Should You Use Personality Testing in the Workplace?

by James McDonald on July 17, 2018
iOFFICE Hummingbird: A Leading Workplace Experience Platform

There’s a reason Buzzfeed has created thousands of quizzes over the past decade. It’s because most of us enjoy learning new things about ourselves. Whether it’s something silly like which “Office” character is most like us or something more serious, like our ideal career path, there’s something inherently appealing about tests like these.

As more organizations prioritize the employee experience, they are giving more consideration to cultural fit and tailoring the workplace for individual preferences. In fact, 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies have used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to better understand their employees, according to CPP, the publisher of the Myers-Briggs test.

However, before you administer a company-wide personality testing, consider the legal ramifications and the pros and cons.

Why Personality Testing Isn’t Ideal for Hiring

Using a personality test during the recruiting process has become a popular technique for employers. Companies believe personality testing can give them better insight into the candidate beyond a face-to-face interview. In particular, employers feel personality testing is a better indicator of a potential employee’s soft skills and culture fit.

However, using personality testing as a form of assessment could have unintended consequences. If personality testing is part of your recruiting process, here are three reasons to consider retiring it:

1. Personality testing puts your organization at risk of legal issues.

Even if a personality test is administered by a reliable and reputable agency, the employer is still at risk of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and/or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. For example, if a job candidate can prove 1) a personality trait the employer screened for is connected to a protected class, and 2) the candidate was rejected due to having that personality trait, the employer can be sued for discrimination.

2. Job candidates can “trick” a personality test.

For many personality tests, the “correct” answers are just a Google search away. Applicants can easily find websites that show them exactly what they need to say in order to get a job offer. Additionally, most personality assessments can’t differentiate between a job candidate’s temporary emotional state when they take the test and the candidate’s more permanent personality traits.

3. Personality testing can extend the hiring process.

For most positions (even entry-level roles), the standard process usually includes a phone screen and one or more in-person interviews. If the job candidate is currently employed, scheduling each of these can take several weeks. Adding in a pre-hire personality test drags out the process even longer. And if a high-quality candidate is considering multiple employers, this extra step can drive them away to a competing company.

While personality testing can be problematic during the hiring process, it can be helpful once employees are part of the team. Here are a few reasons to consider using it in your workplace.

Benefits of Personality Testing In the Workplace

1. Improved Employee Self-Awareness

We all know it can be difficult to evaluate ourselves objectively.

Personality testing spurs valuable self-reflections that help employees better understand how to succeed in both their professional and personal lives.

2. Enhanced Workplace Communication

When employees have a better understanding of themselves and their colleagues, they can communicate with them more effectively. For instance, some employees want very specific direction for a project, while others prefer more freedom to think of the best approach.

Researcher John Holland developed six workplace personality types:

1. Realistic (The Doer)

This describes someone who is practical in nature and often enjoys manual work. They are good at fixing things and tend to pursue careers in carpentry, engineering, mechanics or other hands-on work. They work best alone or with other realistic people.

2. Investigative (The Thinker)

Precise and intellectual, this person loves to study and solve complicated problems. They tend to pursue careers in math, science, computer programming or technology-related fields. They prefer working with others who take a similar approach and are most compatible with realistic or artistic types.

3. Artistic (The Creator)

This describes someone who values expression, creativity and independence. They tend to be skilled writers, artists or entertainers and can become frustrated by highly ordered or repetitive activities. They work best alone or with thinkers and helpers.

4. Social (The Helper)

This is the most common workplace personality type, and they’re usually easy to spot. Helpers enjoy working closely with others and love to be needed. They tend to get bored when working alone for long periods of time. They work especially well with creators and persuaders.

5. Enterprising (The Persuader)

These employees are natural leaders and salespeople who command attention. They tend to value business or politics and see themselves as both social and ambitious. They enjoy working in groups but can dominate the conversation at times. They tend to be more strategic than detail-oriented and can sometimes clash with more analytical types.

6. Conventional (The Organizer)

If you want to spot the organizers in the room, try dumping a stack of papers onto a desk haphazardly and see who jumps in to sort them. These individuals are process-oriented and good at following instructions. They tend to avoid ambiguous activities. They value success in business and enjoy working with others but do best in small groups where their responsibilities are clearly defined.

Understanding what motivates each of these workplace personality types and how they work best will help your teams work better together. Workplace leaders can even assign teams with a mix of different personalities so teams will be more well-rounded.

A Better Understanding of Employees’ Needs

Employees and their managers can use workplace assessments like the MBTI, Holland’s Six Personality Types and Workstyle to identify not only the best ways to communicate with each other, but also recognize what they need to be most productive.

Some employees do their best work when they’re interacting with other team members, while others need quiet space to concentrate. Some need clearly defined processes, while others feel confined by them. Workplace leaders can use data from personality testing to create a workplace that best supports all personality types.

This could include implementing flexible workplace designs like activity-based working, office hoteling or hot-desking.

Disadvantages of Personality Testing in the Workplace

Personality testing is not without its critics. First, there has been much debate about the accuracy of these tests. Bestselling author Adam Grant said the MBTI was “about as useful as a polygraph for detecting lies” and fell somewhere in between a horoscope and a heart monitor in terms of accuracy.

Employees may take the same test more than once and get different results.

Additionally, employees may not take kindly to being typecast. By putting too much emphasis on personality types, you can run the risk of making assumptions about individuals and limiting their potential. For instance, a creative type who wants to try his hand at sales can succeed in that role with hard work and the right support system. An organizer may feel frustrated when she’s always put in charge of managing projects without being asked.

As Basecamp CEO Jason Fried said:

“Each individual is motivated by different things. There’s really no such thing as a group of people. There’s a physical group of people, but everyone’s an individual, and you’ve got to pay attention to what drives each person.”

The most important thing to remember about using personality testing in the workplace is that they are not a definitive ruling on someone’s abilities but a catalyst to spark conversation. When used the right way, they can help members of your team better understand each other so you can all be happier and more productive.


James McDonald

James McDonald is a sports enthusiast, brother in Christ and once swam in a tank with the infamous TV sharks.

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