Debunking 4 Myths Around Personality Testing

Recently, I responded to an article that incorrectly spelled out four reasons to avoid personality testing in the hiring process. The article said that personality tests:

    • Screen out great candidates
    • Have flawed results
    • Create privacy risks
    • Cause discrimination

In reality, these issues come into play with ALL selection tools. Interviews, job simulations, application blanks, reference checks and background checks are not exempt from these concerns. However, using diligence in developing and applying these tools can minimize risk.  

Myth 1: They might screen out great candidates
When identifying an appropriate personality profile to maximize job performance, a thorough review and analysis of the job is mandatory. If a well-validated personality test is selected to evaluate these characteristics, the likelihood of rejecting good and hiring poor candidates will be minimized. 

Also, pre-employment personality tests are typically not used to evaluate who is going to break down during an emergency. Rather, they are designed to identify a large variety of characteristics that that may be needed to perform the job on a day-to-day basis---e.g., diligence, creativity, patience, tact, etc.   

The bottom line with respect to this issue is the validity of the tool. If a well-validated personality test is selected, it will help ensure that inaccurate hiring decisions are minimized.

Myth 2: The results are not accurate
Many people fear that testing may be flawed because potential employees try to respond in a manner that the employer will find desirable. While “faking it” is also possible in interviews, application blanks, resumes, etc., professional test publishers address this issue during the creation of the assessment. 

Through research, they are able to identify test items that are prone to tempt faking, and some assessments even include scales that identify individuals who respond in an overly socially desirable manner.  

In addition, many people incorrectly believe that some of the most popular personality tests weren't created for use in hiring. In reality, the opposite is true. The vast majority of the personality tests used for pre-employment purposes were in fact created for such use. 

As an aside, you should always follow the publisher’s guidelines when using a test. Some tests might be well known and even commonly used, but that doesn’t mean they are appropriate for your use. For example, the MBTI is only appropriately used by organizations for coaching and development, while the MMPI should only be used to select individuals for safety-sensitive positions (e.g., flight crew, police officer). Even our personality tests are aimed at specific positions/industries, and therefore do not work for every possible job.

Myth 3: They create a privacy risk
Organizations are legitimately concerned about privacy in the hiring process, as are publishers of pre-employment personality tests. As a result, the vast majority of personality tests developed for pre-employment purposes do not contain invasive items. However, certain well known assessments (e.g., MMPI) do contain items that might be viewed as invasive--hence its publisher's expressed position is that it be used exclusively for safety-sensitive positions.

Myth 4: They are discriminatory
And finally, personality tests developed for pre-employment use have been shown to be non-discriminatory, unlike commonly used evaluation criteria such as background checks, drug testing, credit checks, physical requirements, and certain educational requirements. Hence, a statement of this nature about personality testing is specious at best.    

Bottom line—organizations that use personality testing typically have a variety of subject matter experts  (e.g., human resources experts, employment attorneys, company management) review such tools  and their supporting documentation before implementing them.  These experts are only willing to adopt tools that minimize the risk of incorrect hiring decisions (exhibit strong validity) and insulate them from liability in the hiring process.  

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