The idea of taking a personality test might remind some people of a breezy summer’s day, a glass of cold, strawberry lemonade, and flipping lazily through the latest Cleo magazine for titbits on ‘it’ fashion, who’s your most compatible lover or friend, and what’s your monthly horoscope telling you (before Facebook and online quizzes were all the rage). But unlike fashion mag personality stereotyping, the workplace personality test is a darker beast to contend with.


The movie Minority Report makes a strong case for not pre-judging and pre-punishing people for things they might do in dire circumstances. The precognitives couldn’t factor for free will. Would it not be better to ascertain if a person can do the job you require to be done and give them the role based on their past performance, experience, knowledge, and positive potential instead of the potential negative? Or can a standardised, personality assessment or psychometric test ferret out the perfect individual for a role and an organisation?


There are some lurking shadows and lingering questions over the validity of such analyses, such as what are the supposed benefits of taking a personality test for your workplace? Is it something that can be enforced, or perhaps you can opt-out of? Can the results preclude you from getting or keeping your job? Or, is that discrimination? Let’s look at the dark and light sides of personality assessments to determine what value if any, they contribute to employment.


The sinister history


Are you imagining scientists in white lab coats with clipboards (before iPads/tablets) asking questions to their subjects hooked up to some torture apparatus with an electric frequency? It may not be quite so ‘mad science’ as you think, although Carl Jung and Freudian psychosis (huh-hum, I mean psychology) played their part. Or maybe it is quite mad.


You have heard of Myers-Briggs in the world of corporate personality tests? It seems like bad fact-checking if you read that the history of this particular test was made up primarily because a mother wanted to understand why her daughter would choose such an unlikely mate for a husband (a bit extreme, mum). But the mother and daughter, following Carl Jung’s work, teamed up together to develop a 16-type personality test which has taken the corporate HR department by storm. It should be iterated that the duo did not have any real credentials of their own, relying heavily on their interpretation of Jungian principles.


The US Army also used personality testing to indicate which soldiers would potentially suffer from shell shock and break down. This was referred to as objective personality testing, and the first one of its kind was Woodworth’s Personal Data Sheet in 1917. (Gibby and Zicker) But this type of testing focused on the negative, the “construct of employee maladjustment,” and used to rule out “applicants who would create workplace disturbances.”


The cult following


But, according to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), over 50 million people have taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and still counting. But HBR says, “Experts argue that the categories don’t predict individual or team effectiveness. Studies have found that more than half the people who retake the test get a different result the second time.”


The Myers-Briggs Foundation states, “Although there are many useful applications of the MBTI assessment in the workplace, there are ethical concerns in using it for hiring purposes. Please carefully consider this as you develop your program for employees. You can read more about these concerns and other ethical considerations here.”


The HR industry is split over test validity


Asking Forbes HR council members about their thoughts on personality tests, a few are for personality test data collection, but only within well, pre-defined parameters; and others think there is little to no value to these tests. Furthermore, their use opens up legal liability in bias/discrimination and limits diversity. Some of the members are quoted below.


Keith KefgenAETHOS Consulting Group says, “Personality tests are inconsistent indicators of performance and intellectual ability. They introduce risks of legal defensibility when used in business settings. Competency and cognitive testing as well as case studies are empirically better ways of evaluating performance capability.”


Sherry MartinOmniTRAX says, “A personality test should be used as one data point to help identify how an individual could be successful based on the position and with the company’s environment. Organizations need to be mindful that personality tests [should] not discriminate and are free from bias.”


Lotus YonNCH says, “Even with a test that tries to eliminate as much bias as possible, the people looking at the tests are biased. Also, it decreases diversity because you are hiring people with the same types of personalities. This is unproductive.”


Charmaine Smith WintersSamsung Austin Semiconductor says, “These types of assessments should be used as a guide only to allow employers to ask questions in areas that may be weak or overly strong. These types of assessments should not be used to make actual hiring decisions.”


Myers-Briggs is based on a five-factor model (FFM); the factors tested for are:


  1. extraversion
  2. neuroticism (or emotional stability)
  3. agreeableness
  4. conscientiousness
  5. openness to experience.


The results of a meta-analysis on The Big Five Personality Dimensions and Job Performance

suggests that there are “benefits of using the 5-factor model of personality to accumulate and communicate empirical findings […] especially in the subfields of personnel selection, training, and development, and performance appraisal.”


However, referencing a scholarly article titled ‘The dark side of personality at work’, hosted on Psychology Today: “[T]he dark side of personality does not seem to be well described within the five-factor framework. For instance, Tellegen (1993) aimed criticism at the Big Five as deficient as the lists of adjectives it is based on eliminated evaluative terms (such as “evil” or “dangerous”; Allport & Odbert, 1936).”


Without such evaluative terms, two factors were revealed that are not present within the FFM:

  1. positive valence
  2. negative valence.


These “other individual differences, such as motives, interests, and goals, are not easily subsumed by the five factors,” (James & LeBreton, 2010; Roberts, Harms, Smith, Wood, & Webb, 2006a). The seven-factor model, such as the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) is deemed to provide a better indication than the five-factor model, but the Hogan Development Survey (HDS) is more indicative for the workplace using 11 scales and 33 subscales measuring when people are challenged outside of their comfort zones.


But, at the end of the day, how much credence should you give to a multi-choice test based on what-ifs? Why not just ask people what are their star signs and if Mercury was rising or in retrograde at the time of their birth? How much can some ‘sciences’ tell you about people’s personalities?


Do any of these tests take different disabilities and conditions into consideration (other than the dark triad of personality disorders)?


What about individual situations and extraneous conditions affecting a person’s current mood, mental health, temperament, and motivations? Like the Myers-Briggs test, retaking the HEXACO when you are happy and grounded yields a much different result than when you are in a negative flux.


What are the results?


Variable and skew-able to the point of intended manipulation. It doesn’t take a genius to know that a company wouldn’t value certain traits and to avoid falling into particular categories, you just answer untruthfully to specific questions, such as those relating to any proclivity to steal, lie, or cheat. The trick is to watch the terminology the questions use and be consistent.


A person wanting to win the role or keep their job or even be viewed in a certain light can easily manipulate and fabricate responses and skew test results. And maybe someone is dealing with something dark and discomforting in their personal life and their answers are different today than they might be tomorrow or a few months down the line. Maybe they desperately need a job to put food on the table and clothing on their children’s backs. If an arbitrary set of questions is the only thing standing in your way, what would you do?


It would be better to communicate with people directly, be transparent, and observe on-the-job behaviours, instead of subscribing to preconceptions. Don’t put people in a box. Or better yet, have the organisation and managers take the compatibility test and score them based on the general culture, needs, and desires of the combined workforce.




Gibby RE, Zickar MJ. A history of the early days of personality testing in American industry: an obsession with adjustment. Hist Psychol. 2008 Aug;11(3):164-184. doi: 10.1037/a0013041. PMID: 19048975.


SETH M. SPAIN *, PETER HARMS, AND JAMES M. LEBRETON. ‘The dark side of personality at work’ School of Management, Binghamton University, Vestal, New York, U.S.A.  Management, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, U.S.A.  Department of Psychology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. [Journal of Organizational Behavior, J. Organiz. Behav. (2013) Published online in Wiley Online Library ( DOI: 10.1002/job.1894]


  1. The 23 Best Personality Tests In Ranking Order (2022 Update) – WorkStyle
  2. A Brief History of Personality Tests (
  3. Can Personality Tests Really Tell You If An Employee Will Succeed? (
  4. The Myers & Briggs Foundation – Ethical Use of the MBTI® Instrument (
  6. Hogan Development Survey | Hogan Assessments
  7. HPI-HDSROIStudy.pdf (