Recruiters, Resist The Personality Test!

Personality testing has long been considered an integral part of the recruitment process, but is it time that this contentious method of deciding on a potential candidate’s suitability for a role is scrapped? In 2009 personality testing was a huge industry – to the tune of around $500 million worldwide. A survey performed in the UK found that 92% of recruiters considered the psychometric test an important component in their recruitment process. In Australia, a survey was quoted where over 8000 people were tested, and 44% of people were found to consider personality tests personally invasive while other people have criticised them as being unreliable and unethical. Despite this, 69% of human resource managers believe that the personality test is a valuable tool to rate and decide on potential performance in a role.

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So, why are personality tests a poor measure?


The reason why personality tests are not a great indicator of potential performance is largely because psychologists can’t agree themselves on what exactly defines personality. At least 200 different possible definitions exists, and the only common theme throughout for the entire slew of definitions is that personality is observed by noticing consistent tendencies in a person’s behavior. That is, that if someone does something often enough, it’s considered that they have external control over their conduct, and thus they can define it as being part of their behavior. 


Further to this, unlike in a role-playing situation, where people can adapt behavior to their surroundings, a personality trait implies some rigidity and a lack of adaptability. Intelligence is comprised of the ability to adapt and modify behavior, and so with personality being perceived as a rigid and inflexible trait, you could then postulate that a personality trait inherently reduces a person’s ability to modify their behavior, and thus reduces their ability to act intelligently, and flexibly.


So what does this mean for the future of recruitment and the personality test as a measure?


Well, the first thing that must be stated is that the best possible measure of an employee’s performance is their actual performance. That is to say that how an employee performs while they are at work is the best indicator of their abilities and actual results – and not a personality test performed prior to their employment. Of course, it’s tough to employ first and ask questions later, so recruiters need to have some means of finding out who is the best fit for a role!


For a recruiter what this means is that if you attempt to gain an understanding of a person’s personality prior to commencing a role (a role that may have a variety of external stressors and other elements to it) you may get a very different picture painted of a person’s personality through testing than you will in a real life situation. Testing measures like role playing provide a far more flexible and useful measure of fit for a role.


There is also a glaring issue external to the personality measure itself that had to do with personality tests, and it’s something so prevalent that it’s surprising that personality tests are taken seriously at all: The issue is faking results, and it would be rare to see a person who doesn’t downplay their strengths and play up their weaknesses in an attempt to avoid a poor score on a personality test. It’s not like someone is going to be lying about having done university when all they’ve done are some TAFE courses, but it’s the little things that count!


As a recruiter seeking the best possible measure of a potential candidate, it would be churlish to rely only on the archaic measures of the personality test alone as a gauge for their fit for a job. Indeed, it would be advised to use tools like role-playing and other such interactive tools where a candidate is advised to use their adaptation and flexibility to solve a problem or to manage a dispute or issue. This will provide a far better and more human solution and perspective to your recruitment process.

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