Case : Personality Testing: Yes or No?

Mark, a project leader in Austin, Texas, needed a new software engineer for his eight-person team. He used his network, reviewed résumés, and invited 15 candidates for interviews. In addition he had the top three candidates complete the 16-Personality Factors Test. This was a general test that he believed would reveal personality characteristics that were important to know before making a job offer.

     Personality testing is a relatively inexpensive method that helps managers make important hiring decisions. Tom, a member of Mark’s team, warned everyone about putting too much confidence into personality test results, however. Tom had read that personality tests were not reliable and could be faked.

      Another team member, Mary, believed Tom to be correct and incorrect at the same time. Some tests are poor, while others have helped employers make good selection decisions, she said. She emphasized “helped.” Tests by themselves shouldn’t be the sole factor in hiring top performers. They are just one tool, she said. She had heard about other firms using different kinds of tests to assess emotions, intelligence, and interpersonal style.

       In fact, studies do indicate that good personality tests are more reliable predictions of performance than interviews and résumés. However, they are still controversial. Some employers have had to face lawsuits because personality tests were used inappropriately. For example, Rent-A-Center, Inc., used a personality test to fill management positions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago ruled that the test qualified as a medical exam. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits requiring medical examinations before making a job offer.

         Court rulings on and controversy about personality testing has not stopped employers from using such tests. In an effort to match the best-qualified person with the position, personality testing, although controversial, can be beneficial.

              Employers are very interested in what differentiates one person from another in terms of behavior and performance. Personality testing attempts to provide quantifiable data that can make the differentiation easier. Such differentiation is still difficult. Some personality researchers suggest there are regional differences in personality. That is, a New York candidate for Mark’s position would be different from an Oregon candidate.

         Mark, after considering all the issues surrounding personality testing, decided he would not conduct or use such tests in the future.


1. Is Mark making a good decision to drop the use of personality testing? Why?

2. The better-quality personality tests are difficult to fake. Other than attempting to land the job, why would a job candidate fake a personality test?

3. Could personality testing be used for management decisions other than hiring? Explain.

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