Pre-employment personality tests branded “useless”

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HR managers will do anything to avoid costly hiring mistakes and personality tests might seem like an added insurance – but are they effective? Absolutely not, says one industry leader – they’re just a way to shirk responsibility.

“Personality tests are pretty much useless at predicting future job performance,” insists Bob Corlett, founding member of the Editorial Advisory Board for the HR Examiner. “To hire successfully, you need more deep thinking, not less.

But, according to Corlett, personality tests are worse than useless – they could actually be harmful to a management team.

“A personality test will never encourage your managers to have the kinds of flexible thinking you need, because the test makes the ultimate decision,” he explained. “When there’s a test to fall back on, managers inevitable step back from responsibility and surrender to the test.”

Self-confessed sceptic Corlett admits there’s something undeniably alluring about personality tests – both at work and at home – but says managers shouldn’t be tricked into thinking they mean anything.

“We hope to learn something from the fun quizzes in Cosmo or BuzzFeed. Against all logic, we want these tests to work, even though we know deep down that multiple choice questions can't really get at all the complexities of our personalities,” he said.

Annie Paul, former senior editor for Psychology Today, caustically compared personality testing to phrenology – the 19th century theory of determining personal attributes by measure the bumps on a person’s head.

Managers may be drawn to testing as it offers a quick-fix but Corlett says anyone adopting the tactic could easily miss a “diamond in the rough.”

“No test will save you from the hard work of developing an intelligent hiring process,” he said. “It takes effort to distinguish the drivers for performance in a job, and real thought to understand who will fit into your culture.”

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  • HK on 2015-03-24 11:19:16 AM

    We had a client wanting to hire one of our candidates who already had to jump through a long process of hoops. Right before we receive the offer of employment, they ask our candidate to complete a few personality tests. Well, he scored 1% on one of the tests, and they withdrew the offer! Now they want someone exactly like him, and guess what, he IS the only guy like him! We suggested he take that test again, as perhaps he didn't understand it, or didn't think it was important enough to spend a lot of time and effort on. It was absolutely ridiculous! They loved the guy before the test, and thought he was 110% the man for the job.

  • Ray on 2015-03-24 12:20:58 PM

    100% wrong. These so-called thought leaders need to do their homework before making comments like that. According to the research, IQ and conscientiousness (one of the Big Five personality traits), both of which can be measured using personality tests, are the two most accurate predictors of future job performance, and of life success in general. Actually, that is a misleading statement—they are the ONLY statistically reliable predictors of future job performance. Everything else, including interviews, while useful in determining other factors such as organizational fit, is of absolutely no value in predicting job performance.

  • Rob an I/O Psychologist on 2015-03-24 1:07:10 PM

    Bob Corlett’s comments that personality tests “are pretty much useless at predicting future job performance”, and even “worse than useless” are simply untrue. Also cited in this article is Annie Murphy Paul (a journalist - not a psychologist) who compares personality testing to phrenology. Her authority to comment on selection testing appears to be based on a book that she wrote personality testing, which is described by one reviewer as a simplistic analysis, with “sweeping dismissal of research, lack of substance to the book's claims, and the misrepresentation of facts”. The predictive validity of personality tests is well established in the scientific literature. Psychological testing is valuable - even essential - in hiring for many positions, (e.g., policing). Its use has been well validated for decades in the scientific literature. This article utterly misinforms HR professionals who may be unsure about the potential value of testing in employment selection, and does the profession little service.

  • RO N on 2015-03-25 4:49:16 PM

    I have 20 years of experience in HR- mainly oversea and I had applied tests in the recruitment process during that time, and never had a case where the results didn’t match with the performance. I have found that in Canada, people don’t apply test mainly because they don’t know anything about them. They keep asking the same kind of questions in the interview process over and over and try to give some interpretation from the answers as if they were physiologies when in fact, don't have the skills set to act as recruiter!

  • Len on 2015-04-01 1:04:12 PM

    Responsible users of tests know that decisions to hire should not be based solely on the outcome of one test. Rather, the result should be used in conjunction with information gleaned from the rest of the recruitment process. Tests also need to be administered by someone properly trained in the test's use. Their misuse is problematic, not the tests themselves.

  • Nicole on 2015-04-10 4:43:50 PM

    Ron: Just out of curiosity , can I ask what specific testing you are using, or what you would recommend as the most effective from your experience?

  • Warren on 2015-04-23 10:49:56 AM

    It is an article like this where the author does not validate the education or experience of the person who calls the accepted practice into question that causes me to put this entire website on ignore. This is the crap that online journalism has sunk to- Sensationalism for no reason and no gain

  • Simon on 2015-04-23 11:02:20 AM

    That being the case Ray, we could solve every human conundrum with such limited lines of enquiries - i.e. ticking boxes. Predictors of life success...what rot....way too many variables.

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