Do Personality Tests Hinder Diversity Hiring

Kris Leigh Townsend, LMFT
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A new recruitment fad in the business world is the use of personality testing for hiring. More than 45% of American companies are using personality tests to choose employees.

Why do we like personality tests so much? Probably because they neatly box and tie a bow around human complexity. They give us answers. And in a world of unknowns, that sounds pretty good.

The problem is that those answers might be irrelevant. Aside from the clear fact that test takers can manipulate answers in favor of the employer, personality testing has been proven to have low validity and are generally misused. Many employment lawmakers may even go as far to say that they are unethical.

Personality testing is not directly harmful. It becomes harmful when companies, aka people with biased opinions, are making hard and fast decisions based off of them.

When administering a personality test, a hiring manager may be looking for a “type” of person. This becomes highly dangerous in a couple of ways. One is that the hiring manager may overlook important strengths of the undesired personality type, the other is that ignores diversity.

Hiring managers, just like any person, have unconscious bias about what personality is a good fit. Because of this, they are actually weeding out people who might be good candidates.

Introversion vs. Extroversion

An example that often floats around to support the use of personality testing is that someone who is extraverted would perform better as a sales person. However, extraversion doesn’t account for aptitude or skill. Extraversion simply means that someone gets more energy from interacting with others than from being alone.

The modern business world is designed for extroverts, companies are dismissing introverts and their strengths that add to a company’s success. Someone preferring to work alone does not innately categorize their work as lower quality. Basing someone's ability to perform off of a personality trait is limiting to both the person and the organization.

All of the same “type” of people being hired doesn’t leave room for the generation of new ideas or highlight the various strengths that make up a well-rounded team.

Cultural Differences

This is where the unethical part kicks in. When hiring managers are administering personality tests, they may not be taking into account cultural differences. Keep in mind that personality tests have been designed by the western world and the questions are framed from that perspective.

Different cultures have various social norms that impact the way someone would answer a test. Culture influences what people value and the way they express their experiences or emotions.

Something that is valued in an American workplace, like extroversion for continuity, may not be valued in other cultures. Other notable differences may be preference to work alone in individualized cultures or preference to work with a group in collectivist cultures.

It is extremely important to keep in mind someone’s cultural differences when making a choice as important as if they are a good fit for a job. Not only could this lead to unintentional discrimination, but it would also be a huge loss for the team to be lacking diversified perspectives.

How to Use One

There have been repeated findings that there is low correlation between job performance and personality types. However, personality tests are shown to be more effective when they are paired with other interview methods.

So, when administering a personality test, keep in mind its flaws. Also keep in mind the innate human flaw to pass judgement based on personal values. Personality can be an informant of a good fit, but are not safe to use as a disqualifier.


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