts of personality testing that maybe aren’t so favorable. Below, are are few reasons why we should hire based on personality:

1. Discrimination

One of the most serious concern raised with personality testing in the recruitment process is the issue of discrimination. It is, obviously, illegal to be discriminative towards someone in a job interview based on their gender, sex, race or religion. But, what about the discrimination caused by personality testing? These tests ask for personal information which, for some people, could identify mental health problems or emotional instability. If this is raised, employers might see this a reason to not pursue the interview process any further.

2. Forcing people into categories

Personality testing has also been criticized over the years for ‘forcing’ people into set personality types and defining them in generalized and broad terms. For example, when looking at Myers Briggs, people can be only extroverted or introverted. They can only focus on ideas and concepts or facts and details. Similarly, when looking at the DiSC assessment, we can only be one type at all times.

The problem is, is that in reality, this just isn’t the case. None of us act and respond to things in the same mannerism all the time. When my brother deliberately winds me up, I am quick to lose my temper and retaliate quickly, but would I ever act that way to my boss? Absolutely not. Just the same way as I will appear far more extroverted to a small group of my closest friend than I would to a large group of strangers.

3. Fake it till you make it

Another problem with using personality in the hiring process is that the answers to personality tests can be learnt. It doesn’t take a genius to workout that if a question asks “I am the life of every party”, its scoring your extraversion.

So in reality, personality testing isn’t actually going to be that useful in the first initial assessment – everyone, even psychopaths, can make good first impressions and create an idealized image of themselves. The only way you can really know who’s the employee for you is through time and patience and watching them in the real-life setting of your office.

A hybrid option?

As I mentioned above, hiring an employee is a serious investment and therefore, hiring employee should never be based on just one thing.

Jim Povec, an assessment, leadership and professional human capital consultant, told CIO magazine that he believes technical skills, experience and knowledge should count for about 50 percent of the decision, personality assessments for 30 percent, and interview performance for the remaining 20 percent.

So, personality testing, used in conjunction with other assessment, can indeed be useful tool for employing the right person. It can help the interviewer decide what questions to ask and it can be used for self-reflection and development. However, to be fair and to be successful, recruitment requires a balance of many assessments to ensure you get a well rounded picture of the applicant.

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