personality testsWhen you consider how much searching for, hiring and training new employees cost businesses, it’s no wonder managers want some assurance they’re choosing the right person for the job — a rationale that extends to making the most of current employees’ talents and strengths as well. That explains why so many companies are turning to personality tests as hiring and team-building tools.

Personality tests in the workplace

Studies over the past five years indicate that 30 percent of American companies, ranging from small businesses to behemoths like Hewlett Packard and Marriott Hotels, administer personality tests, and the personality test industry is expanding nearly 10 percent each year.

The range of tests vary as widely as the companies using them. There are skills-based tests, IQ tests, handwriting analyses and integrity tests, along with the more fundamental personality trait test.

Myers-Briggs (also known as the MBTI for Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) is perhaps the most commonly used. Myers-Briggs assigns four letters to individuals: E or I for extroversion or introversion, N or S for intuition or sensing, T or F for thinking or feeling and P or J for perceiving or judging. Some 2.5 million people take the Myers-Briggs test each year.

Personality test guidelines for businesses

For businesses looking to incorporate personality testing into the workplace, managers would be wise to follow these guidelines:

Use tests that are statistically valid and reliable.

Otherwise the exercise is meaningless. Anyone can pull a personality test off the Internet and use it, but that doesn’t make it a good one.

For a personality test to have any practical use it must measure what it says it measures (validity) and consistently produce the same results over time (reliability). Good tests will indicate these values. Typically, the better tests have been in use for many years and are moving toward standardization.

Use tests that reveal style, not mental health issues.

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), for example, was designed to assess for mental illness, yet it is now administered to approximately 15 million American each year and has become a template for other personality tests used in workplaces.

Aside from invading test-takers’ privacy, measurements like the MMPI may expose businesses to discrimination claims. If a mental health test reveals an illness or disorder, businesses are prohibited by law from letting that information influence hiring or advancement decisions and may be required to provide special accommodations for such employees.

Tests that instead reveal personality type, styles and preferences — in the interest of helping people work together more effectively — are far safer and more appropriate.

Balance test findings with personal observations and impressions.

While personality tests can remove some personal bias in employment and personnel decisions, there are no tests that are 100 percent reliable or 100 percent valid.

Interviews matter as much as personality tests.

To get the most from personality tests, they need to be used in concert with personal interviews — especially because history has taught that social and emotional intelligence are more important in the workplace than IQ alone.