In a traditional interview process, you only have a short window of time in which to get to know a candidate.
While an hour may be enough time to ask a candidate questions about their past experience and examples of past behavior, it’s hardly enough time to learn about their motivations or communication style in the workplace.
That's where pre-employment personality tests come in. These tests offer you an opportunity to learn more about your candidates during the hiring process—even before you invite them in for an interview.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about personality testing as an employer, answering questions like:
- What is a pre-employment personality test?
- Are personality tests legitimate?
- How can I use them effectively?
- What do the tests look like?
- How do I integrate them into my hiring strategy?
Let’s start with a definition.
What is a pre-employment personality test?
Pre-employment personality tests are empirical assessments that measure a candidate’s non-behavioral characteristics.
These tests are often given to candidates prior to the job interview in order to inform the interview process. They are offered in the form of multiple-choice self assessments where the candidate chooses which traits or statements apply most to their personality.
Based on the results, you can get a better understanding of a candidate’s underlying characteristics like motivations, communication style, temperament, character, personal identity, and more.
For example, a personality test can reveal how someone prefers to interact with others, their preferred way of handling a stressful situation, or how flexible they are to change.
Why you should use personality tests when hiring
Here’s the key question: do personality tests actually help you hire better employees?
According to the data, they certainly can. Research shows that, if used properly, personality testing has four major benefits:
Multi-measure assessments predict performance
While personality tests have been criticized for poorly predicting job performance on their own, they have been proven to predict performance when used in combination with other tests like cognitive ability tests or culture fit tests.
Frederick Morgeson, an organizational psychology expert at Michigan State University, explains it clearly: “It’s not destiny...What we’re trying to do in the hiring context is to make the best guess as to how someone will behave in that job. We’re improving the odds.”
Personality is more stable than behavior
Many job interviews focus on past behavior. However, people can change or adapt their behavior. For example, someone who’s naturally disorganized can develop habits to keep themselves organized even if it’s not inherent to their personality.
However, thrown into a new situation, their personality is what’s most likely to shine through.
In other words, if your behavior is the tip of the iceberg—what’s above the surface—your personality is what lies below the surface, and may not show up in the hiring process without a personality test.
Candidates answer personality tests honestly
You may be worried that candidates will not honestly fill out a personality test, opting instead to try to give “right” answers.
But according to Deniz S. Ones, professor of industrial psychology at the University of Minnesota, research indicates that in most cases candidates do answer personality tests honestly. And in the rare cases that they do fudge the truth, it typically doesn’t significantly impact the preference between candidates.
Personality tests add objectivity to the hiring process
Not only is it hard to assess someone’s personality in a short interview, one interviewer may get an entirely different read on someone’s personality than another interviewer in the same room.
Personality tests bring another level of objectivity and consistency to assessing each candidate’s personality, giving you an easy way to get a full picture of each and every candidate.
Personality tests make you a better interviewer
The more you know about a candidate heading into an interview, the better questions you can ask.
By asking a candidate revealing personality questions in advance, you can ask more personally tailored questions about how they would handle certain workplace situations in the interview. This saves you from having to dig for insights during the interview.
As you can see, the research shows that personality tests have their place in the hiring process. Now here’s how to use them effectively.
The dos and don’ts of pre-employment personality tests
Like any tool, pre-employment personality tests are only effective if used properly.
Here are some helpful dos and don’ts:
Don’t: Test candidates only on personality.
Do: Use personality tests in combination with other tests. According to the US Department of Labor’s Testing and Assessment guide, personality tests are best used as part of a complete skills assessment.
Don’t: Use personality tests to pass or fail candidates. As mentioned earlier, a personality test should be used as a part of an assessment with multiple other tests in order to effectively select the best candidates.
Do: Use personality test results to better get to know a candidate and prepare talking points in advance of the job interview. For example, someone may assess themselves as impatient, but that doesn’t mean they’re automatically wrong for the job. Their impatience may result quicker, data-driven decisions.
Don’t: Use personality tests to hire for a specific personality type—this can result in hiring bias. Diverse teams perform better, so make sure you're not negatively effecting your team by misusing personality tests.
Do: Use personality tests to thoughtfully consider team dynamics. For example, in certain scenarios, a mix of personalities may foster innovation. To avoid bias in your testing, you should regularly check if your tests are systematically favoring a particular gender, race, or ethnic background over others.
Don’t: Use different personality tests without a good reason. By using the same personality test throughout the company, you create a common language which will allow you to point out certain behaviors in a neutral, constructive way. If everyone has done a different personality test, you lose that benefit.
Now that you know how to effectively employ personality testing, it’s time to learn about the most popular pre-employment personality tests.
The four pre-employment personality tests (and what they measure)
At TestGorilla, we recommend using one of four popular personality tests.
All four tests are multiple choice and take about 10 minutes to complete—so no test is easier or harder to administer than any other.
However, you would only want to give one personality test to a candidate. Since personality tests need to be used in conjunction with other test types and because there’s some overlap in what the tests measure, multiple personality tests are unnecessary.
But how do you choose which test to use?
Each of these four tests evaluates something slightly different. Consider what you would most like to know about candidates applying for a particular role as you read through the explanations of each test and what they tell you about candidates.
Big 5 (OCEAN) Personality Test
The Big 5 personality test is based on the five-factor model (FFM). This 5-factor model is well established in academic circles as a scientifically validated instrument. It theorizes that personality is derived from a combination of five overarching traits.
What it tests: The Big 5 test places candidates on a spectrum in each of these five categories that form the acronym OCEAN:
- O - Openness to experience: from inventive/curious to consistent/conscious
- C - Conscientiousness: from efficient/organized to extravagant/careless
- E - Extraversion: outgoing/energetic to solitary/reserved
- A - Agreeableness: friendly/compassionate to challenging/callous
- N - Neuroticism: from sensitive/nervous to resilient/confident
1979 research from Gloria Leon found that all of the above traits, with the exception of agreeableness, stay fairly consistent throughout a person’s life.
Test format: The Big 5 test asks candidates to evaluate themselves on a number of statements relating to each personality category.
Based on the candidate’s answers, they are placed at one of five points on a spectrum for each category, ranging from one extreme to the other.
Example Big 5 personality statements include:
- I am the life of the party
- I feel little concern for others
- I am always prepared
- I get stressed out easily
What you learn: The Big 5 test will give you a description of a candidate’s behavioral type, which can help you predict how they may approach relationships and challenges. It will also give you insights into their potential strengths, weaknesses, and interpersonal style.
16 Types Test
The 16 Types personality test is based on the work of famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.
What it tests: The 16 Types test is similar to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, in that it tells us where a candidate gets their energy, how they process information, how they make decisions, and what type of lifestyle they prefer.
The 16 personality types are made from 4 dichotomies:
- Introversion (I) vs. Extraversion (E)
- Intuition (N) vs. Sensing (S)
- Feeling (F) vs. Thinking (T)
- Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)
The personalities are described as a four-letter combination, such as eNtp and isFj. The capital letter represents the candidate's strongest preference.
Test format: The 16 Types test comes in the format of forced choice questions where candidates must choose which one of two statements applies most to their personality.
Candidates are given prompts like:
“What positive effect do you have on people?”
- I calm and relax them - OR - I energize and motivate them
“You focus on:”
- Patterns and relationships - OR - Specifics and facts
“What do you find most attractive about other people?”
- Intelligence and strength - OR - Charisma and morals
What you learn: By learning which of the 16 personalities a candidate falls under, you gain a better understanding of their likes and dislikes, motivators, strengths, and weaknesses.
The TestGorilla 16 Types test results provide a detailed description of the candidate’s personality type as well as tips for working well with the candidate.
The Enneagram personality test is based on work by Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo. It posits that there are nine different personality types that can capture someone’s core belief system or worldview.
The personalities are mapped out onto a nine-point diagram called an “Enneagram,” where certain personalities are connected to others.
What it tests: The Enneagram test assesses someone’s approach to interpersonal relationships and asks candidates about their style in the workplace.
Test format: The Enneagram test is a series of forced-choice A or B questions where the candidate has to pick the question that applies most to them.
They are given the prompt:
“Describe yourself as you generally are now, not as you wish to be in the future. Describe yourself as you honestly see yourself, in relation to other people you know of the same gender you are, and roughly your same age”
And are asked to choose between statements like:
- Friendship over fairness - OR - Fairness over friendship
- I speak my mind about other people’s lives - OR I am withdrawn and somewhat ambiguous in my communication
- I am determined in times of hardship - OR - I withdraw and am demotivated when faced with hardship
What you learn: The Enneagram results give you insight into how the candidate is likely to approach interpersonal relationships in the workplace.
The results of the TestGorilla Enneagram test will give you tips on how to best communicate with each personality type, and will also give you suggested interview questions to best assess how the candidate may approach certain situations.
The DISC test is inspired by psychologist William Marston’s model for behavioral assessment.
What it tests: The DISC test measures candidates on their temperament and behavioral style. This personality categorizes a candidate’s emotional expression into four categories:
- D - Dominance: The candidate is confident and results oriented
- I - Influence: The candidate is relationship focused
- S - Steadiness: The candidate is calm, cooperative, and dependable
- C - Conscientiousness: The candidate is quality and detail oriented
A candidate can either clearly sit within one category, or can be a combination of two adjacent categories.
Test format: The DISC test asks candidates to perform a self evaluation on 48 different personality statements. For each question, the candidate rates the statement from 1 (very accurate) to 5 (very inaccurate) with reference to their own personality.
Example personality statements include:
- I put people under pressure
- I joke around a lot
- I hesitate to criticize other people’s ideas
- I am emotionally reserved
What you’ll learn: Knowing a candidate’s main trait can help you understand and predict their behavior. It can also help you tailor your communication style to best suit them, allow you to predict how well they may collaborate with or challenge your existing team, or give you insights to ask how they may be motivated in their role.
The TestGorilla DISC test results for a candidate will also provide you with tips for communicating with them and suggested interview questions.
Check out a sample DISC personality test here.
How to use personality testing in your hiring strategy
Here’s an easy action plan for adding personality testing to your hiring process.
1. Choose the most relevant test for the role - Consider which personality test most gets at the questions you’d like to ask of your candidates. For example, if you’re interested in a candidate’s temperament, you would issue the DISC test, but if you were more interested in their interpersonal style, you could give them the Enneagram test.
2. Create an assessment for the role - Put a complete pre-employment assessment together for the role, including:
- A personality test
- A culture fit test
- A cognitive ability test
- A language test (if necessary)
- A situational judgment test
- A skills test
Using a robust combination of tests is most likely to result in hiring a high-performing candidate.
You can learn more about the 7 pre-employment assessment test types here.
3. Test candidates as part of their application - By testing candidates early in the application process, you’ll have a complete picture of the candidate when reviewing their application.
4. Prepare for the interview - Once you’ve filtered down your candidates using your other assessments (not their personality results), go over their personality test to prepare relevant interview questions.
5. Hire! - Then, it’s all about choosing the best candidate with all the information at your disposal. Good luck!