What Practitioners Need to Know about Personality Testing

Topic: Assessment, Personality, Selection
Publication: Industrial and Organizational Psychology
Article: Personality testing and Industrial Organizational Psychology: A productive exchange and some future directions.
Blogger: Benjamin Granger

In an overview of the current state of personality testing in organizations, Oswald and Hough (2008)  take on several perspectives and present some important ideas for research and practice in the area of personality testing.  Although their discussion involves many aspects of personality measurement, I will discuss two that are highly relevant for practice.

Broad vs. Facet-level Measurement Although the practice of personality testing has generally focused on the Big Five (extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, conscientiousness, and agreeableness), Oswald and Hough point out that each have sub-facets that can be very useful in  predicting specific work outcomes. For example, extraversion contains sub-facets such as sociability, energy level, and dominance; facets that may  relate to certain work-related criteria differently. The same idea likely holds for other personality traits like conscientiousness.

Bottom Line: If organizations are interested in predicting very broad job performance criteria (i.e., overall job performance) then broad personality measures are better. When criteria are narrow, then facet-level personality measures may be better.

Faking Self-Report Personality Tests Much has been made of the faking issue in personality testing, and we know that it does occur in certain situations (“Hmm, I’m not very outgoing, but I really need this job, so yea, sure, I’m outgoing!”). Because self-report measures of personality are known to be “fake-able,” Oswald and Hough outlined several  advancements in personality measurement that reduce faking: (1) Forced-choice measures (computer adaptive tests that force applicants to choose between certain personality traits) and (2) Provide warnings of the potential consequences of faking (e.g., “If you fake, you’ll get placed in a job that won’t fit you!” or “Don’t be sneaky, we’ll catch you!”).

Bottom Line: Self-report personality measures are “fake-able”, but there are some useful and interesting alternatives (e.g., forced choice computer adaptive measures and warnings). However, when these methods are used, more negative test-taker reactions may result.

Oswald, F. D., & Hough, L. M. (2008). Personality testing and Industrial  Organizational Psychology: A productive exchange and some future directions. Industrial and  Organizational Psychology Perspectives on Science and Practice, 1(3), 323-332.