If you’re looking to better understand the nature and history of personality tests, this is the right place! At this point in time, about 80 million people complete a personality test each year – 80% of Fortune 500 companies use personality tests when hiring candidates.1
With such an interest in bettering the hiring process, this is where the personality test comes into play. More and more employers are looking to better understand their employees and potential candidates, so you may find yourself looking into what a personality test actually gauges.
This guide will provide you with some historical background to personality testing so that you can be better prepared if you find yourself having to take your own. We’ll also detail how these tests work and even how the scoring system works as well. While there are many different types, the basic premise is in the name, to assess human personality!
A personality test assesses the elements of someone’s personality based on a questionnaire that is then scored based on a scale of possibilities. The end result is a range of answers that can then reveal how an employer can see a candidate’s behavior, collaboration skills, and personality traits. The basic theory behind this is that you can then predict and personalize a candidate’s future job performance.
Below a brief breakdown of the history of personality tests and how various theories have been modernized over the years.
There’s actually quite a storied history behind personality tests. We need to first go back to Ancient Greece and Hippocrates when he developed this idea of the ‘persona’ which he based around four temperaments. However, this has been largely expanded on thanks to our growing knowledge of the difference between personality and the body.
Back in the 18th century, physicians believed that personality was determined by phrenology, which is the measuring of someone’s skull and appearance. While we see this now as completely antiquated and largely rooted in stereotypes, it was a tool that many used to then expand on the separation between mind and body.
In this sense, we now know that the mind is separate from the body and we cannot tell personality from physical characteristics. By the 19th century, thanks to great strides in psychology and the approach of psychodynamics, we came to a better understanding that personality is complex.
Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung laid the foundation for our modern understanding of personality preferences. Jung pioneered the four human personality preferences as: sensing, intuition, thinking, and feeling. These are the preferences we still consider today when determining personality.
However, Francis Galton greatly influenced the way we now assess personality, not just theorize it as Freud and Jung did. Galton created a list of adjectives to describe personality, which was further refined by Louis Leon Thurstone into 60 words. This was used from some time until Raymond Cattell
We first saw the application of personality tests in the military around WWI. As mentioned more below, Robert Woodworth was a pioneer in this field and intended to develop a personality test to look for shell shock in soldiers. However, the test was not ready for use and was later instrumental in the foundation of personality tests that followed.
Raymond Cattell, a renowned psychologist in the 20th century, expanded on Louis Leon Thurstone’s adjective based personality assessment to eventually result in the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF).
And while we have further expanded on this approach and applied it to multiple disciplines, the greatest we’ve seen is with hiring. The hiring process can be greatly improved by thinking about how employees think! This may sound redundant, but the goal is to create better fits within the organization so that everyone can play to their strengths rather than focus on their weaknesses.
This has become especially important following the pandemic and a rise in working from home. Employers have had to adapt to the changing landscape of the workplace and must hire individuals based more on the potential personality and behavior factors.
While there are a variety of personality tests to take, they generally work by asking questions that are then ‘scored’ based on an objective classification system. Applicants or test takers can expect to answer questions related to their work style or personality characteristics. This informs hiring managers as to what type of worker someone may be.
Or, better yet, how they will work with others in the organization. It is more a matter of matching strengths and understanding weaknesses within an organization, which is why they have become so popular over the years.
They are intended to measure personality with different frameworks depending on the test type. There are subjective and objective personality tests. An example of a subjective personality test is a Rorschach inkblot test but an objective personality test is used more often. An objective personality test usually comprises multiple choice questions that are then scored and categorized.
There are a range of reasons why people would choose to implement or take a personality test. However, personality tests are often used when hiring and even in understanding current employees. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, but that often is difficult to determine in a few interviews.
You may think a candidate has the technical skills, but there are a variety of intrapersonal skills required when working with others. Many hiring managers look to personality tests to help determine who will be a right fit for a certain position and/or within the larger organization as well.
The types of personality tests can range depending on the focus and framework. This means that there are different types to consider as employers and employees. As we’ve seen with the history of personality tests, the original emphasis started with intellect, but this changed over time. Now we see an emphasis on the roles of personality and behavior as well.
For example, the Opusuna test is rooted in similar principles of the Lowenfeld Mosaic personality test, which then branched off into the Gerber Mosaic Figure. This then became the Gerber-Presser Exec Behavior test and Teamability.
Most tests work by building off of one another, which is why we see similarities between certain tests. And, as this is largely built on previous research, we have included some older types that have served as foundational knowledge for the tests we see today.
This has also been called the Woodworth Psychoneurotic Inventory and often considered to be the first personality test developed by Robert Woodworth during WWI. He initially created the test to screen for shell shock, but it instead became used in psychological research.
The questionnaire consisted of 116 yes or no questions such as “do you usually feel well and strong?” or “are you troubled with dreams about your work” to which the candidate answered yes or no. This baseline provided incredible research for subsequent psychologists to advance the personality test further.
Adapted from Woodworth’s test, this is one of the first formalized personality tests first published and used in 1930. Louis Leon Thurstone, a pioneer in psychometrics and psychophysics, and his wife, Thelma Gwinn Thurstone, a prominent psychologist, developed the test.
From its inception it has undergone several revisions. However, the basic model gauges traits to describe how a person differs from another. This is covered with a variety of areas such as: active, vigorous, impulsive, dominant, stable, sociable, and reflective.
We can see this as a tool often used in psychotherapeutic treatment to understand non-verbal ideas. For example, a person may be given several mosaic pieces in a box. The person must then create a shape or design, which is then discussed after. This shows the interviewer how the individual works through potential problems to then discuss later.
While this differs from the language based tests that we commonly use for personality tests, this one provides a more universal approach to understanding behavior. This is similar to tests where an individual must draw or paint a picture, but there is a clearly defined set of materials allowed.
The interviewer can see the free play but not burdened by the possibility of different behavior and responses as seen with a painting or drawing.
Overall, this is a widely used test around the world. Researchers and psychologists often use it to understand children, while anthropologists use it for cultural and cross-cultural studies.
These vary depending on the employer and personal preference, but generally the personality tests listed below are most commonly used.
Also known as MBTI, this test has been widely used since WWII to initially gauge personality preferences to help women find war-time jobs. This is considered a introspective self-report questionnaire
How It Works: The test is used by companies to hire applicants based on where they fall within four groups: extraversion vs. introversion, judging vs. perceiving, intuition vs. sensing, and thinking vs. feelings. Applicants are asked just under 100 questions to see where they fall within a range of 16 personality types.
This is a hierarchical organization of personality based on 5 dimensions: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience. The model was first developed in 1961 by Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal, but the test did not gain notoriety until J.M. Digman and then Lewis Goldberg extended the model.
How It Works: This model helps to understand how an individual may act based on the outlined dimensions. For example, an employer can attempt to figure out an individual’s job performance
This test was developed from William Moulton Marston’s theory in 1928, but further developed by Walter Clarke, an industrial psychologist, in 1956. We now know this to be the first self-assessment based on that DISC theory. Clarke created a list of adjectives which he asked people to then add descriptions related to themselves.
How It Works: The theory is based on personality through four traits: Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance. Individuals are given adjectives to describe and that information is then used to determine factors like leadership and teamwork. It is often used in businesses to see how individuals tackle problems and face obstacles.
For about 60 years, this test has been used by organizations to understand personality traits and how a candidate may fit in a certain role. The test measures for: Dominance, Extraversion, Patience, and Formality.
How It Works: Individuals are given two lists of adjectives to describe the way others see them and how they see themselves. After completing the test, they are given a reference profile to explain how they think and work beyond a specific role. The overall framework is meant to provide an understanding of workplace behavior.
The typical scoring structure is based on a range of awarding points depending on the answer. However, this does differ from your typical test in that they are scoring based on the answer option selected, and not if an answer is right or wrong. This is due to the fact that there is no wrong or right answer, there is only really ever categories or types that a respondent may fall into.
For example, your chosen answers are actually a summation of attributes that are ‘scored’ or tallied up to result in a personality type, depending on the test.
No! There is no real pass or fail when it comes to a personality test. The point of a personality test is to gauge your strengths and weaknesses based on the questions asked. Don’t think of this “test” as one in which you are graded in a traditional sense. The factors here are based around behavior rather than a score.
Much of this depends on the way you answer the questions. So while you can answer in ways that are not accurate to your actual personality or skill set, it is probably best not to go about a test this way.
In order to get an accurate representation of your personality and skill set, think about how answering honestly will only highlight your actual strengths and weaknesses. You may even find that you learn something about yourself and how to improve in certain areas.
From the employer side, a personality test can help you understand more about a candidate’s competencies and potential strengths for the company. However, there are other interpersonal skills that are vital for communication and teamwork efforts. As a company, you may want to consider implementing personality tests for new hires or when combing through top candidates. This will give you a better sense of their specific traits as an individual employee and someone that is part of the larger organization.
On the candidate, or even employee, side, a personality test can help you learn more about your own strengths and weaknesses.
However, if you’re looking to better attract, identify, recruit, and coach team players for your organization, then check out Opusuna. Our bias-free talent assessment tool is meant to save you time and money while minimizing the risk of bad hires.
We’ll help you to predict people’s behavior and measure your team’s effectiveness – ultimately the first step in improving your business. Feel free to schedule a demo today!