They help identify where people could best fit in a company

Contractors frequently ask me whether they should use personality tests during the hiring process. They wonder if personality tests are useful for identifying the best candidates for a job.

The answer is that personality tests can be useful for identifying great candidates, but only if you know when to administer the tests and how to interpret the results.

The hiring process is your opportunity to minimize the risk of making a bad hire. You have various tools at your disposal to help reduce this risk, including using effective interviewing practices, checking references, allowing candidates to spend time in the prospective department so they can get a realistic preview of the job, and ensuring they can do the work through practice exercises. Personality testing is another tool you can use. But at what point during the hiring process should applicants be given a personality test?

When to Give Personality Tests

Timing is everything — you don’t want the candidate to take the test as part of the initial application. A few unwanted scenarios could unfold with a candidate who takes a personality test too early.

Let’s say you conduct a phone interview with a promising candidate and then email them a link of a personality test, expecting that they complete it prior to the in-person interview. This method has two potentially risky outcomes:

  1. The candidate may be nervous about taking a test and have someone take it for them.
  2. Without having met you, the hiring manager, beforehand, the candidate may not take the personality test at all.

To eliminate these risks, I recommend having the candidate take the test when they arrive for the in-person interview. When scheduling this interview with the candidate, set the stage by telling them to plan extra time to take the test. Take the opportunity to help them feel comfortable — tell them the test is not pass/fail, but it is an opportunity for you to get to know them better.

Which Personality Test to Use

There are plenty of personality tests out there, and if you’re already using one and you find it useful, I’d recommend you keep using it.

My own recommendation is the Big Five personality test model. This test is backed by science and widely used for business recruiting. The Big Five test measures five personality characteristics:

  • Openness to Experience: People who score high in openness tend to be highly creative and intellectually curious. They like to try new things and learn new concepts. People who score low in openness tend to be more conventional and traditional.
  • Stability: People who score high in stability tend to keep an even temperament when faced with changing or stressful circumstances. They also tend to be self-confident. People who score low in stability may lack self-confidence and may not handle stressful situations well.
  • Extraversion: People who score high in extraversion tend to be highly sociable and are energized by interacting with others. People who score low on extraversion tend to be more introverted, preferring downtime to recharge.
  • Conscientiousness: People who score high in conscientiousness tend to be detail-oriented, highly organized, and goal-oriented. People who score low tend to dislike structure and may procrastinate.
  • Agreeableness: People who score high in agreeableness tend to be empathetic and compassionate towards others, which results in being highly cooperative. People who score low tend to be driven more by competition and therefore may be less empathetic towards others.

Interpreting the Personality Test Results

One thing to note: Research has consistently demonstrated that individuals with higher levels of stability and conscientiousness tend to have greater job success. It makes sense to keep a close eye on these two traits. If a candidate scores low on stability or conscientiousness, ask them more questions surrounding these personality traits. Keep in mind that if someone scores low on conscientiousness, it does not necessarily mean they aren’t going to do a good job. It’s just a data point for you to note.

The other three traits on the Big Five test offer additional useful information. For instance, if I’m hiring someone for customer service (a position that requires a high level of empathy and cooperation), I’m going to pay attention to people with high scores in agreeableness. Conversely, someone who scores low on agreeableness might do well in sales because they are more competitive. If I’m hiring someone for marketing, or hiring a trainer, I’m going to pay attention to people who score high on openness, because those positions require a bit of creativity. Extroverted people may thrive better in sales or recruiting, while introverted people may be more comfortable in accounting or operations. There is no right or wrong answer with these tests; it’s about understanding the traits and identifying where people may fit.

Personality tests can be useful tools for hiring managers. They offer a chance to get a quick snapshot of a candidate’s core motivations and traits, allowing you to see how they might fit within a team, or within your company as a whole. They are low-stakes since there is no way to fail them, and they can help you make hiring decisions more quickly and with additional confidence. Try a personality test out the next time you’re recruiting — you might find it’s a helpful addition to your hiring process.

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Busch is the recruiting and workforce development coach at Nexstar. He is a nontraditional human resources professional who specializes in recruiting and retention. He has worked 12 years in the HR industry.