Companies want to maintain a corporate culture, which means whoever they bring in should be a good fit.
That's when a personality test comes in.
According to a 2014 trends report from business advisory company CEB, 62% of human resources professionals use personality tests to vet candidates in the hiring process. That’s compared to less than 50% in 2010, per research firm Aberdeen Group.
The tests “look at behavioral traits, and by analyzing them can indicate competency for a job,” says Paul Gorrell, Ph.D., founding principal of development firm Progressive Talent.
And while there are no absolute “right” or “wrong” answers, replies can suggest whether you might have the attributes that do or don’t line up with what a company’s looking for.
“For instance, if it’s a sales position, and results come back that a person is slow-moving, risk-averse and too accommodating, that person might not be a strong fit,” Gorrell explains. “But if there’s a service position at the same company, she may be very good for it.”
Here's a look at five assessments job-seekers might encounter.
The Caliper Profile
What it is: This test, which has been around for some 50 years, measures personality traits — from assertiveness to thoroughness — that relate to key skills needed on the job, such as leadership ability and time management.
Take empathy, for example. The test screens for “a combination of traits that can help you see how well a person reads a room,” Gorrell explains. “Are they flexible or rigid? That’s extremely insightful when hiring someone who has to be responsive to customers or change in an organization.”
Sample question: Candidates will be asked to select one statement that best reflects the viewpoint most like theirs in a grouping, and fill in the “most” circle on an answer sheet. From the remaining choices, they select the one statement that least reflects their viewpoint, filling in the “least” circle.
A. Sometimes it’s better to lose than to risk hurting someone.
B. I’m generally good at making “small talk.”
C. Established practices and/or standards should always be followed.
D. I sometimes lose control of my workday.
The Caliper Profile is especially strong at discerning what really drives a person, Gorrell says. Unlike other tests, it examines both positive and negative qualities that, together, provide insight into what really motivates a person.
What it is: This test was created when research by Gallup suggested that personality assessments focused too much on weaknesses.
Based on responses to 177 statements that speak to 34 positive traits that the test-taker might possess — from discipline to communication — the test IDs the top five strengths out of all 34 that most strongly represent the prospective employee.
So let's say you rank highly in positivity. This might mean you’d be stellar in a position that has you dealing with rejection on a regular basis, such as at a call center or in fund-raising.
Sample question: Two statements are presented on each screen of the test.
For instance: “I like to help people,” and “When things get tough and I need things done perfectly, I tend to rely on the strengths of people on my team and don’t try to do it all myself.”
Respondents must pick the statement that best describes them. They can note that it “strongly describes” them, that their connection to both statements is “neutral,” or it falls somewhere in between.
Unlike the Caliper, Gallup looks at strengths that are real indicators of success, rather than simply sussing out people's negatives and downsides — and the results revolve around that, Gorrell says.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
What it is: Probably one of the most well-known tests, the Myers-Briggs looks at where you fall in four different dichotomies — sensing or intuition, introversion or extroversion, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving — to come up with 16 different personality types labeled by combos of initials.
Case in point: You may have heard someone describe themselves as an INTJ — an intuition/introversion/thinking/judging type.
Around 80% of new hires at Fortune 500 companies have been given the MBTI in the past decade, and countless other companies use it as part of the actual employee selection process.
Sample question: Questions are framed in an A/B format. For example: When dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options?
The output for these responses is Judging (J) or Perceiving (P), respectively.
The problem? This assessment is designed to suss out innate preferences. And although it's an interesting tool for self-discovery (“Me? An extrovert?”), it hasn’t been proven to be valid for job selection, Gorrell says.
In fact, CPP — the test's exclusive publisher — has warned people that it should not be employed for that purpose (both in the media and on the test website), and that companies who do could be held accountable.
The reason, Gorrell says, is partially because the nature of the responses may lead to hiring biases against women and other groups.
Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire
What it is: This test, which is also referred to as the 16PF, was devised in 1949 by psychologist Raymond Cattell, who identified 16 traits that we all posses in varying degrees, like warmth and tension.
The 170 questions on the test differ from those on most other personality assessments in that they ask how you might react to a certain situation on the job, rather than get you to describe your overall personality in some way.
Can you be counted on to finish the tasks you start? How well will you handle high-stress situations?
Sample question: Candidates must answer “true,” “false” or “?” (meaning you don’t understand the statement or aren’t sure) to such phrases as “When I find myself in a boring situation, I usually ‘tune out’ and daydream,” or “When a bit of tact or convincing is needed to get people moving, I’m usually the one who does it.”
It’s a “terrific instrument” for hiring and also for employee development, Gorrell says, thanks to its focus on practical situations rather than general personality traits.
Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory
What it is: This one is a personality test, but it's meant to be administered by a clinical expert, like a psychologist, in order to assess a patient’s needs therapeutically.
In fact, unlike the other tests, which can be taken online or administered by HR pros, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2) can only be given and interpreted by a psychologist. And the only workplace situations in which it might be used effectively is to screen employees at high risk of psychological issues, such as members of the police.
Sample question: Answers are true or false. For example: "I wake up with a headache almost every day," and "I certainly feel worthless sometimes."
This one is problematic. “The information that it asks about is not business-related,” Gorrell says. “Companies have tried to use it, been taken to court, and lost.”