The first personality test was developed during World War I to identify soldiers susceptible to shell shock. Known as the Wordsworth Personal Data Sheet, it ultimately failed to accurately predict performance under fire. It was, however, a remarkable first step in quantifying personality.
Today, nearly a century later, personality assessments are widely used for hiring and retention. As they gain in use and popularity, they’re also being called into question. The market leader, in particular.  So is this a case of certain assessments needing updating or are assessments as a whole scientifically unsound?
At a time of unprecedented scientific and technological opportunity, it’s worth evaluating assessments, their value and the future of personality data. To engage in discussion, it’s important to understand what personality is, how it should be measured and what career-focused tests can and can not tell us. With this basic understanding we, as consumers, can make better decisions about assessments and their value in the workplace.
What is personality?
Personality determines how we respond to others and the world around us. Part nature, part nurture, personality emerges during youth and evolves over time. A unique and complex combination of individual qualities called traits, personality can be categorized into distinct collections of traits, or personality types.
You may feel you’re an introvert, while your family or friends are convinced you’re an extrovert. Truth is, you fall somewhere between these two extremes. Even the most extroverted person doesn’t tip the scale at 100%. This is because personality runs a full spectrum of feelings, inclinations and motivations. It’s not simply an “either/or” choice between two opposite poles. Rather, it’s a measure of types and traits along a full scale.
So what can personality assessments tell us? And what can we do with the information once we have it? First, let’s look at a career-focused assessment from the individual’s perspective.
Insights for individuals
Let’s say you’re a student, job-seeker or duly employed, but questioning your current job. A properly designed personality assessment can offer insights on fields of study and careers best suited to your personality. It can also offer insights into ideal settings. For example, you might do better in an environment with structure than one without.
This information is extremely useful in exploring new options and defining your career path. It’s also valuable in understanding your own needs and desires, and communicating them to family, guidance counselors or employers. The chief value, though – and we’ll see this with organizations, too – is not wasting your time, energy or money. Two, four, ten years or more is a lot of time to spend on something that’s “just a job.”
Now, is an assessment a silver bullet? No. Will one assessment tell you everything you need to know? No. To examine your personality from different angles, you’ll need different assessments, each tailored to different contexts. Match.com, Gallup and Amazon all use different assessments, simply because they’re looking for different things.
A career assessment won’t tell you if you’re a better developer or product manager; however, combined with data from an introversion/extroversion assessment, you’d have better data to make that call. Personality assessments also won’t plot your career path for you. Not yet, anyways. To do so, you’d need more data. Education, location, past experiences. When it comes to big data and personalization, the possibilities are endless.
Benefits for organizations
Okay, now back to personality assessments, but this time for employers. Let’s say you’re an organization looking to make your next hire. Everyone can agree that finding the right fit both in terms of skillset and cultural fit is of the utmost importance. It’s important to find an individual that is not only going to be able to perform the day to day tasks required of them, but also someone that will remain engaged with the team and who will care about the overall success of the organization. Therefore, prsonality assessments can be used as a first step to better understand a potential candidate, predict their behavior, develop productive workplace settings, refine communication styles and build efficient, well-run teams. All of these factors impact engagement, and thus, productivity and bottom-line value to organizations of all sizes. Moreover, personality assessments are a tool to help save time, energy and money. Bad hires can be expensive due to the cost and resources that go into training a new employee, but really bad hires can leave your company in ruins.
The future of personality data in HR
With the rise of technology and more sophisticated psychology, we have an unprecedented opportunity to capture and leverage personality data to enhance our everyday experiences. Personalization can and will continue to change the face of all industries, human resources included. Many facets of HR, namely job satisfaction and employee retention efforts among others, will become better calibrated with the persisting vision of any given company through applying insights from personality data to the hiring process. With a better understanding of what assessments can offer individuals and organizations, we can use them more effectively to personalize decisions and build a better workforce. We’ve only just touched the surface on a world of possibilities.