Types of Personality Tests in the Workplace

Why are more companies adopting personality tests in their hiring process?

Personnel selection is an important aspect of any company’s functioning in which the person or the team conducting the hiring process try to predict applicants’ skills that fit into the role’s demands and behavior that corresponds with company values. Part of that process involves pre-employment personality assessment. It can help determine such job-relevant personality constructs as honesty, integrity, persistence, motivation, teamwork, social skills, or discipline (Ejuma, 2015; Mujtaba, 2014), which can be important not only for the execution of the job but also for creating a good work environment.

Research has shown that if an employee is placed in a position not matching their personality, it can lead to lower engagement. Low employee engagement has been linked to 21 percent lower productivity and can also cost employers up to $550 billion every year according to a report by Harvard Business Review. This cost statistic might seem too high at first glance. When we take into account that it includes not only the cost of bad quality of the work done by employees with low engagement but also the cost of replacing most of these employees as high turnover is often seen as an accompanying factor of low-engagement employees, the cost starts to make more sense. Investing all the money, time, and effort into the interviewing process, processing the new employee in the internal system, spending weeks training them just to then have to repeat this procedure all over again will drain any company’s budget and hope for finding a fitting employee.

Pre-employment personality screening can be the recruitment tool that gives companies quantifiable measures on which to base decisions that will not lead them to the cycle of unengaged employees. The technological advancement has made it easier than ever before for employers to access this kind of tests, they can be delivered and processed online in a matter of minutes. If the tests are chosen correctly and are from a reputable and experienced company, the final results are verified and normed against thousands of candidates for the particular position, which will help tremendously in assessing the employee fit for the position and the company environment. At Test Center, for instance, we not only validate our tests over a large sample from various industries, disciplines, and regions but also apply artificial intelligence methods to adjust scoring coefficients to make the tests more accurate and reliable.

Making sure that the company providing personality assessment is professional and the tests have been validated is, however, not enough to determine whether the test can successfully predict the employee fit in the position. Personality or “the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysical systems that determine his characteristics, behavior, and thought" (Allport, 1937, p. 28) cannot be measured directly but can be assessed based on certain behaviors or values a person exhibits. As it is not a new concept, many personality theories have been created in the past decades based on which we assess people’s personalities and based on which different personality assessment tests have been developed. Each theory and subsequently each type of test has its advantages and disadvantages and is differently adjusted for the hiring process.

Type-Based Tests

Some personality assessment theories and tests divide people into different types. An example of a type-based theory is Jung’s type theory based on which the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was created. The theory recognizes four categories of psychological qualities - Extroversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking /Feeling, and Judgement/Perception. According to the theory, each person exhibits more inclination to one of the qualities in each category, which then creates 16 distinct personality types (e.g. Introversion – Sensing – Feeling – Perception or ISFP). Determining the type of the applicants can help assessors find out whether they would be a good cultural fit for the company and if they would be able to click with their coworkers according to the assessment publishers. This assessment belongs to one of the most widely used tests in hiring (Kumar, 2019) despite many limitations and worries researchers have raised. Pittenger (1993) has raised concerns that the assessment is not reliable, as people often get different results when retaking the test. It is also not valid as the 16 types are not evidence-based and do not consistently predict the actual behavior of people. It is important to note that the concept of dividing people into rigid mutually exclusive groups has been critiqued as a whole and it is not the problem of just these 16 types. People are too different and react differently in situations for the types to be able to include every person in the world. Probably the most concerning issue with the MBTI is, however, the fact that the assessment is not normed, thus cannot be used to compare candidates. After administering the test, the assessor knows that a candidate is extroverted rather than introverted but will have no clue how that candidate objectively compares in extraversion to other candidates. And that is the whole point of pre-employment screening. Nevertheless, the test remains popular despite a statement made by publishers of the assessment that it is not ethical to use the MBTI instrument for hiring or for deciding job assignments.

Trait-Based Tests

Then there are also trait-based theories – The Big Five theory, Eysenck’s Personality Theory, or Cattell's 16PF Trait Theory. These theories propose that personality is comprised of a different number of traits, which is a bit more flexible than grouping people into (vocational) types as there is more variability.

The Big Five theory model belongs to the most used trait personality theories based on which many assessment tests have been created (e.g. Big Five Inventory, NEO Personality Inventory-Revised, tests at Test Center). It recognizes Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness as the five main traits and takes into account that people do not have to be either-or within these traits, but rather take them as a spectrum where most candidates might fall somewhere in the middle. The theory has been popularized in the 1980s and it cannot be attributed to a single author as it has been independently studied by at least four groups of researchers. That is also the reason why the theory has so many names – besides The Big Five theory, it can also be found under the name five-factor model or the OCEAN (CANOE) model.

Assessing candidates in terms of traits rather than types allows the assessors to notice the subtle and unique aspects of a person’s personality, without labeling them or grouping them with others. It can also take into consideration situational factors that can influence the personality and thus determine the most accurate behavior in specific circumstances, which is essential especially for high stake job roles. The specific traits can help predict a candidate’s behavior in situations vital for the proper functioning of any company, such as interacting with co-workers, managing work-related stress, or dealing with managerial decisions. Scientific evaluations of the Big Five theory have shown that it has a high degree of validity, the candidates’ scores are stable across testing, and the tests can also successfully predict job performance and behavior (Paunonen & Ashton, 2001), which has not been decisively proven for other personality theories and tests used in the hiring process. As the theory is widely used by experts, it has been studied and proven to be effective and representative of actual personality traits in many different job industries, regions, and is consistent across age, gender and race. The types of tests based on the Big Five trait theory can be used not only for assessing the personality fit of new candidates but also for professional development within the company.

Occupational Interest Tests

Some personality assessment tests used in the hiring process are based on Holland’s theory of careers and vocational choice and can help determine the occupational interests of the candidates. They are based on the premise that “one's occupational preferences are in a sense a veiled expression of underlying character" (Athanasou, 2009). The theory and tests based on it (i.e. Holland Code Career Test) operate with six career and personality categories Realistic (Doers), Investigative (Thinkers), Artistic (Creators), Social (Helpers), Enterprising (Persuaders), and Conventional (Organizers) – RIASEC. There is a list of careers most suitable for each of the categories provided with the tests based on which assessors and candidates can determine what type of careers the candidate is most inclined to. Each candidate should then take the first three categories in which they scored the highest as an indicator of their primary personality vocational type. The theory and tests have been studied for decades as their development can be traced back to the 1950s and have been proven to be valid. The question now arises, can a personality theory created based on jobs and careers that were popular and needed in the middle of the last century be applied to today’s employees and careers? The tests have, of course, been updated since then but the job market changes rapidly, and creating and validating high-quality assessment tests takes time. The employers also have to take into account that these types of tests only show occupational interests and cannot determine or predict whether the candidate will actually succeed in that particular position or how well they will fit into the company environment.

Situational Judgment Tests

Some employers may want to look at candidates’ personality from a different point of view. They can opt for tests in which a hypothetical workplace-related scenario is presented to a candidate with several different approaches on how to deal with such situations. The candidate then has to assess which of these approaches or actions is the most and least effective. Such situational judgment tests can be used to measure effectiveness in social functioning dimensions such as conflict management, interpersonal skills, problem-solving, negotiation skills, facilitating teamwork, or cultural awareness. These types of tests are often used for managerial positions or in customer service jobs. Although the origins of this test have been widely discussed, a subtest of the George Washington Social Intelligence Test from the second half of the 1920s is commonly considered to be one of the first used situational judgment tests with responses. Later versions of the test have been used to assess the judgment of soldiers during World War II from which the assessment developed to be used mostly in predicting job performance. Situational judgment tests are considered to be valid, they have a high degree of content validity especially, as the tasks are representative of the tasks often found in the workplace. The performance on the test only moderately corresponds with real performance on the job, but the correlation has been found there. It is important to note, however, that because only a limited number of the reaction options are provided for candidates, they can be forced to select actions or responses that do not necessarily fit their behavior which can affect the overall individual validity of the test. There is also an incredible number of different situational judgment tests that have been created for various positions and purposes, so it might be challenging for employers to find tests that have been properly validated and normed against a representative sample.

Which type of test is the best?

Weighing all the advantages and disadvantages of the theories and tests, The Big Five model sits at the top especially for its proven ability to predict actual job performance and its high reliability. Thus, it was chosen as the basis of the tests at Test Center. To achieve higher accuracy, we have incorporated statistical & relational science and proprietary artificial intelligence methods to fine-tune coefficients for almost any job industry or job type. The desired personality traits can vary depending on the job the candidate is applying to. For instance, for a customer service role, employers will probably seek someone who is cooperative, extraverted, and can easily connect with people and enjoys dealing with them. For a position of a construction worker, however, employers will likely prefer a candidate who is agreeable, a great team player, and dependable. That is why the tests we offer are specialized for all major job industries so the employers can get specified profiles of the candidates tailored for the position they try to fill. The tests also include an aptitude testing part so that the employers get a complete and objective insight into a candidate's potential to perform in the role as well as their work behavior.


Hiring a candidate for a position that does not correspond with their personality can cause many issues. It positions both the employer and the employee in an unfavorable situation, where the employee does not feel good or prosper in their role, their job performance quality is low and is costing the employer additional expenses. Moreover, it places both of them under a lot of stress and pressure, which can further worsen the situation. Having proven its value over decades, set its status as an indispensable tool in the hiring process, personality assessment is widely utilized by global businesses & organizations and help them prevent any such situations.

There are various types of personality assessment tests and different theories based on which these tests were developed, but not all of them can offer objectively reliable results and thus might prompt employers to base important hiring decisions on untrustworthy information. The popular type-based test MBTI has been continuously used by employers despite proven issues like non-existent norms and subsequent inability to compare candidates assessed with this method, or the criticized reductionistic nature that comes with trying to divide people into four rigid types. Tests that measure the occupational interests of candidates or try to assess their behavior in hypothetical workplace situations are also often used in pre-employment screening. Both types of tests, however, have serious shortcomings that might produce only limited and very specific results about candidates’ personalities. This can make forming a definitive opinion about the candidate’s fit for the role challenging for the employer. Tests based on the Big Five theory are, on the other hand, considered to be extremely reliable, have high predictive validity, have been tested, and normed in various environments and job industries. Their use for hiring has been recommended by expert psychologists over other less reliable methods and can objectively help employers hire the right candidates that will thrive on the position and in the company.

Although personality assessment on its own cannot predict the exact behavior of every candidate in every situation, when conducted correctly and assessed in the context of other information about the job applicant, it can help tremendously in determining what kind of person they are and how well they would fit in the company.

Test Center can help employers by providing highly reliable personality tests based on the Big Five theory, which were developed by psychologists with a minimum of 30 years of industrial psychological assessment experience. We provide over 120 personality assessment tests across 13 different job industries or job types. This platform also offers other valuable assessment tools for businesses.

Last Updated on October 18, 2020