Personality tests in the pre-employment assessment: understanding the drawbacks to maximize use

“Thank you for taking the time to meet with me and I look forward to hearing from you this time.” As the candidate hands you an additional copy of his impeccable resume and frees you from a strong, confident handshake, you take one last look at his meticulous appeal and think, “This is our man.” However, he can’t help but wonder, “Is this all just a facade?” How can you dig a little deeper to find out if you really are the best candidate for your position?

This very scenario is the catalyst behind the growing popularity of personality tests during the hiring process. Hiring managers yearn for more incisive methods of character assessment than scrutinizing clothing and handshakes. Personality tests seem to be the answer to your prayers. These tests often include multiple-choice questions designed to identify key indicators of success and longevity for a position. Used in conjunction with other aptitude assessment methods, these tests can be very helpful. However, some employers are placing too much importance on such tests, or even using them exclusively in the early stages of the hiring process, thus denying opportunities with several potentially suitable candidates who were “knocked out” prematurely by an exam. Before employing the use of personality tests and discarding your previous methods, read the tips below on how to maximize the use of this tool as a complementary addition to your arsenal of hiring processes.

The resurgence of the personality test

As the economic downturn reduced the number of “workers” and skyrocketed the number of “job seekers” nationwide, it became an increasingly daunting task for hiring managers to eliminate the influx of applications and resumes flooding their desks. Although personality tests have been around for quite some time, there seems to be increasing popularity in using these employment tools to efficiently locate the right talent for open positions. According to an article by, personality tests are designed to “determine the likelihood that the particular applicant will be a) successful and b) long term”; it does so by “defining the personality or behavioral tendencies that are consistent with the duties of the position.” Such tests are effective in offering an objective opinion, something that is often difficult for us as humans to deliver. We are often swayed if a person is revealed to have interests or experiences similar to ours, even when we consciously try to repress our subjectivity. Personality tests are also an effective method to differentiate between applicants. It can be quite difficult to make hiring decisions when examining two very similar resumes where qualifications and experience look identical on paper. In this way, personality tests can be very effective; when their effectiveness is diluted it is correlated with instances in which they are used as the sole criterion in the early stages of contracting, and when users do not fully understand the deficiencies. Recognizing these shortcomings is the only way to truly maximize the use of personality tests.

Understand the downsides

A key drawback of personality tests is the prevalence of “response distortion.” Response distortion, as described in the essay “The Impact of Response Distortion on Pre-Employment Personality Tests and Hiring Decisions,” is a “forgery” among job applicants who complete job inventories. personality. For many of the questions, there may be a clear indicator of which answers will be most favorable in the eyes of an employer. For example, when asked to choose traits to describe themselves, candidates can often say which descriptors (“energetic,” “ambitious,” “organized,” etc.) are most favorable to employers and then line up. with those answers. In this way, it is relatively easy for a candidate to create their own desired perception to obtain a favorable result in the hiring process. This use of response distortion may cast skepticism about “what effect this distortion has on the validity, usefulness, and fairness of pre-employment personality assessments.” (Rosse, Stecher, Miller and Levin).

On the other hand, personality tests can also produce erroneously negative results, depending on the circumstances in which the candidate is taking the test. Your answers may depend on your moods; therefore, an individual who takes a test while depressed may be characterized as the wrong personality type simply on the basis of his or her mood at the time. Another area that could negatively affect personality test results is confusion. If the candidate misinterprets the question or the context, it can distort the results. One particular theme that tends to resonate throughout the realm of personality testing is the confusion of whether the questions are directed at candidates’ behavior at work or at home. People are often very divergent when they are sitting at their desk versus sitting on their sofa. Perhaps they are extremely relaxed at home, but intensely professional at work. Employing personality tests that are clear and unambiguous both in the wording of your questions and in the context in which they need to be answered is key to achieving the most accurate results.

Another problem with personality tests is that they cannot accurately capture all of a person’s traits. People are dynamic characters with many facets. Often times, multiple choice tests pigeonholed candidates to select only one characteristic over another (example: are you an introvert or an extrovert?). When perhaps, the candidate has characteristics of both. A person who is reserved in their interactions with other people but extremely aggressive when approaching their own initiatives and projects in progress may have a difficult time conveying this on such a test, and the results may qualify them as a shy person who always backs down. seat, a description far from reality. It is important when choosing which test to implement to make sure it is a quality one that can capture many different facets, and even then it is important to remember that there are simply certain things about a personality that cannot be reflected in a test.


In conclusion, personality tests are an excellent tool to complement your traditional candidate evaluation methodologies. They allow you to delve into a candidate and discern not only whether they will fit the position, but whether they will be happy and successful in the long-term placement. However, personality tests should not be used exclusively, as internally they possess some flaws and capture only a snapshot of an individual’s personality, rather than the big picture. As Mike Shraga described in his article on personality tests, they are best used as a management tool to uncover characteristics of interest or detriment, provoke discussions, and even be used as a tool to train and develop a person in one or two key areas. . instead of being used as a means of automatic sadness. When used in this way, personality tests will be an invaluable resource both in understanding and cultivating your workforce.


Rosse, Stecher, Miller and Levin. “The impact of response distortion on pre-employment personality tests and hiring decisions”. Journal of Applied Psychology.

Shraga, Mike. “Using Personality Tests to Make Your Hiring Decisions, What You Should Know”. “Pre-Employment Testing: Personality Assessments as a Value-Added Part of the Process”.

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