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When Should Personality Tests be Used in the Workplace? (Hint: it’s NOT in your hiring process)

May 10, 2022

If you’re like me, you love a good personality test. Give me the enneagram, the DiSC, the Kolbe, StrengthsFinders, Myers Briggs any day, and that list can go on and on. But, I’ve spoken before about the detriments weaving in a personality test too early in your hiring process can have. 

So today on the podcast we are deep diving into all things personality tests, specifically:

  • the trouble they can wreck in your hiring process, 
  • when they should and shouldn’t be used, 
  • how you can best utilize them to benefit your team, 
  • and a stronger way to explore personality in the hiring and onboarding processes.

Why should you not use personality tests in the hiring process?

I am not a hater of personality tests – I love them! But we as a modern culture have grown to love them too much. Our archetypes or profiles have become our first introduction when meeting others. They become excuses when we act certain ways in lieu of taking personal responsibility and pursuing accountability.

Personality tests should help us understand more about ourselves, not about others. We should never label others without their consent – we should never label others period. And when the act of labeling is interwoven in your hiring process, you’re letting in clear and detrimental hiring bias. 

Personality Tests and Hiring Bias

Hiring bias occurs when you form an opinion or judgment on someone based on subjective impressions, not objective facts. This is natural and happens as a result of being human, but it can hurt our teams, our candidates, and ourselves when left to run amok.

Our goal as leaders is to constantly attack any proclivity toward bias and ruthlessly remove anything in our recruitment process that could prop bias up.

Specifically, when used incorrectly and too early in your hiring process, a personality test can incite unknown biases, turn away highly qualified candidates, and prop up a flat, non-diverse culture. 

Personality tests like the Enneagram (an entrepreneurial fave), the MyersBriggs (classic), the DiSC (my fave), and the Kolbe (we’re getting big time!) are great, but…

  • They can turn away qualified candidates and usher in the unqualified. Heart-driven leaders may get too excited about who “feels” the best fit for the team based on their personality test (“OMG, they’re a Four! Just what we need!), and bring on a team member who won’t best support the role or the team.
  • They aren’t exactly reliable. I’ve taken the same personality test for a job interview three times and got different results each time. I was going through a difficult postpartum season, and couldn’t differentiate between answers I thought I should give and answers I wanted to give. My results were chaos. 
  • You’re using them wrong. Just because you love the Enneagram, doesn’t mean it was created to support hiring decisions. Many of these tests, if not all, were created for personal, career, or team development.
  • You could be risking a lot, legally. People have successfully and rightfully sued, claiming discrimination against mental illness. You don’t want to go there.

We could debate the pros and cons of personality testing in the hiring process all day, but when it comes down to it – why chance the risk of hurting your team in such detrimental ways? 

Instead, let’s turn our focus to using other great tactics like the ones will explore today.

What can you use instead of personality tests?

I feel like I might be bursting some bubbles today, so let’s explore some great alternatives to personality tests that you can use in your hiring, onboarding, and team-building processes starting today. As an added bonus, these tactics can provide even BETTER results than personality tests.

The key is to work backward from the answers or information you’re looking for, and build out your own personality exploration process from there. 

What, exactly, do you want to learn about this person? Are you looking to understand if their personality and character can handle the weight of responsibility in the role? Are you looking for a way with words and people that will bless your clients? 

Identify what you’re truly looking for, and use your brain to develop a way to unearth it. Here are a few helpful starting points. 

Personality Fit Interviews

I first learned about personality fit interviews back in a previous episode in which I interviewed Jordan Gill of Systems Saved Me. I loved her take on these interviews, during which she has a close peer, partner, or leader on her team set up an interview with her top and final candidate(s). This person then interviews the candidate, asking questions that Jordan herself asked in a previous interview. 

The purpose of this personality test interview is tri-fold:

  • Her peer or friend can give their honest feedback on how they see this person integrating into the team and supporting Jordan’s vision,
  • They can compare answers to see how the candidate speaks of themselves and relates to different people, and
  • The candidate gets the chance to elaborate and deepen their responses.

If you utilize a personality fit interview, you must do several things. First, you’ll need to inform the candidate in advance that this is the final step in the process. Next, you’ll need to get written consent so that their answers can be shared with you. 

And lastly, don’t leave your candidate hanging afterward – follow up immediately after your peer wraps up the interview and let your candidate know you’ll be in touch in a day or two – once you have a chance to debrief with your interviewer. 

A Day-in-the-Life Interview

I loved this concept from a book we read in our Community book club earlier this year, Chief Joy Officer. 

At Menlo, the author’s company, they invite their top candidates to a trial of sorts. This person is allowed three days – they’re compensated, of course – to work on the team. Now, of course, this person won’t be fulfilling the full duties of the role they’re applying for. Instead, the purpose is for them to work alongside as many team members as possible. 

In this way, both the candidate and each team member get a great feel for what it’s like to work together. The candidate gets a feel for the atmosphere and culture of the team, and the team gets to explore the addition of this new team member to their community. 

This also gives you a chance to explore the candidate’s work style, work ethic, communication style or lack thereof, their approach to problem-solving, how they collaborate with others on the team, etc. Plus, you get to gain perspective from your team members as you debrief with them.

A Sample Project

Depending on the type of role and the type of person you are looking for, you can have this person complete an independent project (or a project with one of your current team members if you also utilize a Day-in-the-Life Interview).

If you’re looking for someone who has strong attention to detail – maybe you’re hiring for an Executive Assistant – have them conduct a project with a clear timeline, due date, and specific action items. 

If you’re looking for a self-starter who can naturally fill in the blanks and run with very little information, have them conduct a project with unclear timelines, due dates, and action items. Set the task or goal and walk away. 

Of course, no matter the project, be sure to compensate your candidate fairly for their time by having them sign an independent contractor agreement and setting up a way for them to invoice you. Pay. Your. People. 

When should personality tests be used, then? 

The question likely remains – when and where can I use personality tests? As a part of personal and team development only. 

I love using personality tests as a way for new hires to introduce themselves to the team, and for the new hire to review the tests and introductions of team members. Set this as a Day 1 task in your onboarding process!

Here’s what I recommend, though. Don’t just take the test result and leave it at that – have your team member create an introduction using the results as a jumping-off point. This can be typed in a Google Doc or filmed in a video – let your team member create an introductory summary using what they feel aligns with them.  

They can use the following template:

  • Here’s a bit about me…  
  • Here’s what I love about myself…
  • Here are some things I’m working on….
  • How I link arms with others in a work environment…
  • How you can best communicate with me….
  • I best support others by…
  • Here are ways I can support you…

In this way, you’re giving your new hire the chance to curate parts of the results that feel aligned, and leave the rest within their test result. I suggest you have everyone read or watch the introductions first, then review each others’ results if you so choose. 

No, you don’t have to quit personality tests cold turkey, but I hope this episode gave you some new ideas and confidence to explore personality yourself, remove hiring bias from your recruitment process, and find the best fits possible for your team!

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I'm Kaylan, leadership educator, podcaster & speaker

What are you searching for?

Reading suggestions

Crafting a 90-Day Onboarding Plan

Job Postings that Attract Top Talent

Mapping Your Leadership Style