Is Personality Testing Worth It?

For most of my professional life, I have been involved either in the sale or development of psychometric tools. During this time I have tried to consistently maintain integrity and not oversell or undersell the usefulness of measures. In New Zealand, I ran nationwide seminars on the lies espoused by this industry. In both New Zealand and the UK, I have fronted campaigns on the myths of testing.

Despite all this, people still continue to overweigh, and therefore over pay, for personality tests. Business leaders still continue to be caught up in the cult of personality and believe that there is a huge array of differences between various measures when they amount to the same thing. As a practitioner, it is disheartening to see organisations waste so much money in these difficult times. As an academic and idealist, it is disheartening to watch people fall again and again for what amounts to gimmicks and flavours of the month.

Personality testing is useful, but not as useful as people have been led to believe. It provides a valuable role in any selection method but it is just part of the overall process. Personality tests are far more similar than they are different. To pay exorbitant amounts for something that accounts for a mere 4% of variance related to performance is just mindless.

As always, we should blend research with practice to determine usefulness. There is now a wealth of non-commercial literature in the field of personality testing and this should be mandatory reading for any practitioner. The evidence is balanced and any educated reader would conclude that testing may indeed be useful, but that this will be less test dependant and more a product of how a test is used. Moreover, any personality assessment should be interpreted with caution so that it results in really meaningful business outcomes.

Ones, D.S., Dilchert, S., Visveswaran, & C., Judge, T. (2007) In support of personality assessment in organizational settings. Personnel Psychology, 60, 4, 995-1027.

Personality constructs have been demonstrated to be useful for explaining and predicting attitudes, behaviors, performance, and outcomes in organizational settings. Many professionally developed measures of personality constructs display useful levels of criterion-related validity for job performance and its facets. In this response to Morgeson et al. (2007), we comprehensively summarize previously published meta-analyses on (a) the optimal and unit-weighted multiple correlations between the Big Five personality dimensions and behaviors in organizations, including job performance; (b) generalizable bivariate relationships of Conscientiousness and its facets (e.g., achievement orientation, dependability, cautiousness) with job performance constructs; (c) the validity of compound personality measures; and (d) the incremental validity of personality measures over cognitive ability. Hundreds of primary studies and dozens of meta-analyses conducted and published since the mid 1980s indicate strong support for using personality measures in staffing decisions. Moreover, there is little evidence that response distortion among job applicants ruins the psychometric properties, including criterionrelated validity, of personality measures. We also provide a brief evaluation of the merits of alternatives that have been offered in place of traditional self-report personality measures for organizational decision making. Given the cumulative data, writing off the whole domain of individual differences in personality or all self-report measures of personality from personnel selection and organizational decision making is counterproductive for the science and practice of I-O psychology.

Morgeson, F.P., Campion, M.A., Dipboye, R.L., Hollenbeck, J.R., Murphy, K., & Schmitt, N. (2007) Reconsidering the Use of Personality Tests in Personnel Selection Contexts. Personnel Psychology, 60, 3, 683-729.

Although long thought to be unrelated to job performance, research in the early 1990s provided evidence that personality can predict job performance. Accompanying this research was a resurgence of interest in the use of personality tests in high-stakes selection environments. Yet there are numerous potential problems associated with the current operational use of personality. As such, 5 former journal editors from Personnel Psychology and the Journal of Applied Psychology (2 primary outlets for such research), who have collectively reviewed over 7,000 manuscripts and who have no vested interest in personality testing, reconsider the research on the use of personality tests in environments where important selection decisions are made. Their comments are based on a panel discussion held at the 2004 SIOP conference. Collectively, they come to several conclusions. First, faking on self-report personality tests cannot be avoided and perhaps is not the issue; the issue is the very low validity of personality tests for predicting job performance. Second, as such, using published self-report personality tests in selection contexts should be reconsidered. Third, personality constructs may have value for employee selection, but future research should focus on finding alternatives to self-report personality measures.

Tett, R.P., & Christiansen, N.D. (2007) Personality Tests at the Crossroads: A Response to Morgeson, Campion, Dipboye, Hollenbeck, Murphy, and Schmitt (2007). Personnel Psychology, 60, 4, 967-993.

Despite widespread and growing acceptance that published personality tests are valid predictors of job performance, Morgeson et al. (2007) propose they be abandoned in personnel selection because average validity estimates are low. Our review of the literature shows that Morgeson et al.’s skepticism is unfounded. Meta-analyses have demonstrated that published personality tests, in fact, yield useful validity estimates when validation is based on confirmatory research using job analysis and taking into account the bidirectionality of trait–performance linkages. Further gains are likely by use of narrow over broad measures, multivariate prediction, and theory attuned to the complexities of trait expression and evaluation at work. Morgeson et al. also suggest that faking has little, if any, impact on personality test validity and that it may even contribute positively to job performance. Job applicant research suggests that faking under true hiring conditions attenuates personality test validity but that validity is still sufficiently strong to warrant personality test use in hiring. Contrary to Morgeson et al., we argue that the full value of published personality tests in organizations has yet to be realized, calling for programmatic theory-driven research.

And the response:

Morgeson, F.P., Campion, M.A., DipBoye, R.L., Hollenbeck, J.R., Murphy, K., & Schmitt, N. (2007) Are we getting fooled again? Coming to terms with limitations in the use of personality tests for personnel selection. Personnel Psychology, 60, 4, 1029-1049.

We recently published an article in which we highlighted a number of issues associated with the use of self-report personality tests in personnel selection contexts (Morgeson et al., 2007). Both Ones, Dilchert, Viswesvaran, and Judge (2007) and Tett and Christiansen (2007) have written responses to this article. In our response to these articles we address many of the issues raised by Ones et al. and Tett and Christiansen. In addition to a detailed response, we make the following 4 key points: (1) Our criticisms of personality testing apply only to the selection context, not to all research on personality; (2) the observed validities of personality tests predicting job performance criteria are low and have not changed much over time; (3) when evaluating the usefulness of using personality tests to select applicants, one must not ignore the observed, uncorrected validity; and (4) when discussing the value of personality tests for selection contexts, the most important criteria are those that reflect job performance. Implications for personality testing research and practice are discussed.


2 thoughts on “Is Personality Testing Worth It?

  1. Paul Wood

    Couldn’t agree more! I also think the over-emphasis on personality tools is a classic example of the natural tendency to attribute people’s behaviour to their character/traits rather than looking at situational influences (e.g., making the fundamental attribution error). I think personality testing provides incredibly useful information, especially for helping screen out the most obvious of potentially square pegs applying for round roles. Yet for those with more moderate preferences (which is most of us!) I think a strong and clearly defined organisational culture is going to be more crucial in shaping much of our behaviour.

  2. Pingback: Leadership, Intangibles and Talent Review Q4 2010 Four Groups

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