The Complete Guide to Personality Tests

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Personality tests are a type of psychometric test that assesses someone’s traits and characteristics. Although personality is a difficult thing to quantify and pin down, most people have dominant qualities or behaviors that are good predictors of how they might react to certain situations, tasks, and environments. The main traits tested for are called the Big Five, or OCEAN, which stands for Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.

While there is no ‘ideal’ personality, there is no disputing that certain types of people are better suited to certain types of jobs. It is also incorrect to assume that all employers and positions prefer certain personality types. In our society, extroversion is seen as more desirable than introversion, but that is not necessarily true and should not put you off from applying for the position that you want.

Why do employers use them?

By using personality tests, employers can make better-informed decisions about candidates without having to invest more time in each. They can also save time and money in the long-run: by better matching people to jobs, they increase job satisfaction, employee retention, and overall productivity. This is because they can be used to predict how people might react to certain situations and environments, for example, if they’re better suited to a role that is mostly lone-working or if they’re easily bored by repetitive tasks.

They are also useful tools when it comes to maintaining a certain environment in the workplace, weeding out the more extreme answers and revealing people’s temperament outside of an interview context. This can be especially important for smaller teams or for better expectation management.

Are they reliable?

This is a complicated question to answer. Personality tests have been around for a long time, being used and researched by psychologists for as long as the theory of personality has been around. However, some tests have better reputations than others. The best tests are created by testing as many participants as possible and analyzing the data, improving the quality of the questions and the reliability of the results. The Psychological Testing Centre is part of the British Psychological Society and sets the standards for tests and testers, so many of the most reputable tests used by employers should be approved by the PTC.

Ideally, personality tests should always be used in conjunction with traditional face-to-face interviews and careful scrutiny of CVs and relevant skills. They can provide a good insight into how a person leans, e.g. more easy-going or prefers to work alone, but testers have to remember these aren’t rigid definitive results. Just because someone scores higher on the ‘introversion’ traits does not mean that they’ll necessarily perform worse at typically ‘extroverted’ roles such as sales.

What to expect?

Personality tests differ in complexity; some test up to 32 different traits, while many others test just a few that employers feel are key to the role. Most of the questions fit into the following categories:

  • Statement based questions: You may be familiar with these types of questions. A statement is presented and you choose on a likert scale the extent to which to agree or disagree with the statement.
  • Forced-choice questions: Also known as ipsative questions, this is where you are given statements or adjectives and asked to rank them in order to how much you think they apply to you.
  • Open-ended questions: These are slightly less common. You will be given an open-ended question and space to write in an answer, allowing you more freedom to choose how to describe yourself.
  • Covert questions: Also known as trick questions. These are questions that seem irrelevant or are not entirely clear on what they are testing, and are the reason it is best to practice and get comfortable with personality tests before you go in!

How to prepare

Personality tests differ from other aptitude tests like verbal reasoning or numerical reasoning because they do not have singular ‘right’ answers that come from prior knowledge or can be worked out. While some people may try to ‘cheat’ personality tests by choosing the answers that they think will give them the answer employers are looking for, it is not always that simple.

Firstly, personality tests are not as straight-forward as they may seem, especially with the trick and forced-answer questions, where you may not be able to decipher what the ‘correct’ answers may be or end up contradicting yourself if you cannot remember which answers you picked before.

Secondly, keep in mind the purpose of personality tests. They are designed to better match people with positions that they will excel in, enjoy and give them career success. So pretending to be someone you’re not will defeat the point in taking the test. You cannot know which traits your employer is focussing on, so it’s best to be yourself and answer the test honestly. You should also get the opportunity to interview for the position, so use the test and the interview together to put forward the best image of yourself.

However, the more you practice personality tests, the more you will get comfortable with the types of questions asked and be able to get a better picture of your own results. Since there are so many tests out there, the best way to prepare for personality tests is to practice. So, it’s time to get started.

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