Random Thoughts While Taking a Personality Test (IO Psychology)

Have you ever taken a personality test as part of a hiring process and found your mind wandering?  Where did it go?  Did you wonder how to best answer the questions to secure the job?  Or did you ponder why puppies are just so damn cute?  Or why the Flock of Seagulls hairstyle never took off?

In this study, researchers interviewed test takers to learn what they were thinking while taking a personality test.  I was excited about this, because in industrial psychology we tend to fixate on how well personality tests succeed in identifying rockstar candidates, but we should also think about how candidates react when completing them.  Here are a few of the findings:

  • Some test-takers had a difficult time answering the questions, as no context was provided.  For example, if they had to rate how likely they are to “start a conversation with a stranger” (with no other context), they felt as though their answer would differ if asked in a work setting versus their personal life.   I can see this one.
  • A few didn’t feel as though they knew themselves well enough to answer the questions.   This one really threw me; I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I would want to hire someone who lacks enough self-awareness to answer questions on a basic personality test.
  • A number of individuals answered the questions in a way to make them look more favorable, to help secure the job in question.  Others tried to answer as honestly as possible, thinking the test would catch them and figure out their devious plan.   I see both reactions here; some assessment tests can, in fact, detect if someone is trying to cast themselves in a more favorable light; other tests do not.  This is one of the great mysteries when taking an assessment test…Will the stats police uncover my lies?
  • Many test-takers tried to figure out how their answers would be analyzed and interpreted.  We all have this natural curiosity, but voodoo-magician test publishers keep this secret close.  (Cueing “something D-O-O economics…”)
  • Most individuals noticed questions that seemed to be similar and/or repeating, but assumed this was a way to detect how consistently they answered the questions.  This is true; it helps test creators measure the consistency of your answers, see if you are paying attention whatsoever, or reveal if you are just having your cat select the answers for you (we all know how much cats love to sprawl out on keyboards).

So the moral of the story is: our reactions to personality tests are as different as our personalities themselves, which might mean that I am the only person out there that wants the Flock of Seagulls hairstyle to make a comeback.