There are a number of articles on this blog about psychometric tests. In this post we will explore the ‘why’ of tests. Often companies and candidates use and have to go through the ordeal of psychometric tests without really understanding why they have to do the tests and what the value is.
The question is thus: “Why do we do Personality Tests and why are they useful?” Before we can explore the why we first need to understand what it is that we are talking about. Personality testing dates back to almost the beginning of the field of psychology. The MBTI for example is based on the works of Carl Jung who was a student of Sigmund Freud who is largely credited with being the father of modern psychology.
Understanding why people who are seemingly the same on the outside, may live and react totally differently is a puzzle that has been posed for centuries. With the advent of modern psychology the theorists and practitioners have managed to posit a variety of frameworks of personality that have been tested and factor-analysed to establish the credibility of the models.
The most widely known and accepted model of personality is the 5 factor model. The Big Five as it is known colloquially is a model that suggests that all personality types can be mapped out on a scale over five bipolar factors present in every individual. The five factors are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Some summarize this as OCEAN. What the research says in short is that everyone will be somewhere on the scale of openness. For example, someone may be open to new experiences, seeking different experiences every day. They may not go to the same restaurant twice, and when they have to, they order different things on the menu every time. Opposed to that, someone may be very low on openness. This kind of person may have a regular schedule, they may go to the same restaurant every month, sit in the same seat and order the same meal.
So what does this have to do with testing and more particularly for testing in a job context?
The use of psychometric tests have traditionally been received with quite a hostile reception. Guion & Gottier, (1965) for example came to a very pessimistic conclusion that personality tests are not valid in the prediction of job performance. This conclusion stood unchallenged for many decades, but thankfully in recent years a lot of research have gone into the use and usefulness of personality tests.
Various studies have found support for the use of personality tests as predictors of future job performance. A meta-analytic study by Barrick, Mount and Judge (2001) support previous findings that conscientiousness is a valid predictor across performance measures in all occupations studied. Emotional stability was also found to be a generalizable predictor when overall work performance was the criterion, but its relationship to specific performance criteria and occupations was less consistent than was conscientiousness. Other personality traits (e.g. extraversion, openness and agreeableness) did not predict overall work performance, they did predict success in specific occupations or relate to specific criteria. Therefore it is important to measure a broad range of personality traits as part of selection, development or promotion activities. As some personality traits may predict some success in specific occupations which may differ from other occupations.
In South Africa, Rothmann & Coetzer (2003) found that Emotional Stability, Extraversion, Openness to Experience and Conscientiousness were related to task performance and creativity. Three personality dimensions, namely Emotional Stability, Openness to Experience and Agreeableness, explained 28% of the variance in participants’ management performance. In other words almost a third of the performance differences in performance can be attributed to having or not having certain personality traits.
Based on the above two studies, we can conclude that the use of personality tests are not only valid for use, but may be essential to use in selection and development of new and existing staff.
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