Personality tests are bogus, but you can use them anyway.

personality tests

The debate on the value of personality tests is the HR equivalent of the OS or browser debate for IT people. Some swear by the tests and believe they can improve performance, while others cry out charlatan or humbug the moment they are asked to participate in one. Can personality tests be of any use?

What are personality tests?

Personality tests originate from the phrenology part of psychology. The very first tests (late 18th century) aimed to deduct a persons personality by the measurements of their skull. This evolved over the 19th and 20th century into tests mostly based on many questions which require a person to score statements and questions on a (Likert) scale. In order to interpret the results, they are compared to the norm of other test subjects. The result will then put the person in 1 of 3/4/8/N types of personalities and show the associated characteristics. Famous examples of tests are:

  • MBTI – Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
  • MMPI – Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory
  • FFM – Five Factor Model / Big Five personality traits

Other famous tests which are not true personality tests but are often used in the same context:

What are personality tests used for?

During the first world war the US military used personality tests to see whether soldiers were susceptible to shell shock. During the forties and fifties they were used to scientifically discover the basic traits of human personality. Nowadays personality tests are often used to see whether a someones personality matches a certain job or will fit in a team. There are even companies whose sole product is providing personality tests during job selections for big organizations.

What’s wrong with personality tests?

The tests aren’t really the problem here (although some of them really shouldn’t be labeled scientific); it’s the people using them. People have the tendency to view the results of tests as the absolute truth. In their minds, the tests results are a fact just like gravity is, and they act accordingly. While I strongly believe in the added value of social sciences, I also strongly believe that results from social sciences should be used correctly. There should be room for interpretation and in the case of personality tests people should be aware of biased test taker interpretation, social factors  and respondent faking influencing results. That is why I think you should not use a test as the main way to determine ones personality in order to see if you should hire a person for a certain job or not. I believe having a decent job interview (using the STAR method for example) with multiple people will have a much better result in finding out whether a person fits a job or team.

personality test meme

So you have just taken a personality test, and the results clearly show you are a pink-purple-with-gold-flakes personality type. This is by no means an excuse to explain all your actions based on this result. Nor is it a decent way of forcing all your colleagues to approach you in a certain way. And it is certainly not something which you should bring up in every conversation remotely related to how you act.

Results from a personality tests are not absolute and should not be used to determine everything you do.

Why you should use them anyway.

If you have read all of the above, we can proceed to the useful stuff. Personality tests can be a nice tool if you would like to give people a better understanding of different types of people and how they work. It can broaden peoples perspective and help in explaining the added value of each person.

I think it can be especially fun and useful to do a certain test with your entire team in order to learn people are different. Evaluating the results together and learning each others preferences can help improve the cooperation within the team. We occasionally do a test in our HR team and find them both entertaining and insightful. As long as you keep the dangers I mentioned above in mind, they might be of use for you or your team as well.

 

What’s your stance on the use of personality tests? Can they be of use to an organization, or are they an insult to science and complete waste of time?

Since my previous blog on Catbert was well received I leave you with another great Dilbert comic.

dilbert personality tests

Hiring personality beats hiring skills

Hiring personality beats skills

Building a successful organisation

Hiring the right people is essential for creating a successful organization. But how do you hire the right people? I won’t go into the details of how you should write vacancies or what to ask a candidate during a job interview right now, but I do want to share my view on what you should look for when hiring the best people for your organization.

Hire the right person!

It’s as easy as that. You should hire the right person for the job. But what makes a person right for the job? Traditionally we are instructed to scan resumes and analyze the education and work experience of a person to judge whether he or she fits the job. This is not wrong; education and experience can certainly help a person to perform in a job. This is especially true for jobs which require a high level of craftsmanship. But just focusing on education and experience might cause you to make a big (and sometimes expensive) mistake.

The most important thing you should look into is the personality of the candidate, not the skills. If I have the choice between a straight-A student who is arrogant and more interested in making things better for himself instead of the team or someone who scored average in university but has the personality to not only improve himself but also the ones around him/her, I would choose the latter any day. The skills required in most office jobs nowadays can easily be learned (if you have the right attitude and mindset). However, it is really hard to change someone’s personality.

Personality beats Skills

At TOPdesk, we take pride in our company culture which is based on trust, freedom and responsibility. It only takes a few people who do not understand or endorse these values to break it. And when it gets broken, it’s not just the person you hired that suffers. It can be a negative influence on an entire team or department. This will soon outweigh any benefits the skills or experience the new hire has brought into the company. This can be difficult to explain, especially when a manager experiences stress related to understaffing and request a new person which already has the skills required in order to speed up the process. You should still try to convince the manager in question that hiring the right personality (even if he or she lacks the proven experience) will be better in the long run.

In the end, hiring the right personlity with the right skills and experience is best. But in the unfortunate occasion where such a perfect candidate is not at hand, you know who to choose.

 

Do you like this blog, but need more proof to be convinced? While researching this topic I found a random guy involved in music, airplanes and balloons who seems to agree with me 😉 Richard Branson on hiring personality