Passing Personality Testing At Assessment Centres

Personality Testing At Assessment Centres

Personality testing and profiling is big business, and whatever your personal feelings about these psychometric tests, employers feel that they add to the recruitment and assessment centre process and therefore you should expect to have to complete one for most jobs (especially supervisor level and above).

Personality profiling is aimed at finding out whether you fit into the organisation and how you operate.  Some organisations are highly driven and want staff who score high on ambition and drive, whereas other organisations run more as a cooperative and are looking for more cooperative employees, who are willing to sacrifice their own ideas and glory for the good of the whole team.  These are extreme examples but I am sure you can see that someone who fits the first category would be frustrated in an organisation offering the second setting.


Traditionally personality profiling centres around what is known as the Big Five personality traits.  These are traits that have been studied for many years and have been found to be reliable to test (in other words they can be tested fairly accurately on different people and gain reliable results) and consistent in that they don’t suddenly change within most people’s lifetimes.  For example, someone who is an extrovert is not likely to change to become introvert unless they have undergone some life changing experience.  The Big Five are:

  • Extroversion – the amount to which you like to gain energy from the outside world, integrating and sharing ideas
  • Neuroticism/anxiety – this aims to measure how excited or anxious you become around work tasks
  • Openness to experience/conformity – this aims to measure whether you are a ‘corporate beast’ or a ‘maverick’
  • Agreeableness/tender versus tough mindedness – aims to measure the extent to which you follow others and are able to take decisions independently
  • Conscientiousness – this is the amount to which you are able to focus on your work and pay attention to detail.

Have a quick look through that list and think that if each one was depicted as on a line, where would you be on that line?

Can you see that some jobs and some organisations might want very different types of people?  Further that if the fit is not a good one, then you could find the job or workplace very stressful?  For example someone with a high score in neuroticism/anxiety might find that they are driven to complete distraction by a job that relies on detail and deadlines.  A person who prefers conformity at work may feel very uncomfortable in a loosely managed company that values feedback on experience rather than being given direction.  An employee who has a high level of agreeableness and likes to ‘keep the peace’ may struggle when told that they are expected to get tough and make all the decisions themselves.  Finally we all have differences in how much detail we put into our work, and perfectionists do not always work well with those that prefer a broad brush approach.

These Big Five are only the beginning and most personality tests will ascertain these and many other personality factors that sit together, to give an outline of the person and provide insight for the assessors.

Traditionally personality profiles were completed with a pen and paper in a test situation but now it is more likely that you will be sent a link via email and you complete the online test.  There are three critical things that you need to remember:

  1. However much you are tempted, never get anyone else to complete the test for you.  Be honest and complete it yourself.  If your profile is contrary to the employers needs, you would not be happy there and would probably leave anyway, and further, it would be embarrassing to be asked at an interview why you answered a question in a certain way when in the other activities you behaved in a completely different way.
  2. Concentrate and complete the task in one sitting. The computer is not only registering your responses, it is counting how long you take.  If you leave the test midway to have a chat or go and make a drink, your results will be flagged up as ‘odd’ and you will be questioned about this at the assessment centre.  Neither should you be too fast – a paper of around 120 questions should take you about 20-40 minutes to complete.  If you take 10 minutes there is a danger that you have not read and considered the questions sufficiently and if you took over an hour, it may indicate that you are either not taking the test seriously (and you went off to do something else) or that perhaps you were trying to research the ‘right answer’ online or by asking others.
  3. There are no right or wrong answers.  A personality test is not there to find out whether you are an axe-wielding mad person or murderer, it is just about fit – and you will have an opportunity to discuss the outcome and disagree with it if you feel it is not a fair representation of you.

Copyright © 2013 Karen Mannering. All rights reserved.