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What’s Wrong with Personality Tests?

by Alice Pyclik, Ph.D.

January 12, 2022BlogSelection

When people think about pre-employment assessments, personality tests seem to be the first to come to mind. After all, plenty of companies use some form of personality test when hiring. But for all their popularity, personality tests aren’t as useful as you might think. They’re good at helping employers understand candidates, but not at predicting performance. Is there a way to do both?

Before tackling that question, I want to provide some background on personality tests. In essence, personality tests measure candidates’ character traits. For instance, the Big Five model divides personality into extraversion (outgoing, high energy), agreeableness (trusting, noncritical), conscientiousness (organized, diligent), openness (creative, novelty-seeking), and emotional stability (calm, slow to anger). Tests like these can help with understanding candidates’ preferred communication styles, thinking patterns, and so on.

It’s useful to know more about your candidates, but relying on personality tests leaves out a key piece of the puzzle. Though personality can help you understand your candidates, these tests are less helpful for predicting future job performance. The Big Five is the most scientifically validated personality test, and even so, it only has a weak relationship with job performance. In fact, some of the Big Five traits predict performance only in very specific jobs or even not at all.

So, back to the question I posed at the beginning. Is there a way for employers to both understand candidates and predict performance? There certainly are.

With a Talent Plus assessment, employers get the same benefits as they would from personality assessments and then some. Our assessments are job-specific, whereas personality assessments are far more general. This way, employers can zero in on how a candidate will likely behave in a given role.

Our assessments give employers a rich understanding of their candidates. They also predict performance at a level far exceeding personality tests. We scientifically determine which talents are crucial for performance in a particular job family. With personality tests, employers often have to rely on their own assumptions to connect the dots between candidates’ scores and their potential. Our assessments remove this guesswork because we validate the link between talent and performance.

To get the most accurate prediction, our assessments gather as much talent information as necessary. They can take longer to complete than other assessments. This is a feature, not a bug! In our research, we’ve learned that top performers want to be understood. They’re willing to invest the extra few minutes on an assessment that will gather the most complete picture of their unique talents.

Consider what it would mean for a candidate to be unwilling to invest time into this stage of their application. At best, it means the candidate probably isn’t very interested in your company. At worst, it’s a sneak peek of how the candidate could behave on the job. In the future, this candidate might be unwilling to invest the extra time, energy, or effort it takes to do the job right.

When hiring, it’s important to both understand candidates and predict their future performance. Personality tests only provide part of the story. With a personality test, you receive a general understanding of candidates’ traits. But the relationship between personality and performance is weak at best and rarely job-specific. Assessments that rely solely on prediction (e.g., AI-based solutions) aren’t any better. Among other flaws, these solutions don’t help you understand candidates.

Talent Plus assessments provide a deeper, more job-specific understanding of candidates than personality tests do. But even more so, they provide incredible predictive power. After all, prediction is our North Star.


Alice Pyclik, Ph.D.

Alice Pyclik is a Research Consultant at Talent Plus, where she uses The Science of Talent ® as a discovery and problem-solving tool for clients. She uses talent data to tell stories about variables that matter to clients most, such as values, engagement and retention.

“I use my talents to apply and advance The Science of Talent for the benefit of clients, colleagues, candidates and the community.”

Talents: Conceptualization, Focus, Intelligence, Ego Drive, Individualized Approach