Personality Tests

What Is a Personality Test?

A personality test is a method of assessing a test taker's personal characteristics, including their psychological makeup and personality traits. Personality refers to the whole set of emotional qualities and behaviors that distinguishes someone from other people. Personality traits are the relatively steady and predictable attributes that shape how a person will act or think in a given situation. Personality tests aim to reveal the test taker's personality traits in a way that can be measured and used to predict future behavior.

The many different companies that administer personality tests make up an industry that is believed to generate $2 billion to $4 billion a year. Job seekers can expect to be confronted with a personality test at some stage of the interview process, especially if they are applying for a job at a large company. Job seekers might also use personality tests to get a sense of how their own personality traits suit them to a particular career choice or organization.

Which Personality Tests Are Most Relevant to Job Seekers?

There are two main kinds of personality tests: objective tests and projective tests. Objective personality tests are the most common and also the most relevant to job seekers. They will typically consist of a battery of clearly written test questions with a restricted set of answers, such as true-false questions, multiple-choice questions, or rating scales (questions that ask you to respond on a scale of 1 to 10).

Objective personality tests are also known as self-reports. They are often designed to ensure test validity, so that the test administrator can determine whether you are responding truthfully. There are many different objective personality tests, each with its own test format and personality measurement criteria.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the most commonly used career assessment tools. Developed in the 1940s by Katharine Cook Briggs (1875–1968) and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers (1897–1980), the instrument is based on the psychological theories of Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung (1875–1961). The instrument was tested and refined during the 1940s and 1950s and published in 1962. Since its first appearance the MBTI has been used by millions of people around the globe each year. It remains a favorite of career counselors who want to help their clients find the right career path.

The MBTI divides assessment takers into 1 of 16 personality types based on Jung's theories. Type is determined based on whether the subject is more introverted (I) or extroverted (E), favors sensing (S) or intuition (N) as a means of perceiving the world, prefers thinking (T) or feeling (F) as a decision-making strategy, and predominantly relates to the world through judgment (J) or perception (P). An INFJ, for example, is an individual is who is introverted, perceives the world intuitively, relies on feeling as a decision-making strategy, and leans toward judgment rather than perception.

Results from the MBTI can help you understand your own personality. You can use this information to choose a career in which you will thrive personally and professionally. Understanding your own personality can also help you work better with your colleagues.

Projective personality tests are intended to measure aspects of the unconscious mind by asking you to interpret vague images or scenarios and respond freely. The most famous example of a projective personality test is the Rorschach inkblot test, first outlined by Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach in his 1921 book Psychodiagnostics. During this test, subjects are shown inkblots and asked what they think the inkblot is or looks like. Projective tests are more often used to diagnose mental illnesses and are less often found in business contexts.

What Methods of Psychological Testing Have Been Used in the Past?

Personality tests evaluate your personal traits and skills to help you find a career field that matches your abilities.

Personality tests evaluate your personal traits and skills to help you find a career field that matches your abilities. ILLUSTRATION BY LUMINA DATAMATICS LTD. © 2015 CENGAGE LEARNING®. U.S. Department of Education, Division of Academic and Technical Education/Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. “Employability Skills Framework.”

Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud made important contributions to theories of personality, and he developed his psychodynamic theory of personality in the 1890s. However, his approach to personality, which was developed using a very limited number of interview subjects, remains controversial and has fallen out of favor. Freud's concepts were not scientifically testable, relied on lengthy and complicated interview processes, and were focused on mental illness rather than healthy personalities.

Carl Jung, a Swiss psychologist who was a student of Freud, developed his own theories that became influential on personality testing. Jung's book Psychological Types (1921) outlined the concepts of introverted and extroverted personality types for the first time. Introversion is a personality trait that is characterized by shyness, quietness, and a preference for solitude and one's own inner mental life, while extroversion is characterized by outwardness and sociability. While Jung's theories served as the basis for future personality tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, they have become less popular because of their inability to be tested scientifically.

What Theories Are Most Used by Personality Testers in the Early Twenty-First Century?

Most modern, scientific personality tests are premised on the trait approach of psychology, which was first developed by American psychologist Gordon Allport in the 1930s. The trait approach conceives of personality as a mixture of internal qualities, or personality traits, that persist across different contexts. There are many different varieties of the trait approach. One well-known example is the 16 Personality Factor Model, which was developed in 1946 by British-American psychologist Raymond Cattell using the statistical technique of factor analysis, which summarizes the interrelationships of a large number of variables.

Personality Tests

The most popular trait theory of personality, the Five-Factor Model, proposes that personality is primarily based on only five different qualities. The Five-Factor Model, also known as the Big Five Model, is supported by research done with large sample sizes across the world. The Big Five personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) are known by the acronym OCEAN.

One advantage of the Five-Factor Model is that it applies across different cultural contexts and for people with different economic backgrounds. The model does not always apply for everyone in every situation, however. In addition, while the Five-Factor Model does a good job of describing your personality, it cannot explain how you got to be that way.

What Can I Expect to Learn from a Personality Test?

Although there are many different kinds of personality tests, the results of any given test will reveal many different things about your personality. You will gain a clearer understanding of how you relate to others, how you react to setbacks, your degrees of confidence and anxiety, what motivates you, and your potential for leadership. The results of personality tests will also suggest what sort of work setting might be the best fit for you. Generally speaking, introverts are known to seek out more quiet surroundings, while extroverts thrive in social contexts. Aside from introversion and extroversion, personality tests will assess other personal traits, such as tolerance for risk taking, problem-solving ability, and openness to new ideas.

Personality Tests

However, self-report tests are inherently limited because they rely on your perception of yourself. You can gain further insight into how your personality is perceived by asking a friend to complete the same test from your perspective. If your friend's responses are very different from your own test answers, you may want to examine why your self-perception differs so significantly from that of others.

Remember that different careers lend themselves to different personality characteristics. This does not mean that it is impossible for a talkative person to succeed as a computer programmer or for a quiet person to succeed as a salesman. However, in general it is worthwhile to consider whether it is worth the effort to pursue a career that runs counter to your personality type.

How Will Taking a Personality Test Help My Career Search?

You can use the results of a personality test to better understand your behavior and personal characteristics. By taking a personality test, you will get an idea of what career fields might be most suitable for you. You will also gain an awareness of how you might work with others who have different personality types or how they will perform in different team settings.

Personality Tests

Personality tests alone are not necessarily the best method of determining what career path you should choose. It is helpful to combine the results of personality tests with the results of other tests, such as aptitude tests and motivation tests. Aptitude tests help determine your natural ability to learn a given task, while motivation tests will determine your enthusiasm for tasks in different occupations. By combining the results of all three tests, you will have a better idea of which careers you will both excel at and enjoy.

Remember that there is still no universal agreement over the nature of personality. Many psychologists even acknowledge that personality can change over time. But when considering a career field and taking a personality test, it is best to be truthful with yourself and answer the questions honestly.

What Are Some Different Kinds of Personality Tests?

There are many different personality tests that you can expect to be given as part of an interview process. Each of these tests typically has some basis in a psychological theory of personality.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator One popular test, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, has been in use since 1962. Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers developed the test based on Jung's theories of personality types. The test, which consists of a series of forced-choice questions, is widely used by business consultancies, leadership development firms, and human resources (HR) departments. These frequently administer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as part of the interview process to determine if your personality is a good match for the position.

Personality Tests

Human resources: The department in a company that is responsible for hiring and managing employees.

However, while the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is widely used in business organizations, the corporate world, and government agencies, it has a poor reputation among academic psychologists. Neither Briggs nor Myers was a trained psychologist, and most professional psychologists consider Jung's theories to be outdated and unscientific. Consequently, no major psychological journal has published research on the test, despite its widespread adoption in the business world.

Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is another test that is frequently administered to job seekers, although it was not designed with employment in mind. The MMPI was originally developed in the 1930s by researchers at the University of Minnesota, but it became known as the MMPI-2 after being updated in 1992. Its primary use is to diagnose mental illness by using 10 different clinical scales, but it is sometimes given to job seekers in high-risk fields, such as police officers, power plant workers, soldiers, and airline pilots.

16 Personality Factor Model Cattell's 16 Personality Factor Model trait approach has been used as the basis for the 16PF Questionnaire. This personality test consists of 164 statements. You must indicate how much you agree with each statement on a scale of 1 to 5. The 16 “primary factors” include warmth, reasoning, emotional stability, dominance, liveliness, rule consciousness, social boldness, sensitivity, vigilance, abstractedness, privateness, apprehension, openness, self-reliance, perfectionism, and tension.

What Five-Factor Model Tests Are Being Used in the Early Twenty-First Century?

Personality Tests

Many personality tests in the early twenty-first century are produced using the Five-Factor Model. One reliable test based on the Five-Factor Model is known as the Neuroticism Extraversion Openness Personality Inventory, Revised (NEO-PI-R). Developed by the psychologists Paul Costa and Robert McCrae in the 1970s, the NEO-PI-R has been found to successfully predict job performance and career achievement.

The Hogan Personality Inventory, developed by the psychologist Robert Hogan in the 1980s and 1990s, is intended for use in a business context to forecast success in an occupation. The results of the test's 200 true-false questions are measured using seven “primary scales” and six “occupational scales.” The seven primary scales include adjustment, ambition, sociability, interpersonal sensitivity, prudence, inquisitiveness, and learning approach. The six occupational scales include service orientation, stress tolerance, reliability, clerical potential, sales potential, and managerial potential.