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Personality tests help gauge job fit

By Kate Lorenz

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It is estimated about 40 percent of employers use personality assessments to determine if a candidate is suited for a particular job or in what type of work an existing employee will be most successful.

About the same percentage use personality testing to help employees learn to work more cooperatively with others who do not share the same traits.

Can a questionnaire asking how individuals react to various situations truly gauge someone's personality and indicate what jobs he or she might do best? The answer is yes, according to a number of researchers.

Why employers use testing

There are thousands of personality tests available to employers, and companies invest thousands of dollars purchasing and using these tests. Most expect to reduce the amount of turnover of employees by increasing the probability that they will select the right person for each job.

"[The investment in personality testing is] going to cost less than one or two turnovers caused by hiring the wrong person because of a lack of salient information," R. Wendell Williams, managing director of, a consultant based in Atlanta, recently told HR Magazine.

Some employers are more responsible in how they apply the tests than others. Experts caution human resources professionals to define exactly what they hope to accomplish with personality assessments before getting started.

And while candidates should expect that a potential employer will use test results in their hiring and promotion process, they should be wary of a potential employer that seems to put too much stock in personality tests or asks questions regarding race, religion or highly personal information.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act and the guidelines of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are aimed at preventing discrimination and other unfair practices.

Testing benefits to employees

Many employees find the use of personality assessments beneficial when their employer uses them appropriately. Dave, an Internet development manager for a worldwide manufacturing firm, attended diversity training offered by his company that included personality assessment with a Myers-Briggs test.

"I was able to identify my own personality traits so that I could positively adjust how I interact with others with similar or significantly different traits," he says. "I've taken these tests a few times throughout my career, and using testing to help employees assess their own behavior was the best use of testing I've seen yet."

Many company leaders recognize that interpersonal problems and personality conflicts exist in all organizations and erode employee focus from the goals of the organization.

"The best teams are comprised of members with diverse personality styles. These are also the teams in which cooperation is most difficult to manage," says Jim, a human resources manager at a packaged consumer goods corporation.

Using testing to understand one's own personality style and behavioral tendencies, and those of others in the organization, can help foster better relations between employees.

Personality makeup

The majority in the research community contend that five factors shape our overall personality, and most testing companies try to use all five to measure job fit. These are:

1. Our relative need for stability.

2. Whether we are solitary or social.

3. Whether we strive more for innovation or efficiency.

4. The degree to which we stick to our positions or accept others' ideas.

5. Whether we are more linear or flexible in our approach to goals.

Tests consist of a series of questions that gauge a person's natural comfort level within these categories.

For example, candidates might be asked to rate themselves on a numerical scale as to how well they believe that they:

  • Bounce back quickly from disappointment.
  • Share personal information with work associates.
  • Enjoy taking care of detail.
  • Take credit when it is deserved.
  • Are driven to be No. 1.
  • There are no wrong answers -- only results that suggest an individual is better suited to one type of work than another. The best advice for candidates who are asked to take a personality test is to answer each question honestly and don't try to outthink the test.

    Many personality tests, similar to those used by employers, are available online at no cost and can be found using most Internet search engines.

    Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Other writers contributed to this article.

    © Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority
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