Many organizations makue use of Personality Assessments and many individuals have tried one or multiple assessments. Today, we will answer all questions related to Personality Assessments and their background. Below, you will see different questions you might be interested in:

The History of Personality Tests

Personality tests as we know them today are often comprised of questions that ask how a person typically feels or behaves, built as specialised self-reports (Holt et al., 2015). However, history of personality tests dates back to WWI, following a need for detecting recruits prone to psychoneurosis (Gregory, 2015). In 1919, Robert Woodworth developed the Woodworth Personal Data Sheet (WPDS), consisting of items aimed at distinguishing army recruits with a proneness to psychopathology (Gibby & Zickar, 2008). This pioneering method of contrasting responses of normal and psychiatrically ill subjects became an applied practice in development of later personality tests during the 1930’s.

The next major personality test development took place in 1930, when Louis and Thelma Thurstone developed an inventory of neurosis, the Thurstone Personality Schedule (Thurstone & Thursone, 1930). This was the first personality inventory to apply internal consistency reliability, correlating each item with the test’s total score, quantifying the utility of each item in the scale (Gregory, 2015). A year after, Robert G. Bernreuter developed the Bernreuter Personality Inventory (Bernreuter, 1931), a more refined test measuring four dimensions of personality: neurotic tendency, self-sufficiency, introversion/extroversion, and dominance/submission. The major innovation of this inventory was the discovery that a single test item could contribute to more than one scale within a test (Gregory, 2015).

In the beginning of the 1940’s, personality tests were recognised as useful tools also for assessing a “normal” functioning spectrum (Gregory, 2015). Initially conceived to facilitate psychiatric diagnosis, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) was constructed in 1940 by S. R. Hathaway and J. C. McKinley (Hathaway & McKinley, 1940). The MMPI was a highly respected researched test and has later been revised and is widely used in the U.S. (Gregory, 2015).

Although MBTI has gained popularity over the years, it is not considered a valid framework for understanding personality (Stein & Swan, 2019).

Trait theorists seeking to identify the structure of personality applied factor analysis for disentangling the many aspects and dimensions of personality (Holt et al., 2015). This method allowed for identification of how personality traits are organised and related to each other (Gregory, 2015). By using this method, Raymond B. Cattell (1949) identified 16 personality factors and developed the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire. However, further research grouped the dimensions, reducing the amount of personality factors, and the leading current trait theory is the Five Factor Model, also termed “Big Five”, suggesting that personality has a five-dimensional structure (Holt et al., 2015). These five dimensions have been conceptualised as the five-factor model of personality, and is broadly termed by the acronym OCEAN:

  • Openness to Experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness,
  • Neuroticism

The Big Five framework of personality has gained support and recognition, as research indicates that the five-factor model captures a valid and useful representation of the structure of human traits (Gregory, 2015). This model has inspired several personality scales and assessments (deRaad & Perugini, 2002). One of these is the influential Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R), first developed and published by Robert R. McCrae & Paul T. Costa in 1978 (Gregory, 2015), with later revisions (Costa, 1991; McCrae & Costa, 1987). NEO-PI-R measures the five major personality dimensions including six specific traits within each dimension (Gregory, 2015).

The development of reliable and valid personality tests is the product of a long history, starting with the need for identifying army recruits during WWI, to the current broad use in selection procedures and for employee development purposes. Psychometric properties of a personality test are of great importance for determining the utility of the test, as a test used in workplace situations should be valid and reliable to a satisfactory degree in order to be of value.


What is a Personality Test?

Personality is a set of organised psychological traits and mechanisms within an individual that remain relatively stable over time and across contexts, influencing interactions, and adaptations to intrapsychic, physical, and social environments (Larsen et al., 2022).

Personality traits describe the average tendencies of a person- and explain the reasons why individuals act a certain way (Larsen et al., 2022). This implies that the personality of an individual can be useful for understanding and predicting differences across individuals. The unique personality of an individual has the potential to explain why they prefer certain lifestyles, careers, or activities. For instance, a person that is highly extraverted may prefer a career that allows for a lot of interaction with others, while a person scoring lower on the extraversion dimension may prefer to work more independently, allowing for a larger focus on other aspects than interaction with others while at work.

Personality tests are standardised psychometric tests determining a person’s set of preferences, and measures individual differences, including motives, preferences, and predispositions for certain behaviours (Lundgren et al., 2016). Research within personality psychology indicates that personality tends to remain relatively stable over time, and across different contexts (Lundgren et al., 2016). Therefore, personality tests can provide us with important information that can aid in predicting behaviour in a range of situations (e.g., forensic, clinical, organisational, and educational) (APA, 2011).

Most personality tests administered in an occupational setting are developed as self-reporting measures of specific traits or dispositions, requiring respondents to answer questions about their personality, or select items that describe themselves (Larsen et al., 2022; APA, 2011). Other personality tests can take form as projective tests, measuring both the conscious and unconscious aspects of personality (APA, 2011). Personality tests in the workplace are often implemented in the process of personnel selection procedures, integrity testing, and development (Larsen et al., 2022).

The majority of personality tests can be divided into either type- or trait-tests. Type (or typology) tests conceptualise personalities as a limited set of distinct, non-overlapping personality types (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2009). Trait tests, on the other hand, describe personality characteristics as varying in strength, which allows for comparison with people in a relevant norm group (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2009). Trait personality tests are usually based on the Big Five trait taxonomy (Furnham et al., 2009; Larson et al., 2002; Wolff & Kim, 2012), based on the Five Factor Model of personality (Costa & McCrae, 1996; Goldberg, 1990; McCrae & Costa, 1999).

The Five Factor Model, also referred to as Big Five or OCEAN (an acronym referring to each personality dimension), is widely replicated across countries and researchers, and propose five prominent dimensions of personality that is prevalent across individuals (Larsen et al., 2022):

  • Openness to experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Emotional stability

As there are a myriad of personality tests available on the market, psychometric qualities of the test (e.g., measures of reliability and validity) provide important information for distinguishing between tests, and their utility in the process in which it is applied (Lundgren et al., 2016).


Where are Personality tests used?

The application of personality tests for workplace purposes span over a number of situations. Personality tests are often used to support hiring decisions, to assure that teams are productive and collaborative, to strengthen work relationships, and to improve the performance and communication amongst employees. Specifically, personality tests are means for measuring traits and preferences that influence how well people use their talents in the workplace. Application of personality tests in recruitment, coaching, and self-evaluation can be especially powerful for supporting alignment with organisational needs and employee needs.

Personality tests in recruitment 

Fundamental to the success of any organisation is selecting, recruiting, and choosing the right people. The basics are about gathering information and based on data and information making the right hiring choice. The recruitment process includes several steps: creating job specifications, identifying potential candidates and assessing their personal characteristics, and lastly, making a final hiring decision and onboarding the new employee.

The foundation for using personality tests in recruitment situations is the established relation between personality test scores and job success, as personality tests can provide a powerful predictor for job satisfaction and performance. Together with structured interviews, personality tests can minimise the chances of poor hiring decisions, which may often occur due to judgement and evaluation bias. Acknowledging the fact that hiring decisions may be affected by bias and personal opinions makes recruiters call for a more structured, systematic approach to recruitment, where decision-making is based on solid data.

The first step in the recruitment process is to identify the type of applicant needed for the job, determining person-job fit. The first step in this process is to identify the demands of the job role and creating a job specification based on:

  • Essential job tasks
  • Required skills
  • Required knowledge
  • Personal characteristics (Personality)

Application of a personality test can thereby determine whether the personal characteristics and preferences of a candidate is aligned with the job role. Job-person fit determined by this alignment, plays an important role in determining how likely it is that the applicant will be successful in, and satisfied with the job role. Examples of personal characteristics that can be measured in a personality test, providing provide important information about the degree of person-job fit is: 

  • Does the applicant prefer tasks requiring interaction with other people, or do they prefer to work independently?
  • Does the applicant appreciate tasks of high or low complexity?

Applying and using a personality test for candidates can be done in one of two ways:

  1. Allowing candidates to take the test or questionnaire after meeting the candidate. This allows for only giving tests to those candidates that make it to later round of the process.
  2. Giving or allowing candidates to take a test before meeting with the candidates. This is a means of using the test to screen, filter, and refine the pool of candidates, only calling in those relevant to the job search. 


Use of personality tests in coaching


Personality tests for self-evaluation

  • Awareness of productive and unproductive tendencies
  • Understanding how one’s personal characteristics can be strengths in certain situations, but also acknowledging that certain personal characteristics might be unproductive and require training - personal preferences may stand in the way of corporate alignment

An estimated 4 out of 10 personality tests are used for team building and management development, also referred to as promoting self-exploration and self-reflection aiming to improve the performance of teams (Gardner & Martinko, 1996).