In Defense of Personality Tests


quizRecent pop personality quizzes such as those found on BuzzFeed make light of our fascination with personality and the practicality of self-awareness. While these may be fun coffee break activities, they don’t warrant much in terms of scientific feedback and tend to give personality tests a bad rap in a professional setting. When I explain my job to my friends, they’re always amazed that personality is measurable. In a recent Forbes’ article, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic defends seven “common arguments against the use of personality tests in the workplace.”

People can fake their answers
Well, in the first place, “when tests are adequately designed,” says Chamorro-Premuzic, “it is not easy to guess what different questions assess, or how different answers will be interpreted, making deliberate manipulation quite ineffective…Second, good tests not only allow for a certain degree of dishonesty – they actually encourage it.” We all want to present a favorable image when interviewing or talking about ourselves which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Those that fudge the lines of truth a bit could just be demonstrating their knowledge of social etiquette and behavior. “In short,” says Chamorro-Premuzic, “people may try to fake, but they are generally not smart enough to fool good psychometric tests – and if they are, they should be hired anyway.”

Tests are inaccurate
“Yet 50-years of psychological research show that self-perceptions are inaccurate and inflated, as our unconscious desire to feel good about ourselves – our optimism bias – is much more powerful than our enthusiasm for reality,” counters Chamorro-Premuzic. “In line,” he continues, “the accuracy of scientific personality tests does not depend on the degree to which scores align with test-takers’ self-perceptions, but on the tests’ ability to predict respondents’ actual behavior: what they do, rather than how they think of themselves.”

Personality changes from situation to situation
While your behavior may change depending on the situation, your personality doesn’t. It is your personality that “affects and predicts how you are likely to behave in different situations,” explains Chamorro-Premuzic.

Tests are unfair
It’s true that some people do better than others on personality tests, but, “when those differences in performance are actually related to job potential (e.g., a person’s ability to sell insurance, drive a bus, or manage a winning team), then surely it would be more unfair to hire the weaker candidates,” says Chamorro-Premuzic.

Tests are reductionist and “pigeonhole” people
Actually, people are reductionist and “pigeonhole” people through stereotypes. “Personality tests focus on generic patterns of thought, action and behavior. They are therefore color blind and gender neutral, as well as unrelated to a person’s educational or socioeconomic background,” claims Chamorro-Premuzic.

Tests are intrusive and pick up private abnormalities
“Scientific tests comply with strict ethical standards and national laws for both research and practice,” explains Chamorro-Premuzic, “and their administration requires the test-taker’s consent and involves a transparent exchange with the test-taker (unlike, for example, in the case of big data and social analytics), who is usually provided with some feedback after completing the test.

Success depends on context, so how can you give the same test to everyone?
While every job is somewhat different, “successful employees tend to be more or less similar everywhere,” says Chamorro-Premuzic.

If you want an expanded version of this blog, check out the original post on Forbes.