How to Use Personality When Hiring

If you’re considering adding personality to your organization’s selection procedures, you’ve likely been faced with an overwhelming number of options. There are numerous personality tests on the market and it can be difficult to know where to start. Here, we cover what personality is and why it has a place in your organization’s selection procedures. Then, we provide some guidance on how to choose the right test for your needs.

What is Personality and Why Should I Use It in Selection?

Personality refers to a set of stable characteristics that influence the way that people think, feel, and behave. It refers to much more than a single trait that some people either have or don’t (e.g., he’s such an Extravert). Instead, personality is made up of multiple distinct components that can be measured individually. There are a variety of ways that we can talk about the components of personality, and these different perspectives are referred to as models of personality.

In practice, personality can be accurately assessed using relatively simple methods. Research shows that when measured properly, personality is a consistent predictor of job performance, team communication, and employee development over and above other selection tools like interviews, assessment centers, and cognitive ability. Many personality tests can also be administered online, quickly and cost-effectively, making them attractive additions to existing selection procedures.

What Traits Should I Measure?

Although there is general consensus from the scientific community that broad personality traits like the Five-Factor Model of Personality (i.e., Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) are effective predictors of work outcomes, research also indicates that measures of more narrow traits have additional predictive power beyond these broad factors. Narrow traits refer to subsets of broad traits that are directed toward more specific behaviors, thoughts, or feelings.

Knowing when to assess broad personality traits and when to focus on narrow traits is an important aspect of using personality in selection. As a general guideline, you should try to match the level of the trait to the level of the job criteria that you are interested in examining. This means relying on broad personality traits to assess general requirements for the position. For example, if your organization is in an industry that is in constant flux and requires that your employees are always ready for change, then emphasizing Openness to Experience might be of value.

For specific position criteria, like individual duties and responsibilities, you can turn to narrow traits. Consider a position where the candidate is required to keep meticulous notes due to liability concerns or other legal challenges. Although Conscientiousness might be a valuable predictor of a candidate’s general organizational ability, a narrower trait, like Order, is likely a better fit for assessing a candidate’s ability to fulfill that responsibility.

How Do I Choose a Personality Test?

Once you have an understanding of which traits you’d like to measure, you should take time to evaluate several different tests to choose the one that’s right for your organization. To start, consider what the test is designed to assess. Good tests are based on empirically supported models of personality and determining whether a test adheres to this should be a priority. Information about which model of personality is the foundation for a given test should be easily accessible upon request from the test publisher.

Next, prior to purchasing a personality test, you should carefully review the accompanying technical manual and related documents for information on the reliability and validity of the test. Those with good reliability will produce scores that are stable over time and across items. Valid tests accurately measure the personality traits they intend to measure and demonstrate the ability to predict relevant workplace outcomes like job performance. It can also be helpful to look for whether or not the test has been validated in a sample that reflects your candidate pool (e.g., managerial samples for leadership-related assessments).

When selecting a personality test, it is also important to consider the qualifications of the test developer. Tests that have been created by those with the appropriate technical and statistical expertise in psychometrics are more likely to meet the aforementioned guidelines. These test development experts are also more likely to have knowledge of the relevant legal requirements you should consider when using personality tests for selections. Ask the test publisher to provide you with information regarding their credentials and test development process.

Last, make sure the test you choose fulfills the needs of your organization. For example, if you’re interested in using both broad and narrow traits to assess candidates, the test should be able to provide this information. Many well-validated measures provide overall scores as well as scores for narrow traits, allowing for greater flexibility. You might also want to consider other aspects of a test that will impact your ability to integrate it with your other selection procedures, such as length, cost, and administration time.

Find the Right Fit

At SIGMA, we offer a variety of personality tests to help meet your selection needs. Our consultants are equipped with the technical knowledge needed to help you choose the test that best fits your organization’s selection goals. Contact us to get the conversation started.  

Or, for even more information on how to choose the right personality test, check out our Guide on Personality Tests for Selection.