In the context of recruitment procedures, most people have already had to deal with personality tests. Since personality tests have their origin in the diagnostic and therapy of mental disorders there are still prejudices against such procedures. In the USA it has been a common practice to take such tests. Furthermore, in Germany, the decision-making process which a personality test can provide is gratefully accepted by more and more companies. There is a wide range of testing methods available, and so there are some serious and reliable tests as well as several tests that are less useful or not useful at all.
This small blog entry is about giving an overview of personality tests, where they can be used, what kind of tests are available and what you should consider (quality criteria, manipulability …).
Use of personality tests
First of all, it is important to realize that such a screening alone cannot reflect whether a candidate is a suitable candidate for the job. Nor is it possible to capture the entire character. The personality tests merely help to confirm the impression gained from the application and interview and/or to provide additional information. However, assisting in the selection and placement of personnel is by no means the only purpose for which personality profiles can be useful. Personality tests are used in the preparation of an application procedure, in the creation of competency models and requirement profiles. Also, they can be informative in questions of career planning and management development. These tests are also used more often for training (especially team development), coaching and career counseling. In all these applications, personality profiles serve as a basis for feedback processes and/or as a supplement to the basis for decision-making. Additionally, a self-test can be helpful in structuring and supplementing self-image and requirements to illustrate one’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential.
Types of personality tests
A distinction is made between projective and objective personality tests.
Projective tests: Projective test procedures work with ambiguous pictures, abstract patterns or drawings. In such a test the participants should describe what they see. In this way, they project their experiences, feelings, and conflicts into the test material. A well-known projective test is the Rorschach test, in which inkblot images are interpreted individually. This type of personality analysis is unsuitable for personnel management and is rarely used in clinical practice.
Objective tests: Objective personality tests are usually questionnaire-based procedures that are relatively simple to carry out, but the evaluation (with the help of software) is quite complex. These questionnaire procedures consist of questions and statements on which comments must be made.
- Question: I am often uncertain about my decisions.
- Answer possibilities: from does not agree at all to agrees exactly (e.g. 1-6)
The personality traits of a test person determined in this way can then be compared with the average values of a norm sample and/or existing requirement profiles.
Serious and informative personality tests can be recognized by the following quality criteria.
- Objectivity: The result must be independent of the test instructor and the test conditions are always the same for all participants.
- Validity (=expressiveness): How accurate is the test in its statements? A test is valid if it measures exactly the characteristics it is supposed to measure.
- Reliability (=measurement accuracy): If a test is repeated with the same answers, the same result should be obtained.
If one of these quality criteria is not sufficiently applied, the test can be described as not being of good quality.
Possible factors that could falsify the test
- Manipulability: Particularly in the area of employee selection, but also all other areas of application, there is always the problem of manipulability of the results by the respondent. This is mainly due to the fact that the questions almost always show which characteristics the answers show and which of them are positively evaluated for the respective purpose. A good test procedure for personality analysis is therefore characterized by the presence of control questions that recognize the logic (inner coherence) of the answering behavior and would indicate possible manipulation.
- Language problems: Unnecessarily complicated formulations, long sentences, double negations, and passive formulations can lead to linguistic misunderstandings and misinterpretation. A good personality test tries to avoid these traps as much as possible.
- Social desirability: Most people want to please and thus tend to give answers that are considered positive and desirable. In personality tests, this desire to make a good impression can falsify the results. This type of falsification differs from conscious manipulation in that it is unconscious and unintentional. The impairment due to social desirability can be reduced and controlled with control scales. Such control scales consist of questions about behavior that is rarely found but which is socially desirable (e.g. always washing your hands before eating) and behavior that is common even though it is socially undesirable (e.g. the use of white lies).
Despite these potential sources of mistakes, personality tests can be a practical tool and minimize errors of judgment if they are conducted solidly and seriously. However, it is important to be aware of their limitations and weaknesses and never apply them in isolation or view the results dogmatically.
Dibbern, H. (2016). Persönlichkeitstests – Sinnvolle Hilfe oder Humbug?. Retrieved December 29, 2019, https://www.hoppe7.de/blog/persoenlichkeitstests-sinnvolle-hilfe-oder-humbug
Author: Alexander Ariu