An Overview of Personality Testing in the Workforce

May 29, 2000
Personality, behavioral and aptitude assessment tests are increasingly popular instruments used by businesses, primarily for pre-employment screening, career development and team-building purposes.

Factors driving this trend include the high costs of employee turnover, increased reliance on team-based work structures, and the availability of affordable, easy-to-administer testing products.

Untrained practitioners should be aware of recent legal challenges and the potential for misuse of assessment tests, particularly in pre-employment screening. Even so, in a work-world where hiring and career advancement decisions are an imperfect science, many businesses, from small to large, feel personality and related assessment tools improve their chances of making the right move.

Personality tests indicate basic tendencies based on one's core personality profile, while behavioral instruments concentrate on how an individual would function within specific circumstances. Aptitude tests, designed for businesses, often include both personality and behavior elements in order to elicit one's style and preferences.

What types of businesses are using personality tests? Product vendors report that government agencies, hospitals, schools, vocational centers and even small mom-and-pop shops are among their steady customers.

Positions for which testing is used includes management, customer service, sales, administration, clerical, production and technical occupations. Employers using these tests want to know more about an applicant's fit with job-related conditions and circumstances in order to have a better shot at success in the assignment. For example, is this a person who can work under pressure? Deal with customer complaints? Enjoy sales duties? Delegate to others? Concentrate for hours on a single task?

These are not psychological tests, like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and the California Psychological Inventory, which indicate an overall psychological make-up of an individual and should be administered and evaluated only by qualified (Level C) professionals. Even then, psychological tests raise a myriad of legal, medical and privacy issues when used for employee assessment purposes.

Before embarking on a search for the right personality or behavioral assessment tool, employers need to be clear about what behaviors and personality traits have made existing assignments successful. Consider steps your business can take to minimize legal risks in implementing such testing, and know how to compare products among the many trade names and hybrid instruments on the market by asking vendors a few key questions.