Take special care in using personality tests to assess workers

Updated Apr 23, 2021
Landscapers, like Deborah Munoz-Chacon of Sonoran Oasis Landscaping, are constantly communicating with their employees. Some people see personality tests as a tool to improve communication. Photo: Amy MatersonLandscapers, like Deborah Munoz-Chacon of Sonoran Oasis Landscaping, are constantly communicating with their employees. Some people see personality tests as a tool to improve communication.
Photo: Amy Materson

For most people, personality tests are something you take when you’re trying to kill time. Just a cutesy collection of questions that will tell you what type of dog you would be or some other nonsense.

These are not the kinds of tests on which a landscaping company, or any company for that matter, would base business decisions.

However, the fact that personality testing is a $500 million industry – and has been growing at the rate of about 10 percent a year – indicates there’s much more to such tests than the silly variety one finds on social media.

There are many reasons why people think personality testing is effective and should be used in the workforce, but there are also reasons why choosing to use them should be done with extreme caution.

The first thing that has to be understood is what the test is actually measuring. What some people fail to understand is that these tests are not designed to predict how successful a person is going to be in a job. Rather, they can give indications if that person is a good fit with the company and how they would normally respond to certain situations.

There are about 2,500 personality tests on the market right now, and this crowded market is subject to very little regulation, in part because the tests measure intangible concepts with hard-to-calculate evidence.

Myers-Briggs is broken down by the four preferences. Photo: sustainingpeople.netMyers-Briggs is broken down by the four preferences.
Photo: sustainingpeople.net

Of course, most companies that are looking for a personality test stick with the well-known Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). According to BBC, 89 of the Fortune 100 companies choose to use MBTI.

This test breaks down the personality into four either-or categories: extrovert or introvert, sensing or intuitive, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving.

The simplistic nature of MBTI can drive some away, as surely the whole human population can’t be divided up into 16 and only 16 possible personalities. This mentality can put some employees in a mental box, possibly preventing them from trying things outside their “normal” personality type.

But others see this as way to identify areas of growth. If an employee is inclined toward being an introvert, then management may ensure they’re given the chance to learn how to step outside of their comfort zone.

The important thing to keep in mind is that personality tests purport to show an individual’s tendencies, not absolute truth. A company looking for someone who can do sales may assume they need an extrovert, but this isn’t necessarily true. It may well be that an introvert could accomplish the same goal while going about it in a different way.

One major issue that comes with personality testing is the concern that it can be faked. If an employer is using one of these questionnaires as part of the interview process, applicants are more likely to distort their answers to present themselves in a positive light. For that reason, human resources experts say that companies should not hire based on personality test results alone. 

Using these tests to help determine whether to hire someone remains somewhat controversial and many question the value of them. Still, if a personality test is going to be used in the hiring process, it is important to find a test that focuses on traits that won’t change over time and has been shown to have a correlation with job performance. It’s also important that the same person would get essentially the same results when taking the test multiple times.

While some see no place for personality tests in the hiring process, the results of such tests may at least be an effective tool in learning how someone tends to communicate.

Landscapers work in a business where communication is vital, from meeting with clients to checking in with vendors and crews. It is important to make sure your message is understood.

The DISC profile test, for example, is used to describe how people approach people as well as how they approach problems. The four categories are dominance, influence, steadiness, and compliance.

This sort of personality test may provide an employer with some insight into what motivates certain employees, what strengths they bring to the team, and what is the best way to interact with them.

Whether these tests should be used in the workplace is a decision that will vary from company to company. The following chart lists some of the pros and cons to consider:

Pros and cons of personality testing graphic

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