Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Personality tests and the magic bullet

Many recruitment professionals appear to think that one psychological personality test will be enough for an employer to determine whether a person is the right fit for the organisation.

The tests themselves evaluate a number of different areas of our ability. there are tests that evaluate our capacity for academic intelligence, our mathematical intelligence, a spatial intelligence, our emotional intelligence; tests which evaluate our dexterity, our decision-making speed, our accuracy, our recognition; tests which attempt to categorise our personality, our thought processes, our characteristics and our patterns of behaviour.

When you consider that breadth of testing, it is easy to see why one single test will not cover all of those things.

To assume that one single test is complex or comprehensive enough to evaluate one individual, I think, is simplistic in the extreme.

Popular types of tests which are often used on their own by recruiters are:
  • The Myers Briggs type indicator, which measures how individuals differ in gathering and evaluating information for solving problems and making decisions (McNeil, 2004; Prem, 2010).
  • The Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument which illustrates for different styles of thought process that the individual prefers to use,  the supposedly based on the  mechanics of the brain (Herrmann International Asia, 2008).
  • The big five personality dimensions, which many psychological tests are based on, are those of extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience (Daft & Pirola-Merlo, 2009).
The interesting thing about most tests are that none of those tests have not been normalised for individual countries. They have been developed in the USA, for USA conditions, yet we adopt them in our own countries without realising that they probably lack validity for our context.

For example, For the US market, the big five personality dimensions are ranked in that order they are shown in above, and are supposed to be selected for in a candidate in that order. However, from evaluating students  in New Zealand since 2009, the order appears to be openness to experience, emotional stability, conscientiousness and agreeableness as third equal, then lastly extroversion.

Context is king.

When I introduce my students to personality and psychological testing, I tell them that we are all 360° people. One test is not going to be enough to sum us up: we need 360 tests for each degree of who we are.

The more the merrier, in fact.


  • Daft, R. L. & Pirola-Merlo, A.  (2009). The Leadership Experience (Asia-Pacific Edition 1). Cengage
  • Herrmann International Asia (2008). Confidential Personal Profile Information. Author.
  • McNeill, G. (2004). Myers-Briggs Personality Types Workbook. Career Services New Zealand (CNZ).
  • Prem, K. (2010). Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator.

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