Personality tests in the workforce


Personality tests in the workforce

By Ethan Kwong


Personality tests are becoming more commonly used within the workforce, with data showcasing that 76% of employers rely on a type of personality or aptitude test when hiring employees, and this number is only expected to increase to 88% within the next couple of years (Harvard Business Review). 

The term “personality” was first coined by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates in 460BC who theorized that an individual’s personality was based off 4 temperaments: Melancholic, Choleric, Sanguine and Phlegmatic.

A circle is divided vertically and horizontally into four sections by lines with arrows at the ends. Clockwise from the top, the arrows are labeled “Strong Emotions,” “Changeable Temperaments,” “Weak Emotions,” and “Unchangeable Temperaments.” The arcs around the perimeter of the circle, clockwise beginning with the top right segment are labeled “Choleric,” “Sanguine,” “Phlegmatic,” and “Melancholic.” The sections inside each arc contain descriptive words. Inside the Choleric arc are the words “excitable, egocentric, exhibitionist, impulsive, histrionic, and active.” Inside the Sanguine arc are the words “playful, easygoing, sociable, carefree, hopeful, and contented.” Inside the Phlegmatic arc are the words “reasonable, principled, controlled, persistent, steadfast, and calm.” Inside the Melancholic arc are the words “anxious, worried, unhappy, suspicious, serious, and thoughtful.”

Since then there have been 2 main types of personality tests which have been developed and utilized with varying efficiencies: Objective tests and Projective measures.

Objective tests

Objective tests are tests which involve answering a set bank of questions that are marked against standardized answers. A common example of an objective test is the 16 personalities test, which is a simplified version of the original Myers-Briggs test.

The Myers-Briggs test examines individuals based off 4 criteria: 

  1. Extraversion vs. Introversion
  2. Sensing vs. Intuition
  3. Thinking vs. Feeling
  4. Judging vs. Perceiving



Projective measures

Projective measures are tests which utilize unknown stimuli designed to highlight certain aspects of an individual’s both conscious and unconscious behaviour. 

For example, the thematic apperception test is a type of projective measure designed to showcase an individual’s view on interpersonal relationships and expectations in life. Projective measures such as these work by evoking responses from the individual’s internal attitude toward external stimuli -e.g. asking individuals to describe what they think is happening in the two pictures below.

Pymetrics and Koru

As the inefficiencies of traditional personality testing have been revealed, technological advancements have given rise to pymetrics, psychometric testing and predictive assessments- new types of behavioural assessment which is based upon studies into behavioural science and AI technology. Most top firms such as McKinsey, BCG, PWC, etc. now utilize these assessments as opposed to the traditional personality tests. This is because they have the ability to look at the behavioural responses as assessed by the personality tests but also assess the cognitive ability of an individual.

Pymetrics include twelve games which assess factors such as focus, decision-making and memory as opposed to the “temperaments” and “traits” which were assessed in the original tests. Comparatively to objective tests and projective measures, these factors are not dependent on the individual’s perception of a “successful” outcome and thus focuses solely on the ability of the individual. As a result of this, the reliability and validity of these tests can now be maximized. Pymetric games utilize similar concepts to projective measures in which they assess the subconscious of an individual, with games ranging from: pumping a balloon full of air (risk vs reward), matching faces to emotion (empathy) to choosing the larger number between two fractions (processing speed). 

To find a job, play these games | Engadget

Similarly, Koru is a machine learning program which analyses applicants on seven personality traits: “grit, rigour, impact, teamwork, curiosity, ownership, and polish” (Business Insider). As opposed to the traditional objective tests, Koru tests cover three areas similar to which would be covered in an interview: past experience, work style and work scenarios. By doing so, Koru makes it harder for applicants to match the question with the quality being assessed and therefore makes it harder for individuals to answer untruthfully in an attempt to match the company’s expectations.

In conclusion, technological advancements such as Pymetrics and Koru have removed the unreliability of traditional objective tests and projective measures.  In terms of preparation for these types of tests, you can familiarize yourself with the company’s culture (their goals, what they are looking for in candidates) and to practice with similar tests online. Personality tests do indeed reveal the way your mind works and could help improve areas such as your team-work and leadership, but in the end, it is always important to remember that these tests only encompass a small part of your application and thus is important to remain honest.

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