How to Improve Personality Tests Used for Selection

Whether or not you agree with it, your organization likely uses personality assessments as part of the selection process. Personality assessments do appear to be valid predictors of job performance, but can we do anything to make them be even better predictors? Recent research indicates that the answer is yes.


Researchers (Shaffer & Postlethwaite, 2012) conducted a meta-analysis (or statistical combination of studies) that compared generic (noncontextualized) personality measures with those that were presented in a work context (contextualized). For example, noncontextualized personality measures might include an item such as “I am on good terms with everyone,” whereas a contextualized version might be “I am on good terms with everyone at work.” The authors found that contextualized personality assessments were much better predictors of job performance than were noncontextualized assessments.


Making personality assessments contextualized is incredibly easy; it’s as simple as adding “at work” to the end of each item. This study found that contextualized measures designed for general use were just as good as those designed for use in the workplace, so you can use a publicly available measure and make it contextualized to improve its validity. Finally, one of the best implications of using contextualized measures is that they will be better accepted by applicants, as it’s clearer to the applicant how the personality tests are relevant to the workplace.


Shaffer, J. A., & Postlethwaite, B. E. (2012). A matter of context: A meta-analytic investigation of the relative validity of contextualized and noncontextualized personality measures. Personnel Psychology, 65, 445-494.