Why Companies Should Be Interested in Personality

It is getting more and more common nowadays for companies to use personality assessments for job profiling and selection process.  In fact, according to Psychology Today, around 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies make use of personality tests in some way or another. 

However, most people would probably be more comfortable answering questions about their professional experience or skills during a job interview than questions about their personality.  Some job candidates may feel that the personality tests are intrusive or irrelevant,  while a few might even try to game the system by manipulating the test results to match what they think are the company’s expectations.

So why do companies want to look at personality, instead of  just raw capability, of their potential new hires?

Benefits of Using Personality Assessments

There are several benefits of using personality assessments as part of the company’s hiring process. Traditional selection methods such as interviews and reference checks rely heavily on subjective judgments, which may be influenced by human biases and errors. On the other hand, personality tests are designed to remove subjectivity and provide a more objective assessment of the candidate’s suitability for the job.

Most personality tests are also available online, requiring less time and effort for companies to administer them than interviews.  In addition, personality tests backed by data and research are high on reliability and validity, which means that their results are consistent when repeated under the same conditions and they do show that they are set out to measure.  This allows companies to be more confident of what they are getting from their new hires. 

Besides leading to greater accuracy in selection decisions, personality assessments are also highly effective in helping companies identify training and development needs. By knowing the strengths and weaknesses of their employees, companies can tailor their training programmes to help their employees grow and maximise their potential. They may also assign tasks or deploy their employees to positions which are more aligned with the employees’ strengths and traits to optimise their performance.

Using Personality Assessments Effectively

In order for companies to fully reap the benefits of using personality assessments in their recruitment process, they must first identify the personality traits to look out for. However, this is not a straightforward task as jobs do not come with clear and fixed descriptions. Different roles may call for different traits, while the the desired traits can vary widely across departments, teams, and even geographic location for the same role.

It should be noted that if companies repeatedly recruit people with the same personality traits , they will not be able to take advantage of the benefits of diversity. For instance, if the company only has mediocre salespeople as its top performers and looks to hire more with similar personality profiles, it could miss out the opportunity of employing someone who can surpass its current sales record. Hence, it would be more useful for companies to think about why the job exists and what are the key responsibilities or performance indicators of the person doing the job when identifying the desired traits.

Not all personality tests are suitable for the hiring process as well. The well-known Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one such test.  The Ethical Guidelines for use of the MBTI instrument states that it is unethical for companies to require job applicants to take the assessment if the results are to be used for the purpose of screening out the applicants.  Hence, you will find the Myers-Briggs Test more commonly used for teambuilding than for recruitment.   

Personality and Performance

Research has shown that certain measures of personality can predict employee performance and motivation. For example, conscientiousness at work has been found to have a strong correlation with “occupational performance” or job performance in a 2019 study based on data from more than 100 years of research.

According to Professor Deniz Ones from University of Minnesota who co-authored the 2019 study, there are two parts to job performance. One part is known as maximal effort or the “can do” behavior, while the other part is known as “typical performance” or the “will do” behavior. What personality predicts well is one’s typical performance rather than maximal effort.  People who are high in conscientiousness are generally more driven, have a higher need for job achievement and are more detail oriented.  Hence, it is no wonder that they push themselves harder and end up doing better because of that.  

In the the book Essentials of Organizational Behavior: 14th Edition, it is also mentioned that conscientiousness has the biggest influence on job performance among the Big Five personality traits. This is because individuals who are high in consciousness often have higher levels of job-related knowledge as they believe that they should learn more. They are also more likely to put their work above everything else and focus more on their performance, making them more susceptible to succeed.

The Big Five

Conscientiousness is one of the Big Five personality traits, which are also known by the acronym OCEAN – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. The Big Five or Five Factor Model of personality is considered to be the most accepted and scientifically robust approach to personality by the academic psychology community. Unlike some other theories that categorise personality into distinct types (type-based theory), the Big Five views personality traits as spectrums which are to be measured on continuous scales (traits-based theory)

Though consciousness has been linked to high achievers in the workplace, other Big Five personality traits have a part to play in work-related success too and should not be ignored.  For instance, people high in openness are more adaptable and better able to cope with changes.  Extraverts enjoy taking charge and may have strong leadership abilities. Agreeable people are more well-liked and good at following rules, while those low in neuroticism tend to be better in managing their emotions and handling workplace demands. 

The Workplace Big Five Profile™ is an assessment based Five Factor Model by applying the Big Five personality traits to business and organisational settings. The assessment contains 93 questions to be answered online, and helps to explain work-related behaviors such as communication styles and energy for specific roles and tasks through one’s personality traits. It has been reviewed by employment lawyers and strictly adhere to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission standards, allowing it to help companies choose the right people for the right role.

The Bottom Line

Personality assessments can be an invaluable tool for companies to make more informed decisions in hiring, thus decreasing the chances of a bad hire, which is not only costly, it may even affect the morale and productivity within the company beyond the person’s employment (one bad apple spoils the whole barrel). However, companies should not rely on the results of the personality tests solely for decision-making as they do not paint an all-encompassing picture of the potential candidate. There are many factors that affect an individual’s performance or behaviour at work and personality is only one of them. 

Over-reliance or over-interpretation of the results of personality tests is a common pitfall, as there are other aspects of the candidate, such as experience, skills or capabilities, that should be considered on top of personality traits to determine a person’s value in employment.  Hence, personality tests should not be used in isolation in the recruitment process, and it is strongly recommended to complemented them with other methods, such as job-related assessments and interviews, for greater effectiveness.

With the on-going great resignation and strong competition for talents, identifying candidates who are best suited for a specific role or the company culture can lead to better job fit and lower turnover rates. By understanding how each candidate is likely to perform or their behavioural tendencies in the workplace given his or her personality, the company can avoid wasting time and money training someone who will not succeed or fit in.

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