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Personality Tests

Personality tests are designed to systematically elicit information about a person's motivations, preferences, interests, emotional make-up, and style of interacting with people and situations. Personality measures can be in the form of interviews, in-basket exercises, observer ratings, or self-report inventories (i.e., questionnaires).

Personality self-report inventories typically ask applicants to rate their level of agreement with a series of statements designed to measure their standing on relatively stable personality traits. This information is used to generate a profile used to predict job performance or satisfaction with certain aspects of the work.

Personality is described using a combination of traits or dimensions. Therefore, it is ill-advised to use a measure that taps only one specific dimension (e.g., conscientiousness). Rather, job performance outcomes are usually best predicted by a combination of personality scales. For example, people high in integrity may follow the rules and be easy to supervise but they may not be good at providing customer service because they are not outgoing, patient, and friendly. The personality traits most frequently assessed in work situations include: (1) Extroversion, (2) Emotional Stability, (3) Agreeableness, (4) Conscientiousness, and (5) Openness to Experience. These five personality traits are often referred to collectively as the Big Five or the Five-Factor Model. While these are the most commonly measured traits, the specific factors most predictive of job performance will depend on the job in question. When selecting or developing a personality scale, it is useful to begin with inventories that tap the Big Five, but the results from a validity study may indicate some of these traits are more relevant than others in predicting job performance.

It is important to recognize some personality tests are designed to diagnose psychiatric conditions (e.g., paranoia, schizophrenia, compulsive disorders) rather than work-related personality traits. The Americans with Disabilities Act considers any test designed to reveal such psychiatric disorders as a "medical examination." Examples of such medical tests include the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and the Millon Clinical Multi-Axial Inventory (MCMI). Generally speaking, personality tests used to make employment decisions should be specifically designed for use with normal adult populations. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, personality tests meeting the definition of a medical examination may only be administered after an offer of employment has been made.


  • Validity - Personality tests have been shown to be valid predictors of job performance (i.e., they have an acceptable level of criterion-related validity) in numerous settings and for a wide range of criterion types (e.g., overall performance, customer service, team work), but tend to be less valid than other types of predictors such as cognitive ability tests, assessment centers, and work samples and simulations
  • Face Validity/Applicant Reactions - May contain items that do not appear to be job related (i.e., low face validity) or seem to reveal applicants' private thoughts and feelings; Applicants may react to personality tests as being unnecessarily invasive; Items may also be highly transparent, making it easy for applicants to fake or distort test scores in their favor
  • Administration Method - Can be administered via paper and pencil or electronically
  • Subgroup Differences - Generally, few, if any, average score differences are found between men and women or applicants of different races or ethnicities, therefore it is beneficial to use a personality measure when another measure with greater potential for adverse impact (e.g., cognitive ability test) is included in the selection process
  • Development Costs - Cost of purchasing a personality test is typically less expensive than developing a customized test
  • Administration Costs - Generally inexpensive, requires few resources for administration, and does not require skilled administrators
  • Utility/ROI - High return on investment if you need applicants who possess strong interpersonal skills or other job-related specific personality traits
  • Common Uses - Typically used to measure whether applicants have the potential to be successful in jobs where performance requires a great deal of interpersonal interaction or work in team settings; Less useful for highly scripted jobs where personality has little room to take effect; Frequently administered to large groups of applicants as a screen


(See Section VI for a summary of each article)

Barrick, M. R., & Mount, M. K. (1991). The Big Five personality dimensions and job performance: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44, 1-26.

Hogan, R., Hogan, J., & Roberts, B. W. (1996). Personality measurement and employment decisions: Questions and answers. American Psychologist, 51, 469-477.

Hough, L. M., Eaton, N. K., Dunnette, M. D., Kamp, J. D., & McCloy, R. A. (1990). Criterion-related validities of personality constructs and the effect of response distortion on those validities. Journal of Applied Psychology, 75, 581-595.

Hough, L. M., & Oswald, F. L. (2000). Personnel selection: Looking toward the future - Remembering the past. Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 631-664.

Tett, R. P., Jackson, D. N, & Rothstein, M. (1991). Personality measures as predictors of job performance: A meta-analytic review. Personnel Psychology, 44, 703-742.

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) website contains information on Personality Tests.

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