Personality tests tailored for the workplace - Kendall College of Arts and Sciences

Personality tests tailored for the workplace

Fisher and Students work on personality tests. Personality tests are not merely for discovering a celebrity soulmate or learning which outfit matches a reader’s mood. Outside the pages of Cosmopolitan, personality tests serve as an assessment for employment. Assistant Professor of Psychology David Fisher and graduate students Sydnie Cunningham and Alison Kerr published an article in The International Journal of Selection and Assessment on the significance of personality tests that are contextualized for the workplace.

“Essentially, we took a generic broad-based personality test and we compared it to the exact same personality test with the words ‘at work’ in front of each question,” Fisher explained.

The test used was based on the five-factor model that implicates five broad dimensions of personality:  extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, openness to experience and conscientiousness.

A general personality test includes statements like, “I pay attention to detail,” and readers would rate whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement. By contrast, a work-contextualized test might include a modified statement such as, “At work, I pay attention to details.”

The hope is that this improves that specificity and accuracy of responses. Fisher explained, “If someone is very detailed in their personal life, for example, when planning vacations, but not detailed at work, a generic personality test question might miss this nuance.” The concern is that generic personality tests are not job relevant and might lead to inaccurate judgments.

To explore this possibility, the team examined whether personality tests (both generic and contextualized) were predictive of later outcomes. Two weeks after the personality test, the subjects had an employment interview that was scored. “If the personality tests are capturing relevant aspects of personality, you would expect the test to be predictive of those interview scores,” Fisher said.

The results suggested that work-related personality tests may be more optimal for employee assessment purposes than generic personality tests. Kerr believes this study may indicate that personality is mostly contextual. “As humans, I think we want to believe that personality is rather stable and enduring. However, our current research questions this belief by exploring how adding a simple context phrase to personality test items can impact how people respond to the assessment, and in turn, how they present their personality,” Kerr said.

Personality is also shaped by maturity. A 21-year-old may have different responses at the age of 30. Cunningham teaches a Theories of Personality class that examines personality fluctuations. “Extroversion doesn’t really change over a lifespan. But those traits that we claim as maturity traits, like conscientiousness and agreeableness, increase because people take on more adult roles,” Cunningham said.

Kerr and Cunningham presented their findings at an international conference in personality. Kerr explained their investigation “means that different companies will likely have different needs in their use of personality tests in their workplace. I hope our research helps move this understanding forward.”

TU has a long history of personality assessments. Robert Hogan, University of Tulsa professor emeritus of psychology pioneered the idea of workplace personality tests. Learn more here.