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Talent Assessment | 14 Min Read

Personality Tests: A Must Have Tool for Recruitment

What Is Human Personality?

Human personality is simply made up of feelings, thoughts, and characteristics that make a human being unique. If the definitions matter – Raymond B. Cattell in 1950 described personality that can predict what a person will do in a specific situation. Walter Mischel in 1999, explained personality as the distinctive patterns of behavior comprising feelings, thoughts that characterize each person enduringly. 

What constitutes personality? Here are a few components that actually matter –

  • Physiological and Psychological

Considered a psychological construct, personality is influenced by biological needs and processes.

  • Stability

As self-explanatory as it can get, but it is generally a regularity and recognizable order to behaviors. Basically, human beings act in a similar manner in a variety of situations which makes it a pattern and consequently, an essential part of the personality.

  • Expressions

Yes, it is not just about the behavior that one portrays, it’s also about feelings, close relationships, thoughts, and social interactions.

  • Actions

Personality doesn’t just decide how we respond and move in our environment, it helps people act in specific ways.  

Personality is just a mirror of what you say and do.  As they say, a few things change over time, and some stay the same; the components that remain the same are what constitutes personality. The consistencies, stabilities, and continuities of personality dispositions define what personality development is. 

A very acute observer and a physician, Hippocrates, in 400 BC, introduced a concept of different personality traits essentially caused by bodily fluids. Terms coined by him are still being used in describing personality such as – Calm or phlegmatic people were believed to have a higher phlegm concentration; hopefuls or sanguine people were thought to have more blood, and depressed or melancholic people were considered high on black bile levels.

But as technology advanced, the entire world gasped in disbelief looking at these theories. Let’s face it – every definition of personality has always devolved into a rigid dichotomy, therefore making it even more complex. Despite contemporary optimism, the definitions of personality have been debatable and riven by disputes among researchers.

How Can Human Personality Be Measured?

The measurement of personality is not limited to psychological measurement in general. It is way more than what people think. To understand the measurement techniques better and clear, there are two primary theories that are descriptive and analytical at the same time – 

  • Type Theory (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) –

A type is basically a class of individuals sharing a common set of characteristics. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or type theory talks about the absolute nature of personality and characterizes people on the basis of qualitative categories. In other words, only two polar extremes of personality exist in type theory, wherein a person can lie on either extremes but nothing in between. For example, a few people prominently show interest in being an extrovert, happy-go-lucky nature, or less task orientation. This theory puts all of them in the same umbrella. For example, if an individual is an introvert, per type theory, such a person will have related characteristics too of being seclusive and emotionally sensitive.

A few major theories around this include CG Jung who defined personality based on the sociability characters as extroverts and introverts. Another German psychologist named Ernest Kretschmer attempted to relate character and physique – pyknic type, which means people with a round and short body will be extraverts or athletic type with the strong body were believed to be aggressive and energetic.

Type theory represented 20th-century American culture with types such as gangsta rappers, hippies, Goths, and more. These types, with passing time, translate into history and become significant only of a particular era. Even though the type theory was widely accepted since its inception, many psychologists presented arguments about personality being a mere binary immeasurable function; not taking into account external factors such as environment and conditioning. That’s how the type theory evolved, paving the way for the trait theory popularly known as the OCEAN Model.

  • Trait Theory (Ocean Model) –

As per trait theory, personality is a function of multiple traits, wherein, traits are the building blocks of a human personality. Essentially, a trait is a detailed explanation of behavior, for example, assertive, friendliness, or social. In fact, OCEAN theory presents an argument that traits trigger behavior. In other words, when a person acts in a certain way; only an already existent and underlying trait causes that response. 

But for any behavior to be considered a part of the personality,  a trait should manifest consistency. For instance, if a person is friendly in all situations, he is believed to show consistency, but if this behavior is not portrayed when the situation demands, it is not consistent and therefore, can’t be construed or classified as a trait. 

Sets of personality traits are called dimensions or factors of personality. RB Cattell and Allport have been famous for their research on these traits. Allport identified three major types of traits including central that assess kindness, honesty, etc; while cardinal and secondary revolve around a smaller range of situations. RB Cattell, on the other hand, came up with two traits – source traits which are basic structures that decide the behavior and surface traits are the ones influenced by source traits.

These traits can be broadly classified into the following 5 factors:

  • Openness –

This trait is frequently used to refer to someone’s mental depth which includes learnings, imagination, or experiences. In the workplace, it helps recruiters to know someone’s desire to explore new things, think creatively, and be open to taking constructive criticism. Individuals who score high on this are usually very curious and artistic and those who score low like to stay in their comfort zones.

  • Extraversion –

This trait indicates whether a person would be comfortable with frequent social interactions or simply preferring solitude in a work setting. All too often, the extraversion factor is going to be a deal-breaker in hiring people for roles that involve a high level of involvement in social settings

  • Conscientiousness –  

This evaluates the dependability and reliability of a person to assess if a potential candidate is organized and goal-oriented. These people excel as a leader and usually see success in school days. And those who score lower on this are impulsive and like to procrastinate. This factor helps organizations decide the right team and role for candidates.

  • Neuroticism –

High scores in this one represent a higher propensity when it comes to employee burnout because these types of employees are not very good at managing their emotions. And like they say, high emotional stability is directly linked to job and life satisfaction in general. Moreover, those with good emotional stability are better at dealing with changes especially if they are in a fast-paced organization.

  • Agreeableness –

This goes without saying that people scoring high on this tend to follow rules. They are effective leaders and have good on-the-job behavior which attracts them to many teams.

Unlike MBTI theory, the trait theory supports a middle spectrum when it comes to decoding personality. For instance, a person can both exhibit introversion & extroversion at different instances rather than being a polar introvert or extrovert at all times.

This test is widely leveraged because personality characteristics can be described and measured more objectively and therefore; it has undoubtedly surpassed MBTI a long way back for the accuracy it provides in measuring the depth of personality.

Why MBTI Is So Popular?

If Livescience is to be believed, around 1.5 mn people take the MBTI test every year. In fact, 89 out of Fortune 100 companies rely on this test. These numbers speak volumes about the popularity of MBTI.

But truth be told-  people across the globe have been criticizing MBTI since it came into the picture. Putting people into neat boxes against binary classification was the idea behind MBTI which made it one of the most widely accepted psychometric tests of psychopathology and adult personality.

Here are a few reasons why it became a hit –

  •  The MBTI measures four different sets of opposing preferences both value-neutral and inborn, to come up with a person’s  4-letter type. The result comes out in a form of the 16 personality types covering traits such as feeling, perceiving, and intuition to name a few. And it believed that doing so helps organizations maximize team effectiveness from entry to management level.
  •  Many people believe it is the best test to figure out vocational preferences, personality measures, and job performance. For example, an MBTI type might tell students whether they’re a good fit for architecture or engineering.
  •  It is considered a conversation starter, not a closer. For instance, if the result comes out to be neuroticism. While this factor might be crucial in a clinical setting, not many people would prefer discussing it with their coworkers over lunch.

 The four-letter personality type helps companies socialize and internalize the experience and information. MBTI showcases information in a manner that can be easily understood by other people. Once it breaks down scores to find personality, it becomes very easy for people to put different people in assigned buckets. 

How Credible Is MBTI?

Grouping individuals into two, four, or eight categories, which is usually the aim of personality tests, has never worked. In the case of MBTI, which is the most popular and simultaneously debunked personality tests, psychologists and experts alike present different opinions about the credibility of this tool.

But then, despite the widespread adoption of this test, many psychologists criticize it. Hardly a few years go by when there is no take-down in the media of the MBTI test, wherein, a psychologist will claim how it’s meaningless. But then, the other half we spoke about consider the MBTI as a valid measure of major personality traits with a few limitations.

But why have psychologists started doubting the credibility of MBTI? Here a lowdown –

  • Doesn’t Have a Scientific Base 

Author of ‘The Cult of Personality Testing’, Annie Murphy Paul in her book talks about how sixteen types of personality lack scientific evidence. Research reveals that three-quarters of people who take tests achieve a completely different personality type when tested for the second time. And let’s not forget – any test is not credible enough if it produces different results every time.

  • Do Outcomes Even Matter in the Real World?

If a test can’t decide how its results will be leveraged by an organization to boost the productivity and effectiveness of a team, it’s not adding any value to the business process. They say different professions attract different people of different qualities, there is no evidence of a ‘type’ affecting any job’s performance.

  • Too Many Assumptions Are Clearly Not Good

MBTI states that a person with a given characteristic will have the related characteristics too. A person might be an introvert in one situation and an extrovert in another. This kind of person cannot be categorized into either. These assumptions do not go a long way especially when it comes to recruitments. 

  • Not Comprehensive Enough

One of the primary elements missing from MBTI is, it lacks reactivity versus emotional stability. This is what matters the most in companies, how calm and composed one is under pressure. Out of the four types that it evaluates, MBTI doesn’t do justice to all four. For instance, it might assess whether a person is a good planner or organizer, but won’t be able to predict the achievement drive and focus needed to attain these characteristics.

  • Is the Test Clingy or the World?  

Since many companies have invested so much time and energy into this test that they don’t want to give up. There are many people who have taken certification to be MBTI trainers and coaches, in spite of them criticizing how directionless the test is, the corporations stick to it because of the commitment.

Why The Trait Theory Is Better

Let’s look at its counterpart first in contrast with Trait Theory –  

While traits are stable characteristics of an individual, types are the set of traits said to happen together in some people. While traits can be leveraged to describe the kind of human beings, it is meaningless and bogus to define a person in terms of type. When a type comes into the picture, people are always at the risk of creating a caricature or stereotyping a group of individuals.

This is probably why the trait theory emerged. Here’s why it’s better in every aspect –

  • Trait theory accurately explains the subtle and unique aspects of a person’s true personality, without putting them in a box or segregating them into fixed groups like the MBTI
  • Unlike MBTI, OCEAN model is not only able to capture individual differences in one’s personality; but also successfully correlates them with on job behavior to suggest the right role fitment
  • Trait theory takes into account situational factors that influence personality and determine the most accurate behavior in specific circumstances, which is essential for high stake job roles
  • Trait theory offers a razor-sharp focus on the uniqueness of an individual to determine behavior instead of compartmentalizing them into rigid categories in the MBTI model
  • Moreover, trait theory has been proven to bear a high level of correlation with on job performance by virtue of multiple empirical studies; taking its application a notch higher than MBTI

Importance of Personality Tests for Business

Personality tests have long been noted to be one of the strongest predictors of how a potential candidate will behave in a particular job position. It’s just simply hard to get employees working together on the basis of your terms. And it’s only because every person is too self-centered and greedy to collaborate. True, we are the most social species on earth – but then, we are also inherently selfish.

Also, personality is a stable characteristic that is evolved and shaped over the course of personal experiences – these tests, are therefore are a litmus test to the hiring process. Cultural fit, after all, is important to the team, individual, and overall company’s success. Behavioral and personality assessments have now teamed up with artificial intelligence and talent management practices to help employees with their post-hire process – revolving around employee experience and customized training and leadership modules.

While recruiters decide about a candidate’s approach towards ‘getting-along’ or ‘getting ahead’ in the organization, personality tests are simply assisting the recruiters’ to select individuals on the basis of values, soft skills, and personality. From recruitments to appraisals and employee retention, there is no territory that’s left unmarked by the personality tests. 

 Personality tests allow the strengths of employees to shine and feel at ease in the organization – which makes them do what comes to them, naturally. The tendency of not swimming against the current makes them happy and satisfied with the job. Teams perform better when the other team members share similar work values. Since values are an absolute guide for behavioral choices, employees in a group who cohere to values display greater levels of creativity and innovation.

If you’re a part of an organization that is not getting the performance needed from teams, fret not. Don’t wrestle with challenges without any primary goal. Personality tests are helping companies beyond behavioral assessments – and that’s the beauty of it. If you’re still dubious about embracing personality tests, you’re falling behind in the race.

You may also want to read: An Ultimate Guide to Personality Assessment

The Mercer | Mettl Way

While many organizations use different methods to conduct the personality assessment, The Mercer-Mettl way evaluates human personality in 4 aspects including positive traits, dark personality traits, cognitive ability, and preferences, motivation, and values. Here’s a detailed explanation of how they do it – 

  • Every aspect is further subdivided into categories with custom-forms and tests. These categories differ from curiosity, adaptability, enthusiasm, problem-solving, and loyalty, to delegation, teamwork, networking, conflict management, and influence.
  • Behavioral assessment, intrapersonal skills, interpersonal skills- and we’ve merely begun to scratch the surface of Mercer-Mettl. This module comes under the umbrella of psychometric tests which include positive personality traits, values, fit for the job, on-job behavior, dark personality traits, and value preferences.
  • The platform can be used to perform succession planning, Hi-Po identification, and lateral hiring by incorporating psychometric factors designed, created, and later customized for every industry and business. Designed for learning and hiring & development, psychometric assessments can be leveraged for critical sales and marketing competencies and data-driven hiring.

There are psychometric tools offered by Mercer-Mettl such as personality inventory, personality profiler, dark personality inventory, and motivation inventory. These tools work in conjunction to help in training, hiring, development, and learning.

Originally published September 13 2019, Updated December 17 2020


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About This Topic

Personality assessments are a method of identifying candidates whose characteristics match the role and organization’s requirements. Personality assessments help HRs make effective people decisions by placing people in positions suited to their disposition.

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