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Personality Tests

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Personality Tests

The ultimate guide to personality questionnaires and tests.

What is a personality test?

Let’s start by firstly considering what ‘personality’ is. Many of us like to play the amateur psychologist and therefore have our own ‘implicit’ theories of personality whereby we feel we have an understanding of people and why they act the way they do. However, for many years, psychologists have been attempting to fully understand personality and how it impacts the way we behave at work. As with just about any other psychological construct though, there are many conflicting views and theories. Some have a better reputation than others as they are based on many years of research, analysis and general scrutiny. When considering how this relates to work, at the core of how theories are judged, is whether they help organisations to predict who will perform well in a role. If they don’t then there is no point using them!

We can’t cover every theory of personality here (and we are not sure you’d want to read about them anyway!) but suffice to say that over the years, various theories have been flavour of the month. Most people have heard of Freud, the term ‘Freudian slip’ is a common part of everyday language. Freud’s theory was known as the psychoanalytic approach. The research upon which Freud based his theories has been called into question on many occasions and it is not a theory held in particularly high regard as a tool for selecting job applicants!

Current thinking subscribes to Psychometric Approaches. Most people have heard of a psychometric test and a personality questionnaire is just another form of that.

Today’s personality questionnaires have a variety of models underlying them but they generally all fall into the psychometric family. The good ones have been built by asking hundreds, if not thousands of people who represent the population the questionnaire will be used with, to complete them. Only by having and analysing this data can a good psychometric test be developed. As already implied, there are some good and some poor questionnaires on the market. Your potential employer should be using a test that is reliable and predictive of performance on the job. One of the criticisms levelled at personality questionnaires is that they seem to ask the same question over and over again. This isn’t strictly true but we can see why many think this. In order to produce a reliable score each trait is measured by asking a series of questions that produce an overall score on each trait. Any personality trait is made up of a variety of different aspects or facets and candidates are asked to respond to a series of questions that ensure the breadth of that trait is measured. This is what makes a test reliable.

You can check out some more personality tests here.

The Psychological Testing Centre is a body that reviews personality questionnaires (and other tests) and gives them their seal of approval if they hold up to their scrutiny. The most common publishers of personality tests include Thomas International, Korn Ferry and SHL.

How are personality tests used?

This can vary quite substantially. You will probably have read elsewhere that there are no right or wrong answers.

This is only partially true.

It is true to say that there is no one ‘best personality’ however, it is also true that certain traits are more suited some jobs than others.

Take the concept of extraversion - or how outgoing and sociable someone is. Most personality questionnaires measure this to some degree. A high score on this doesn’t necessarily equate to a good score. Some roles require someone who is more introverted.

Consider the data analyst who is required to work alone and focus intensively for long periods. If that person has a strong desire to communicate with others they may find it difficult to concentrate on their work. They will probably need conversation and the company of others and this would inevitably prevent them from delivering against their work objectives.

Someone in a sales role who is very extraverted would probably find this a major advantage as they would be required to converse and network with others on a frequent basis.

Another often measured concept in personality questionnaires is creativity or curiosity.

Think about the project manager who has processes to follow and deadlines to meet? If that person had a strongly curious nature and found themselves bored by repetitive tasks they may find it difficult to stick to the activities that form the core of their role.

If someone was employed as a designer or worked in the creative side of advertising, their curious nature would become an advantage for them.

Different roles require different personalities – ‘horses for courses’ springs to mind. Employers tend to take each role at a time and spend time considering what is important for that role.

You have probably come across ‘competencies’. Well, personality is strongly correlated with competencies. Many employers consider the key competencies for the role in question and then link this with the personality traits that will lead to the successful accomplishment of that competency. So when you are completing a personality questionnaire, the odds are that your potential employer is paying more attention to certain traits than others.

All of this makes it very difficult to ‘cheat’ at a personality questionnaire!

How are personality tests scored?

Scoring personality questionnaires has become increasingly easy for test administrators in recent years. When they were all administered on paper it was a very laborious, time consuming and error prone system. The administrator was required to lay a ‘key’ over the answer sheet and manually transfer a score for each question onto their marking sheet. Some do still use this approach but most now prefer machine scoring (where answer sheets are scanned and then scored by an optimal mark reader machine) or automated computer scoring. The latter is of course, only possible if the questionnaire is completed on a computer.

The scoring lends itself to the test taker having a ‘raw score’ on each trait measured by the questionnaire. The next step involves taking that raw score and benchmarking it against a comparison group (or ‘norm group’ to use its technical title). The comparison group is made up of thousands of people who have already completed the questionnaire. By looking at how each test taker’s score compares with this group it is possible to see how typical they are of the wider comparison group.

For example, someone may score 100 on a trait but this means nothing. It sounds high but if 85% of people in the comparison group scored higher than 150 it’s probably quite a low score.

There are a variety of standardised scoring systems that are used in personality measurement. It is advisable to ask for feedback after you have completed a personality questionnaire and in doing so, you should be given an explanation of the scoring for the questionnaire you completed.

An often used scoring system in personality questionnaires is sten scores. Sten scores lie on a 1 – 10 scale with the mean being 5.5. Therefore if someone scores a 5 or a 6 we say they are typical of the comparison group, whereas a 1 or a 10 would be an extreme preference one way or the other.

What decisions are made using personality tests?

Employers are strongly advised never to use a personality questionnaire in isolation. They are usually used alongside other methods such as ability tests and interviews and often form one part of a wider assessment centre. The Example Assessment Matrix shows how personality forms one part of the decision-making process. The questionnaire may contribute towards a score on ‘team working’ but team working could also be assessed through the Group Exercise. The employer will have looked at which traits measure team working, for example, ‘affiliative’, ‘socially confident’ and ‘caring’, they will then create a score on team working and add this to the assessment matrix. By combining this score with the role play and perhaps an interview score, they will get a more rounded view of their potential candidates. They will have collected information based on self-report, observation and interview. A very powerful way of understanding someone’s potential to work well as part of a team!

In certain situations, for example, when there are many applicants for a handful of jobs, an employer might use the personality questionnaire for sifting or short-listing. In this instance they would have a core set of personality traits and a form of ‘danger zone’ associated with each. If someone’s profile does not match this they would be considered for rejection.

More often than not, personality questionnaires are conducted online. This gives employers extra flexibility as they can ask applicants to complete the questionnaires before they meet them. They may then use the results to guide the interview, making a decision after that stage. This is the best practice approach. So much information is gathered from the questionnaires and employers use this to dig deeper into the strengths and development needs of candidates.

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Example personality tests

As already mentioned, there is a lot of variety across personality questionnaires. The traits that they measure vary, as do the format of the questions (or ‘items’ as they are referred to by psychologists). Some measure as many as 32 different traits whereas others measure just 5. Employers will decide which best suits their needs based on factors such as the complexity of the underlying model, reputation, usability, relevance to the role and cost.

The question formats you may come across are outlined below.

Normative questions

Normative questions ask you to rate a series of statements in relation to the degree to which you agree with them or how true you believe them to be. Each statement is independent of the other statements. Usually the statements measuring different traits are mixed up within the questionnaire. This adds another layer of complexity for the test taker as it makes it more difficult for them to recall how they answered previous questions relating to the same trait.

Ipsative questions

Ipsative questions are presented in blocks of 2 or more. They ask you to rate which one you agree with the most and which the least. They are known as ‘forced choice’ questions as they require you to make a decision that you may not be particularly comfortable making!

Some psychologists argue that this approach should not be used for selection purposes as they claim it becomes very difficult to compare people with one another, however, test publishers have a number of well-reasoned arguments as to why it is acceptable to do so.

Some ipsative questionnaires may be less transparent but could be measuring the same model as the examples above:

Choose one word or phrase that MOST describes how you actually operate in the work situation and one word or phrase that LEAST describes how you actually operate in the work situation.MostLeastConversationalUnconquerableUnderstandingCurious

‘Trick’ questions

Some questions may have slight nuances in the language they use, for example ‘I have never been late for anything in my life’. The chances of this being completely true are pretty slim. Some questions are included to measure ‘social desirability’. They are almost trick questions that are summed to create a score that tells the employer whether you tended to regard yourself more positively or negatively. If you answer strongly agree to the list below, they may feel the need to ask you about this in the interview:

‘Every time I meet someone new they instantly like me’ ‘Every manager I have had has only ever given me positive feedback’ ‘All of my colleagues and friends trust me implicitly’ ‘I am the most kind and caring person I know’ The questions may use a mixture of ‘always’, ‘never’ and ‘sometimes’ so do read carefully and consider your responses in this regard.

As well as the questions described above, there are also often some scoring checks built in to look at how consistent you are or whether you had a tendency to opt for the neutral response more often than most.

How do I prepare for personality tests?

Read the information you are given

You will inevitably have seen some form of job description, maybe even a list of key competencies for the role. Use this to think about how closely the requirements match your own personality and preferences. Is the role going to be right for you? If it is asking for someone who makes quick decisions and relies on gut instinct, does this fit with your own natural style? Don’t rule yourself out at this stage but think long and hard about what you are willing to compromise for the job.

Know what to expect

The organisation should give you an indication of what to expect of the assessments. Read this thoroughly and take the opportunity to complete any examples that they share with you. Once you know the name of the test or even the test publisher use your internet research skills to find out whatever you can about the questionnaire.

Review the format

Look for information regarding how long it will take you to complete it, what traits does it measure, what is the question format? Other people you know may have taken the questionnaire before so ask them what they thought of it. Was there anything about the questionnaire that made it tricky to fill in? All of these factors will just give you some comfort about completing it. The more you know, the less surprised you will be and therefore the more comfortable you will be.

Understand yourself

Regardless of whether you get the job, personality questionnaires are a really useful way of finding out more about yourself. It is sometimes useful to do some self-analysis prior to the assessment. Look at the competencies and skills that you think are relevant for the role and consider how you perform in relation to them. If this is the first time you have completed a personality questionnaire it can be quite daunting and even difficult to answer the questions. Thinking about your own personality beforehand can be really useful. Consider what your own development needs are and how you have found ways to compensate for them. If you are not a natural planner, how have you worked round this in the past to ensure you deliver everything on time?

Top tips for personality tests

Do …

Complete the practise questions that you are provided with.

Make sure you understand what is expected of you before you start the questionnaire itself.

If there is something that doesn’t make sense to you in the instructions ask for clarification.

Answer honestly. There really is no better way to approach these questionnaires. Your responses will be under scrutiny anyway if you get through to the next stage in the process. By trying to portray yourself in a specific way you will inevitably come unstuck. These questionnaires have been in use for many years and the test publishers have built in mechanisms to look for people who are trying to portray a specific personality.

Read the statements fully. You may come across negatively phrased questions that you will need to think about before answering, for example, ‘I don’t enjoy working closely with other people.’ If you enjoy working with others you would disagree with this statement.

Be confident in the choices you make. Erring on the side of caution may make you look a little ‘flaky’ so try to avoid the ‘Neutral’ or ‘Neither agree nor disagree’ option.

Use your gut instinct. Whilst it is important to read the question properly, it is also key to not spend too long thinking about your answer. Your first response is usually the right one!

Try to be consistent. We do not advocate attempting to fudge the system by trying to remember what you put for a previous similar question, but if you spend time upfront thinking about yourself you will be able to answer more consistently anyway.

Check your answer sheet. If you are completing the questionnaire online, the system will do this for you and it is unlikely that you will have missed any questions. However, if you completed it on paper it is worth eyeballing the answer sheet to make sure you haven’t missed a question or put two answers for one question.

Ask for feedback whether you get the job or not. Finding out more about yourself will only help you to better prepare for future applications or for the new job.


Skip over the introduction. You may think it is obvious what you have to do but a small mistake can totally change your results.

Miss a question. Every single question has to be answered. Even if you don’t understand it or if you really can’t decide what to put it is vital to spend time considering that question and choosing a response.

Over prepare. It is important to find a balance between looking for details about this test and preparing to the extent that you become paralysed by indecision. Many people actually enjoy taking these tests (it’s true!).

Try too hard to be consistent. Whilst we have mentioned that there may be checks for consistency built in to the questionnaire this doesn’t mean that you have to try and remember how you responded to earlier questions. Doing this will result in you potentially frying your brain! Treat each new question on its own merit and be true to yourself and you will come across as consistent anyway.

Rush through it. Personality questionnaires are not generally timed so make the most of this and don’t feel that you have to get to the end in record time as you are more likely to make mistakes if you do this. Worry if you start to feel tired. Whilst some personality questionnaires can be completed in 10 minutes, others take up to an hour.

You may start to feel as though you have already answered a multitude of questions about the same thing but other candidates will feel the same. It’s a necessary evil in the longer questionnaires.

Beat yourself up if you don’t get the job. Make the most of the experience and do all you can to make sure you get the feedback you need. Use that feedback to consider what roles you may be better suited to.

Personality test example questions

These tests are designed to work out how you might conduct yourself in the workplace, they’ll typically ask how much you agree with certain statements, such as:

**“Sometimes you have to shout to make a point properly”


Answer: E Whilst personality tests are looking for your opinion, try and answer with the workplace in mind. Would your new boss want to hire someone who thinks they have to shout to be heard? Very unlikely.

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How are personality tests scored?

There are no wrong or correct answers in personality tests. After you finish your test, your result will be aligned with the score scale. This scale will show which personality traits apply to you based on your answers. Also, your score may be compared with a normative group to evaluate how deviant your answers are from the baseline ones and if your profile matches the one for an ideal candidate.

What are personality tests used for?

Personality tests are used for assessing a person’s profile to identify their dominant character traits. Such analysis allows the employer to evaluate the test-taker’s personal qualities and their fitness to a particular position in the company.

What do personality tests involve?

Depending on the type of personality test – such as Mcquaig Word Survey, Predictive Index Test, 16PF Testor Birkman test – it might involve various questions and statements for you to consider but two common types are normative and ipsative. Normative questions will ask you to estimate the degree of your relation to certain statements. (agree, disagree, rather yes/no) Ipsative questions will be presented to you in sets of 2 or more and you’ll have to choose the ones you find most applicable.

What do personality tests measure?

Personality tests measure attitude, behavior, social skills, and character traits. Evaluation of these traits gives your employer a chance to estimate how you will fit into the team and how well your profile matches the ideal one.

Where can I practice personality tests?

Practicing is important for showing good results in personality tests. This way you will get a grip on the format of these tests. Also, going through the most popular questions will help save time on figuring out what is required from you and which statement is more relatable to you. Our website provides all the most widely-used personality tests with guides and tips for you to practice.

Which employers use personality tests?

Personality tests give employers an in-depth understanding of the potential worker’s profile. This test type allows them to judge the candidate’s fitness for the position in a more precise way, including how they will behave in certain situations and conditions.


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