What To Expect From A Personality Test

Get prepared to show who you really are

Personality tests have become part of the recruitment landscape, especially within larger organisations. We took a few of your frequently asked questions and answered them here…

What are they measuring exactly?

Well, the first thing to note is that psychologists would typically refer to these ‘tests’ as questionnaires. And the reason for that is because some tests have a correct or incorrect answer (e.g. mathematical reasoning test) but with personality, there is really no right or wrong – it’s just one way of finding out more about you! Also, it takes all sorts of people to work in a successful team or organisation – so no hiring manager worth their salt would be seeking a clone of people who are already in their team. So while both personality and ability tests (e.g. mathematical, abstract or verbal reasoning) are known collectively as psychometrics (literally translated, means ‘measuring the mind’), the former is typically not timed, has no right or wrong answers; and the latter is timed, and you could be scored on both how long it takes you and the accuracy of your answers.

Can I say no to doing one, and will it affect my chances?

This is impossible to say, because we are not speaking on behalf of all employers or recruiters. However, what is certainly true is that nobody can force you to take a personality questionnaire if you don’t want to. Would it affect your chances? It might do, if the organisation’s selection process included a questionnaire that they used to help support an interview that followed, for example.

Also, it’s best practice and only fair to treat all candidates the same, so it might be problematic for the organisation if you don’t. If you’re feeling this way, and think you’d prefer not to complete a personality questionnaire, then we’d encourage you to first ask yourself why that is the case, and secondly – to approach the recruiter to have a chat about it before hand.They should be able and willing to explain clearly what the questionnaire is, what it measures and how they will use your data during and after the selection process.

What are the most popular tests, the ones I may be likely to do?

There are many different types of personality questionnaire, but they generally fall into two categories: those which seek to measure personality traits, and those that seek to measure personality types. While this won’t make a difference to you when completing the questionnaire (i.e. in both cases you’ll be asked to respond to questions which won’t look hugely dissimilar), it can help to understand how the questionnaire outputs can differ.

Popular trait tools include: 16pf, Saville Wave, Talent Q Dimensions and Personality and Preference Inventory (PAPI). With these, personality is measured as positions along various continuums, and therefore reports will differ from one person to another and there is much variety for individual differences to be seen. 

The most popular type indicator is probably the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the output of this questionnaire will assign you to one of 16 types (or groups) of personality.

Can I manipulate them if I want to appear more sociable or confident than I really am?

Maybe, however modern psychometrics are carefully designed to spot any form of ‘faking’ so we’d suggest you don’t. Instead of thinking of ways to try and portray yourself as someone you’re not, you might be better off thinking why you’d want to do that in the first place? To be happy in a new role you need to be able to feel comfortable to be yourself, so if you’ve convinced someone you’re more sociable than you are, how will you maintain that once you start working with the company? And beyond that, keeping up an act would soon because exhausting. Instead, [we’d recommend that you approach any personality questionnaire by being as honest as you can, so that you and the organisation feel the fit is just right.

How do employers use my results?

It is important that you know the answer to this question, but each organisation will vary in how that data is used – so you need to be clear on this with each questionnaire you complete and never assume. However, really – you shouldn’t have to ask.

Organisations who are operating ethically in the administration and use of any psychometric testing should state before-hand how your data will be used, where it is stored, who will have access to it, etc. When you’re invited to complete such a questionnaire, this information should be provided as part of the invitation, exercise caution – and ask questions – when it is not!

Will they know what I’ve said to each question, or do they get an overall score?

Here, it’s important to know the difference between the test publisher (the company that designs and owns the questionnaire or test) and the organisation who is administering/using the questionnaire or test. Also note, that the organisation who uses and administers the test to you may or may not be the organisation who are potentially recruiting you. There could be a consultancy who is supporting or running this selection process on behalf of the recruiting organisation.

The test publisher could, by looking deep in to their systems, see how anyone responds to any question. Would they do this though? Not unless they needed to. For recruitment purposes though, in almost all instances, the reports that are generated will only have scores on them which tell the reader how you compare to others on any particular scale, or construct e.g. Extroversion. This is called a ‘norm’ group, so the scores are standardised and what they tell the reader is how similar or different you are to a group of other people who completed the questionnaire before you. In rare instances, some personality questionnaire reports might also reveal the way you responded to the questions presented, but this is unlikely. Again, check with the person who invites you to complete the questionnaire, so you are clear on this before you complete it.

Can I do anything to prepare for the test?

Yes – relax! In almost all instances, you’ll be asked to complete the questionnaire online (paper versions do exist for many of the questionnaires, but are seldom used). So, make sure you’re feeling comfortable, and will not be disturbed or distracted while you do it. It’s also a good idea to not complete the questionnaire when you’re feeling very stressed, emotional, or distracted. Sit down to complete the questionnaire when you’re feeling calm and not rushed. If you have special requirements in terms of disability, health conditions or learning difficulty and would benefit from adjustments to be made to help you access and complete the questionnaire (e.g. administered in a different format) then speak to the person inviting you to complete the questionnaire as soon as possible to see what options are available to support you.

Any tips on taking the test itself?

Just be yourself, answer as honestly as you can, and don’t spend too long thinking about the answers – it can be better to just go with your gut instinct if you’re torn between giving one answer or another. In most cases, you’ll get an opportunity to see what sorts of questions will follow, and have a go at answering some practice questions, so you will have a chance to understand how the system works before you start the questionnaire properly. Some questionnaires will ask you to respond to the questions as if you were at work, rather than at home. So whatever is asked, bear this in mind as you work through the questionnaire. 

Good luck!