Personality tests poor predictors of job performance

Dec 13 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

A growing number of organisations use personality testing as part of their recruitment and promotion processes. But according to a group of American psychologists, such tests may not be valid predictors of job performance.

It might seem obvious that someone's personality is a good predictor of job performance, but Frederick P. Morgeson, Professor of Management at Michigan State University, says that the relationship between the two is often highly tenuous.

In an article published in a recent issue of Personnel Psychology, Morgeson and colleagues John R. Hollenbeck and Neal W. Schmitt of Michigan State University, Michael A. Campion of Purdue University, Robert L. Dipboye of the University of Central Florida and Kevin Murphy of Pennsylvania State University, argue that the sort of tests used by tens of thousands of employers worldwide suffer from some serious limitations.

One obvious criticism of personality tests, especially the self-report kind, is the potential for faked answers as candidates seek to present themselves to employers in the best possible light.

Despite substantial research devoted to techniques that will mitigate, or at least alleviate, the impact of faked answers, there have been no clear-cut methods developed to solve the problem, the psychologists argue.

As Robert Dipboye says, "we need to engage applicants in a more open process where we disclose what we are looking for and gain the trust of test-takers rather than playing paper-and-pencil games with them."

But the problems with personality testing run far deeper then this. According to Kevin Murphy, "as predictors of job performance, their validity is disappointingly low."

Neal Schmitt is even more blunt. "Why are we looking at personality as a valid predictor of job performance when the validities haven't changed in the past 20 years and are still close to zero?"

Nevertheless, while this might suggest that companies ought to reconsider their use of personality measures in making important hiring decisions and key appointments, Dipboye argues that research should be aimed at improving self-reported personality tests, rather than scraping them completely.

One strategy he advocates would be to allow people to elaborate on their responses to questions rather than offering one-word ambiguous responses.

Tests should also be clearly job-related and avoid ambiguous and embarrassing questions, he added.

Frederick Morgeson said that better ways to predict job performance include work samples, cognitive ability tests and structured interviews, all areas in which organizational psychology could greatly benefit human resource managers.

"Science is designed to uncover truth and can help improve the odds of making better personnel decisions," he concluded.


Older Comments

I don't disagree with the article, but I disagree with how it is used. 'Most' preemployment assessments are not 'personality' assessments. There are a signficant number of valid assessments being used in the market place today that do show high levels of success in predicting job performance. The key is that the process (job analysis and the assessment used) have to work together. The way that many companies use 'interpeted' assessments leaves too much in human hands which allows bias and error. That being said, some of the best and most accurate assessments only require human intervention in the setup of the system. If done correctly you get an assessment system with integrity that also provides for self-validation everytime it is used.

So, my comment to the authors of this article and anyone else that wants to disparage the use of assessments as 'part' of a selection process, do your own homework and watch the context what you read, not every assessment is personaility based!


Bo says not every assessment is personality based. So I assume Bo agrees with all of the truthers on this issue, that personality-based assessment tests are ALL bogus. There's not a single legitimate one. And the purveyors of these tests are nothing but snakeoil salesmen.

Managers, Owners, and Directors stupid enough to use personality tests on their potential employees, may as well use astrology, too. It would make as much sense, and do as much good or bad.

Truth First Politics Last San Bernardino, CA

As a trainer and psychologist, I certainly agree with many points of this article. We always assume our tools to measure are perfect, but all need adaptation at some point and if they are being used in one way doesn't necessarily mean they can't be used in another. I use a very people-centered approach to training and find it enhances the ROI not take away from it. Hiring someone for the right job is one thing; hiring a person to fit the company's potential expansion or modification is another. Detailed information taken at hiring or added later puts people where they feel they belong. Passion breeds a positive work ethic with the added benefits of creativity and ingenuity thrown. It may not show in the numbers, but the quality of work is definitely affected.

Jack Shaw http:\\

From the comments: 'All personality tests are bogus.' Really? Such lack of flexibility makes many employees do just enough. As always companies want to shift away from the employees to the bottom-line. They are connected. Happier workers aren't always itching for promotion. The more you know about someone, the more you can understand his or her thinking and communicate roles and promote team building without laying someone's job on the line. Economically, it's a scary time for the worker. Telling them to work harder and more efficiently because companies bottom-line needs it is hardly effective. Know your employees (even through such 'bogus' personality tests) and making them truly feel a part of something big and important will make better workers. Better yet, place them where they need to be, let them run with an idea (even on their own time) can give you a truly great team player.

Jack Shaw