Psychometric Tests: Personality Theory and the Workplace

By Susanna Quirke on 15-09-2016
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Personality theory – it’s all nonsense. Not something you’d expect to find in a serious workplace. Right? 

Wrong! 75% of the UK Times Top 100 business list, and far more of the US Fortune 500, use psychometric tests to evaluate their current and prospective workforce. Similarly, many high-powered grad schemes require candidates to sit online ‘exams’ as part of their application. These can be aptitude, reasoning and situational-based – or, just as likely, personality. 

Read on to understand the reasoning… and how you can prepare yourself! 


What’s the idea?
According to a 2014 report from CEB, 62% of HR departments use personality tests to vet candidates in the hiring process. There are several common forms these assessments could take, and they are usually set before a final interview stage. But why? What’s the theory? 

Firstly, we shouldn’t technically call these assessments ‘tests’. There are supposed to be no ways of getting a personality quiz wrong, except by answering dishonestly. But in reality, these evaluations are designed to determine whether you are the right ‘fit’ for a job. Some results will strengthen your application, while others will damage it.   

And fit is undeniably important. A candidate who looks great on paper, but who doesn’t work in the company’s environment, is a dud hire. Personality tests are a way of avoiding the type of clash that can ruin workforce morale. For example, under the DCIS system, ‘dominant’ and ‘steady’ types are likely to clash, while a candidate with low competitive scores is unlikely to flourish in a sales environment. 

Type A and Type B
This is a lesser ‘theory’ that doesn’t factor into the Big 5 employers typically use. Still, it’s kinda fun.

The idea is that every person fits into one of two categories: A or B. Type As are achievement-motivated, often over-promising and consequentially stressed-out individuals; they hate failure and are typically competitive. Type Bs are more reflective, enjoying process over achievement; they play games for fun rather than the win. Some theories add a ‘C’ and even ‘D’ type, but this is rare. 

The idea that all people can be split into two sections is a very simplistic one – a result of our human drive to categorise and label. But if you want to know which of these types you most resemble, there are plenty of online tests

Despite the lack of support for this theory, it continues to be referenced in discussions of the workplace. For example, certain industries claim to particularly suit Type As or Bs. There is also plenty of literature for bosses on how to handle A or B-types, or how to optimise the workplace for different working approaches. Who knows? Perhaps it’s worth the read. 


Hollands Theory
The Hollands Theory of Vocational Personalities is more widely credited than A/B categorisation. In the mid 20th century, John L. Holland suggested that members of the workforce inevitably fall into six categories: 

1. Doers (or Realistic)
2. Thinkers (or Investigative)
3. Creators (or Artistic)
4. Helpers (or Social)
5. Persuaders (or Enterprising)
6. Organisers (or Conventional) 

Of these six, certain types are suited to certain roles and career paths. For example, Helpers work well as counsellors, archivists or teachers. Creators are natural artists, while Persuaders suit legal, actuarial and public relations roles. Again, finding out which of these fits you is easy  

Holland’s RIASEC structure is the most widely used model for organizing career interest assessment instruments. And it’s often used on prospective grad candidates, too. The idea is that, whichever role the candidate seeks to achieve, he/she will be most content in a position which suits their ideas and personality ‘type’. For example, putting a Creator in a bricklaying or banking role, where exact processes and attention to detail is necessary, is a poor idea; the Creator will seek to innovate and entertain themselves, thus putting the work at risk.   

Perhaps it is a good idea, as you apply for grad roles, to consider your Hollands type yourself. If you come out on the test as a Persuader, should you really be applying for that bookkeeping role? You might be happier in sales and promotions. It’s something to keep in mind.


Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
The Myers-Briggs test claims to distribute people into sixteen categories, based on unique combinations of four personality dichotomies: people/ideas; facts/possibilities; logic/values; structure/flexibility. This one has tests all over the internet and is good fun to do in your spare time. 

An employer, as this lady proclaims, can use MBTI to cherry-pick members of their workforce and ensure a healthy fit. That’s where the pre-interview assessments factor in. As an employee, you can even use your MBTI results to optimise your working style. For example, an introvert might prefer to arrive early or work late, to maximise alone-time in the office. Or a person with a strong lean towards Logic over Values might try to soften remarks towards colleagues.   

It’s up to you, of course, whether you subscribe to the theory – but it’s also up to your company’s recruitment campaign. There are plenty of people who think MBTI is pointless in the workplace, and many who would argue the opposite. The important thing is that you stay aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, and adjust your working style to suit. 

There are many other suggestions as to how to apply personality theory in the workplace. All you have to know, as a student or graduate hunting that elusive job, is that those tests employers set may include these weird assessments. Answer them honestly and you will get a satisfactory result. And if you’re rejected on the basis of a personality test, who knows? Perhaps you weren’t right for that environment anyway, and you’ve scored a lucky break. 


Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment firm which specialises in sourcing candidates for internship jobs and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs London, visit our website.


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