In today's hyper-competitive job market, more companies are using front-end personality screening to guide their hiring decisions. Faced with an abundance of applicants, managers can use these tests to weed out candidates whose aptitude fails to fit the job, thus reducing hiring cost.

For job seekers, personality tests are something of a double edged sword. Fewer employers willing to take a chance on candidates who don't measure up makes it tougher for job seekers to get on the payroll. On the other hand, being precisely matched to a position that suits your individual strengths, values, and temperament gives you a greater chance of achieving career happiness in the long run.

Personality tests are specifically formulated to prevent job seekers from gaming the system. Even so, it can't hurt to know about the type of test you may be facing. Here are four of the most popular tests, together with an idea of what the assessments are looking for, and how the responses could be interpreted.

Myers Briggs Type Indicator

When Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, posited the idea that everyone fits into one of 16 personality types, they had no idea that it would become the world's most widely recognized personality theory. Roughly two million people a year take the MBTI test, including job seekers in businesses, government agencies, and educational institutions.

In a nutshell, MBTI classifies personality types along four distinct axes:

  • Introversion (I) vs. Extroversion (E); whether you draw energy from the inner or the outer world.

  • Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N); whether you draw information from the things you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch, or whether you prefer to interpret and add meaning.

  • Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F); whether you make decisions based on logic or the effect they have on people.

  • Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P); whether you prefer to make quick decisions or keep the options open to new ideas and information.

Each person displays one dominant preference on each of the four axes. For example, a job seeker might be extroverted, an intuitor, a feeler and a perceiver. Or, in MBTI's four letter code, "ENFP." The test delivers 16 possible combinations that describe the candidate's job proclivities and aptitudes. Employers use it to establish how a person plans, problem-solves, makes decisions, collaborates, and works within a team.

The versatility of MBTI means that it is not merely a weapon in the hiring arsenal. Employers use it post-hire to improve teamwork, improve communication, and maximize the effective use of human resources across an organization.

Does it work?

Probably not. While employers clearly want a person’s MBTI profile to predict their aptitude for a particular job, psychologists have criticized its use as a hiring tool for years. The problem is mainly one of misunderstanding.

For example, you might assume that introverts are a poor fit for highly public, stressful leadership jobs. Yet Mark Zuckerberg is an Introvert, and anyone who has ever read Audacity of Hope will realize that Barack Obama is a deeply measured and reflective individual — the classic traits of an introvert. The introversion/extroversion scale is not about whether someone is bashful or outgoing. It addresses whether people gain energy from being alone or among others. In the words of a Myers-Briggs publisher, “people of many different types excel at the same job for different reasons. Individuals should not be pigeonholed based on their personality preferences."

Sample question: True or false: "Being around other people energizes me."

What it means: A "true" response would be a positive sign for extroversion, indicating an outgoing personality. But it might also indicate conformity - someone who likes being part of a crowd, perhaps follows the crowd.

Take the test: Typefinder's workplace personality test is based on Briggs Myers' 16 types.

Personality Tests

DISC Profile

Developed by Dr. William Moulton Marston, DISC profile is a personality model that examines the behavior of individuals specifically in a work environment. It is visualized as a quadrant based on four dimensions of personality:

  • Dominance: how you assert yourself, control situations and deal with problems

  • Influence: your communication style and how you relate to others

  • Steadiness: your workplace temperament, that is, your tenacity, patience and thoughtfulness

  • Conscientiousness: your work ethic and how you approach procedures, rules and responsibility.

Individuals typically exhibit behavior that places them in the top/bottom or left/right-hand sides of the quadrant. For example, people who score high on Dominance and Conscientiousness (left quadrant) tend to be task and result-oriented. People scoring high on Influence and Steadiness (right quadrant) are more people-oriented. Employers use the results to match a person's work style to a specific role.

Does it work?

DISC is a useful tool for helping job seekers identify the skills and behaviors they’ll want to highlight on a resume. But it is not a recruiting silver bullet. If it were, every Dominant (assertive, autonomous) candidate would make a great salesperson and every Conscientious (diligent, compliant) candidate would turn out to be a first-rate accountant. Clearly, that is not the case.

DISC merely assesses how an individual will respond toward people, problems and procedures. It does not measure how proficient they will be at those tasks. As such, the test is best applied with caution, alongside other hiring tools.

Sample question: "I am more often found (a) taking the lead or (b) following instructions."

What it means: A candidate who prefers to follow instructions may follow work processes well, but it could indicate the respondent is incapable of independent action. A preference for taking the lead suggests autonomy, or in the extreme may suggest the respondent is difficult to manage.

Take the test: Find a free introduction to the DISC behavior model here.

On-the-job Performance Tests

An on-the-job performance test is not a proprietary personality test, but a tailored set of questions designed to look at how well you will fit into a particular job. Examples include a salesperson test, which predicts how your strengths and weaknesses will manifest in a sales role, and a customer service test, which does the same thing for candidates seeking a customer-facing role.

Unlike most personality tests, skills-based assessments are specifically designed for use in a specific workplace. Tests are often created or adapted for use by the hiring organization, and take account of the exact requirements of the role and the unique culture of the organization. More often than not, hiring managers will test their best performing employees and skew their assessment in favor of the rare diamonds who exhibit the same “gold standard” skills — traits such as prospecting, closing sales and product knowledge for salespeople; reading body language and diffusing difficult situations for front-line customer service staff.

Does it work?

One study reported in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that specific sales efficacy tests were a better predictor of job performance than personality tests such as the Big Five. For entry level positions where candidates lack work experience, on-the-job performance tests may spot raw talent — people with the core values and motivation for the job.

Sample questions: Review the following images ( a sample image might be the word “square” alongside a pyramid.) If a pair matches, click the "Correct" button. If the pair does not match, click the "Incorrect" button. If the word "Opposite" appears at the top of the screen, you need to reverse your answer.

What it means: This test, done at speed, assesses a person’s mental speed and their ability to parse conflicting and often contradictory information. People scoring highly on this test typically can think on their feet, understand the messages people communicate to them and perform well under pressure— essential sales skills.

Take the test: Try a sales skills and style test here.

Big Five

One of the more prominent models in personality psychology is the Big Five or Five-Factor model. It describes five basic variables that, in combination, make up a person's personality. The five dimensions may be remembered by the helpful anagram OCEAN:

O - Openness to experience (your level of creativity)
C - Conscientiousness (your level of work ethic)
E - Extraversion (your level of sociability)
A - Agreeableness (your level of kindness)
N - Neuroticism (your level of anxiety or shame).

Employers use the five dimensions to predict a candidate's job performance. For example, a candidate who is high in Intellect but low in Extraversion possesses the quality of being reflective. They are good at grasping the finer points of problems and coming up with insightful solutions, usually while working alone. Ramp up the Extraversion score, and you have a witty and sociable person who prefers to solve problems in teams. Big Five combinations can predict all manner of workplace behavior, including productivity, absenteeism, teamwork, leadership and the tendency to rock the corporate boat.

Does it work?

The jury is out. One review of the academic literature found that correlations between personality testing and job success fell in the 0.03 to 0.15 range, which the authors note is “close to zero.” Others studies have linked Big Five personality traits, in particular “alpha” trait of conscientiousness, to long-term job performance, earning potential and entrepreneurial success. These studies indicate that Big Five may have some recruiting value — as long as company knows what personality traits it is looking for, and care whether you have a messy desk!

Sample questions: Answer the following on a five-point scale, whether it is more true or more false: "I am uneasy when receiving praise."

What it means: This statement measures a candidate's humility and pride. Pride is a beneficial trait for confident, successful salespeople. However, it is less suitable for other professions, for example, counseling or teaching.

Take the test: Find out how you stack up on the five dimensions by taking the Big Five test here.

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