Personality testing in pre-employment screening: understanding the drawbacks of maximizing use

“Thank you for taking the time to meet me, and I look forward to hearing from you on this occasion.” As the candidate hands you an extra copy of his impeccable resume and frees you from a strong, confident handshake, take a last look at his meticulous clothes and think, “This is our man.” However, you wonder, “Is all this just a facade?” How can you dig a little deeper to find out if he’s really the best match for your position?

It is precisely this scenario that is the catalyst behind the growing popularity of personality tests during the recruitment process. Recruitment managers crave sharper methods for character evaluation than examining clothing and handshakes. Personality tests seem to be the answer to their prayers. These tests often include multiple choice questions designed to identify the key indicators of success and longevity for a job. These tests can be very helpful in combination with other fitness assessment methods. However, some employers attach too much importance to such tests or even use them only in the early stages of the recruitment process, thereby denying themselves opportunities with several potentially suitable candidates who were “obliterated” by an exam. Read the advice below on how to maximize the use of this tool before you start using personality tests and throwing away your previous methods, as an addition to your arsenal recruitment process.

The revival of the personality test

As the economic downturn reduced the number of “workers” and the number of “jobseekers” skyrocketed at the national level, it became an increasingly difficult task for hiring managers to weed through the influx of job applications and stream CVs across their desks. While personality tests have been around for quite some time, there seems to be increasing popularity in using these employment tools to efficiently locate appropriate talent for open positions. According to an article on, personality tests are designed to “determine the likelihood that the specific applicant will be a) successful and b) long-lasting”; it does this by “defining personality or behavioral trends consistent with the job’s functions.” Such tests are effective in giving an objective opinion, something that is often difficult for us as humans to deliver. We are often upset when it appears that a person has the same interests or experiences as we do, even if we consciously try to suppress our subjectivity. Personality tests are also an effective method of distinguishing between applicants. It can be quite difficult to make recruitment decisions when looking at two very similar resumes where the qualifications and experience look identical on paper. In these ways, personality tests can be very effective; when their effectiveness has been diluted, correlates with cases where they are used at their discretion in early recruitment stages, and when users do not fully understand the shortcomings. Recognizing these shortcomings is the only way to really maximize the use of personality tests.

Understand the drawbacks

A major drawback of personality tests is the prevalence of ‘response distortion’. Response distortion, as set out in the essay “The impact of response distortion on pre-employment staff testing and hiring”, is “forgery” among applicants completing personality inventories. For many of the questions, there can be a clear indicator of which answers are more favorable in the eyes of an employer. For example, when candidates are asked to choose traits to describe themselves, they can often tell which descriptors (“energetic,” “ambitious,” “organized,” etc.) are most beneficial to employers, and then align with those answers . In this way, it is relatively easy for a candidate to create their own desired perception to get a favorable outcome in the hiring process. This use of response distortion may spread 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 give false negative results depending on the circumstances in which the candidate takes the test. Their answers may depend on their mood; So a person taking a test while in a bad mood can be characterized as the wrong personality type, simply based on their mood at the time. Another area that can negatively affect the results of personality tests is confusion. If the candidate misunderstands the question or context, it may distort the results. A specific problem that tends to resonate throughout the field of personality tests is confusion as to whether the questions focus on the candidates’ behavior at work or at home. People are often very different when sitting at their desks or on their couch. Maybe they are extremely relaxed at home, but intensely professional at work. Using personality tests that are clear and unambiguous, both in formulating their 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 multiple choice candidates test in a box to select only one characteristic versus another (for example, are you an introvert or extrovert?) When the candidate may have characteristics of both. Someone who is both cautious in their interactions with other people, but extremely aggressive in tackling their own initiatives and ongoing projects, may find it difficult to convey this to such a test, and the results may dubb them as a shy person who always takes a step back chair, a description far from reality. It is important when choosing which test to implement to ensure that it is a quality test that can contain many different facets, and even then it is important to remember that there are just certain things about a personality that are not can be reflected in a test.


In short, personality tests are an excellent tool to complement your traditional candidate evaluation methodologies. They allow you to delve deeper into a candidate and not only discern whether they fit the position, but whether they will be happy and successful in the long run. However, personality tests should not be used exclusively, as they show some flaws internally and only capture a snapshot of a person’s personality, rather than the big picture. As Mike Shraga outlined in his article on personality tests, they are best used as a management tool to uncover features of interest or disadvantage, provoke discussions and even use them as a tool to train and develop a person on one or two key areas, rather than being used as a means of automatic gloom. When used in this way, personality tests are invaluable in understanding and developing your workforce.


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

Shraga, Mike. “Using personality tests to make your hiring decisions – what you need to know.” “Pre-employment testing: personality assessments as a value-added part of the process.”

Source by Jordan Lander