What personality tests measure

Personality tests measure basic aspects of an applicant’s personality such as introversion, stability, and motivation.

Many of these tests are projective. The psychologists present an ambiguous stimulus (like an ink blot or clouded picture) to the person. The person must then interpret or react to it. Since the pictures are ambiguous, the person supposedly projects into the picture his or her own emotional attitudes. A security oriented person might describe the woman in Figure below as “My mother worrying about what I’ll do if I lose my job”. Other projective techniques include Make a Picture Story (MAPS), House Tree Person (HTP) and the Fore Structured Sentence Completion test.

Figure Sample Personality Test items

It does not make sense to work hard on something if no one will notice.

1) Definitely true
2) Somewhat true
3) Neither true nor false
4) Somewhat false
5) Definitely false

I tend to let others do most of the talking in conversations.

1) Definitely true
2) Some what true
3) Neither true nor false
4) Somewhat false
5) Definitely false

I have remained calm in situation where others have become upset.

1) Definitely true
2) Some what true
3) Neither true nor false
4) Somewhat false
5) Definitely false.

Other personality tests are not projective. The Guilford Zimmerman survey measures personality traits like emotional stability versus moodiness, and friendliness versus criticalness. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) taps traits like hypochondria. The Interpersonal Style Inventory is a elf report inventory composed of 3000 true / false items covering scales such as sociable, sensitive, deliberate, stable, conscientious trusting and directive. Wonderlic’s Personal Characteristics Inventory measures five personality dimensions, and links these dimensions to likely job performance. The manager administers this test, and scans or faxes it to Wonderlic. They score it and return the same day. The Sales Achievement Predictor creates a report showing the person’s percentile rank on scales such as sales disposition and sales closing and rates him or her as highly recommended, recommended or not recommended for sales.

The Big Five: industrial psychologists often emphasize the big five personality dimensions as they apply to personnel testing: extraversion, emotional stability/ neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness to experience.

Neuroticism represents a tendency to exhibit poor emotional adjustment and experience negative effects, such as anxiety, insecurity and hostility. Extraversion represents a tendency to be sociable, assertive, active, and to experience positive effects, such as energy and zeal. Openness to experience is the disposition to be imaginative, nonconforming, unconventional and autonomous. Agreeableness is the tendency to be trusting, complaint, caring, and gentle. Conscientiousness is comprised of two related facets: achievements and dependability.

In one study, extraversion, conscientiousness and openness to experience were strong predictors of leadership. In another big five study neuroticism was negatively related to motivation, while conscientiousness was positively related to it. Components of the big five – in particular extraversion and openness to experience also correlate with career interest and occupational types. And, in personality research conscientiousness has been the most consistent and universal predictor of job performance.

Researcher in one study defined career success in terms of intrinsic success (job satisfaction) and extrinsic success (income and occupational status). Conscientiousness positively predicted both intrinsic an extrinsic career success. Neuroticism negatively predicted extrinsic success. General mental ability also positively predicted extrinsic career success.

Caveats: Personality test—particularly the projective type are the most difficult tests to evaluate and use. An expert must analyze the test taker’s interpretations and reactions and infer from them his or her personality. The usefulness of such tests for selection assumes that you find a relationship between a measurable personality trait (like introversion) and success on the job. Measuring aberrant behavior is particular challenge. For instance, personality tests may help predict if an employee’s erratic behavior will pose a threat to workplace safety. However they can also create legal problems for instance, if rejected candidates claim the results are false or violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Seventh US Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that the MMPI is a medical test insofar as it can screen out applicants perceived to have a psychological impairment, so in use before an employment offer violate the ADA.