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About personality questionnaires and how they are used during assessments

More and more employers are using personality questionnaires as part of their selection process in order to determine a candidates ‘traits’ and likely performance in a work-based situation.

  • There are no hard and fast rules in relation to which stage of the assessment process they are likely to appear; however, the majority of employers will usually use them as part of an integrated assessment centre along with other tests, group exercises and interviews.
  • From your perspective, personality questionnaires will feel both monotonous and unnecessary.
  • However, from an employer’s perspective they are an extremely effective and robust method for determining you likely performance in the role being assessed.

Although candidates may have to take a personality questionnaire in any type of job or selection process, they are more commonly used during graduate selection assessments and also as part of larger corporations such as those which form part of the banking sector.

Examples of organisations which currently use personality questionnaires as part of their selection process include Price Waterhouse Coopers, BBC, Barclays, HSBC to name just a few.

The test itself maybe online or it may sometimes be paper-based. More often than not the personality test is unsupervised as there are no right or wrong answers – it is very important that you answer the questions as openly and as honestly as possible, not only for your sake, but also for the sake of the employer.

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The questions which are used during the personality questionnaire will vary depending on the organisation, the type of role being assessed for and the position being advertised. This is why it is very difficult to predict the types of questions you will get asked during the test. Probably the best piece of advice we can give you is to ensure that you answer each question honestly and truthfully.

What do the tests look like?

The tests are usually multiple-choice in nature and they don’t have a time limit attached to them. The reason why there is no time limit during the test is because the employer or assessor wants you to answer the questions without any external pressures; this means you are far more likely to answer the questions honestly if you are not being rushed.

Examples of personality type questions would be:

  • Being organised is not important to me.
  • I don’t let things get on top of me.
  • With regards to change, I believe that you shouldn’t fix things if they are not broken.
  • I have been known on occasions to panic and lose control.

You would then have to answer each of the above questions based on the following criteria:

  • Strongly agree
  • Agree
  • Neither agree or disagree
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree

As we have already stated, there are no right or wrong answers. However, how you respond to the questions will determine how you are likely to perform in a work-related situation. For example, let’s examine closely the following question:

Sample question

Q. With regards to change, I believe that you shouldn’t fix things if they are not broken.

- Strongly agree

- Agree

- Neither agree or disagree

- Disagree

- Strongly disagree

If you are applying to work in a fast-changing and dynamic organisation that embraces change, they will be looking for people who answer this question as either disagree or strongly disagree. People who do not embrace change would not fit in well to this type of organisation.

When the test is complete and your answers are determined, your scores will then be compared to what is called a ‘norm group’. The results will then determine whether you are analytical, adaptive to certain situations, influential, focused, organised etc. Once again, the types of traits and personalities being assessed will very much depend on the organisation and role you are applying to join.

What are the different elements usually assessed during a personality questionnaire?


Usually, the different types of traits and personalities being assessed will be as follows:

  • Openness
  • Agreeableness
  • Extrovertism
  • Neuroticism
  • Contentiousness

Although the above five examples of extremely commonplace during personality questionnaire testing, they are not set in stone and it will be down to the employer or assessing body to determine which are most effective for the role and position being advertised.

Can you prepare for a personality questionnaire?

Although you cannot really prepare for a personality questionnaire it I possible to be aware of the following elements that will help to improve your suitability for the post being assessed.

A. You do not need to rush when taking the questionnaire – remember, there is no time-limit and as such, you should not feel under any pressure to complete it quickly. Some of the questions will be very similar to previous ones and you should aim for a level of consistency when responding to the questions.

B. Over strengths: When answering the questionnaire be careful not to ‘over strength’ some of the responses. You will see from the previous examples provided that you can ‘strongly agree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ on some subject matters and questions. Some organisations may see ‘over strengths’ to be a weakness, especially in relation to areas such as assertiveness.

C. Key competencies: In any interview for any position, the HR department will have designed a framework of key competencies which are essential and/or desirable in a potential employee.

  • For example analytical ability would be a key competency for a role in finance and interpersonal skills would be a key competency for consulting. Although the competency framework will vary depending on the role, and the organisation, certain competencies will remain essential to a particular role.
  • Ensuring you express your preference particularly highly in these key areas can help build the correct profile for the role. If you do not feel you have high preferences in these key areas, it may be an indication that this role is not suited to your work preferences and personality.

D. Be truthful and avoid acquiescence bias at all costs: Acquiescence bias is a form of response bias, whereas the candidate may appear to answer some questions in an over exaggerated manner. Because many of the questions will be repeated, albeit in a slightly different format throughout the questionnaire, it is possible to over exaggerate the answers – this in turn may appear to the assessor that you are not being truthful. The best piece of advice we can offer you is to make sure you simply answer the questions as honestly as possible.

In order to help you prepare for a personality test we have provided you with a sample personality questionnaire that is based on recruitment in to the Public Sector (Fire Service). Click the link below to download the PDF document. We have also provided you with example of how the questions may be answered to assist you.

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