NEO Personality Inventory
The NEO-Personality Inventory assessment is a psychometric tool used to assess personality traits. It is recognised worldwide and used by recruiters and employers pre-employment, as well as more generally to assess career potential.
What is the NEO Personality Inventory?
The NEO Personality Inventory uses the ‘Five-Factor Model’ (also known as the ‘Big Five Personality Test’) to measure personality traits. This theory suggests that each person’s personality boils down to five core areas – and the test examines these separate areas of personality to draw conclusions.
The NEO-PI test grew out of academic psychology work carried out in the 1970s by Costa & McCrae who developed the ‘five trait’ model, following on from work that started in the 1920s.
By 1978 their work had led them to conclude that there were three broad personality traits: Neuroticism (N), Extraversion (E) and then Openness (O) – which they called ‘Neuroticism-Extraversion-Openness Inventory’ or ‘NEO-I’.
Further work led to the addition of Agreeableness (A) and Conscientiousness (C), with the test then renamed ‘NEO Personality Inventory’ or ‘NEO-PI’.
Further iterations to the model were developed by the pair during the 1980s and 1990s, including adding various subsections. The model currently used by academics, clinicians and recruiters is the ‘NEO PI-3’ and can be used by adolescents as young as 10, as well as those for whom English is not their first language.
A shortened version named ‘NEO FFI-R’ (‘Five Factor Inventory’) is also available.
As Neuroticism (N), Extraversion (E) Openness (O) Agreeableness (A) and Conscientiousness (C) can also spell out OCEAN or CANOE, you may also see it referred to by those acronyms.
The Big 5 Personality Factors explained
The NEO PI-3 gives insight into the six facets that define each domain:
Are you prone to emotional stress? Are you excitable or calm? How do you react under pressure? The facets tested here suggest how you might react psychologically to stress, which can be important for high-octane work.
- Angry Hostility
The areas tested here conclude whether you dominate a situation or are quieter and less assertive.
- Positive emotions
This considers how you embrace the unknown and whether you are imaginative. High levels of openness are desirable in some industries; in others, they may suggest inability to focus.
At the other end of the spectrum, low levels can be perceived as discriminatory or narrow-minded.
Are you easily led and submissive, or at the other end of the scale, suspicious and argumentative? This considers whether you are cooperative and a team player, or disagreeable and untrustworthy.
This looks at whether you are spontaneous or self-driven and motivated. Extreme responses to this area can either suggest inflexibility and stubbornness, or being unreliable and flighty.
- Achievement Striving
When all the facets and personality types are considered in the round, the assessor can use this information to build up a pretty accurate picture of how you might think or behave in a particular context.
The results for each individual will then be matched to the culture and expectations of the company’s successful candidates.
The format of the NEO-PI
The NEO PI-3 invites the test-taker to answer a number of questions, from which it draws conclusions on five personality areas, aiming to build up an accurate reading of how a person thinks and behaves.
In a recruiting context, this information is used as part of the process to determine how successful the candidate may be in a particular role or team, or could be used once employment has commenced, to ascertain the best strategy for career progression.
Both the NEO PI-3 and NEO-FFI are untimed tests.
This test takes around 35–45 minutes using an online test platform, in which the candidate provides a score for 240 behaviour descriptions (e.g. whether they agree or disagree, or find it most or least like themselves).
There is a self-reporting section and an external observation section. The answers from both are combined.
This test is a shorter version, taking around 15 minutes to complete, with only 60 behavioural descriptions to consider.
A paper version of both tests can be used, but it’s more usual to take them online.
How are NEO-PI tests scored?
Each section will show a separate summary and score in a report that is presented to either the employer, you, or both. Descriptions of your personality type as assessed by the test will be divided into each of the five factors.
The scores will be marked (using high, medium or low) and the strengths associated with that gradation will be summarised too.
The report will also be presented in a visual format to make it easier to understand and compare to other results.
Tips for taking a NEO-PI test
The NEO-PI test relies on the person taking the test being accurate and honest. If you try to ‘game’ or second-guess what is being asked, or what you perceive the employer carrying out the test would find appealing, the process will break down and not work.
Remember it is diagnostic
There are no right or wrong answers and there is no need to prepare or revise. You cannot practice to get ‘better’ answers as it is not a pass or fail situation – everyone’s personality types are different.
You can prepare
While you cannot practise to get ‘better’ answers, you can alleviate stress and anxiety over facing an unknown situation by researching practice questions so that you are familiar with the format and how you should think about the questions. You can also take similar tests to gain a better understanding of how the results might be presented.
What is NEO-PI used for?
The NEO-PI is used by recruiters as part of their employment process. By ascertaining the personality type of the prospective employee, they can match this with other psychometric test results and the interviews to make better decisions about who might thrive and perform well in the role.
It can also be used by candidates themselves to understand their personality type better, to perform better at work, to understand their preferred management style and ultimately to make career decisions.
Is the NEO-PI valid?
A great deal of research has been carried out in relation to the NEO-PI and its validity and effectiveness. It has been found to demonstrate high consistency. You should not worry about the results of the test unless you are a pathological liar – if you answer the questions honestly and genuinely in a reflective manner with an open mind, you should receive a valid and effective analysis.
Can you fail a NEO-PI test?
It is not possible to fail a NEO-PI test unless you do not complete all the questions. Even then, it would only be incomplete. There is no right or wrong personality type, even though some traits will mean some people are more suitable for some roles than others.
What does NEO in NEO-PI stand for?
The ‘NEO’ stands for ‘Neuroticism-Extraversion-Openness’, which were the first three personality traits to be added to this model of understanding personality.