As a kid, it was fairly well ingrained in me that when taking a test, the goal was to try to achieve the highest possible score. If I received low scores on a test, then it meant I didn't sufficiently understand some concept in algebra or properly comprehend the significance of a novel like Catch-22. In other words, tests served to point out deficiencies, so the higher the test score, the better. However, with pre-employment testing, and personality tests in particular, this is not necessarily true.
Just Who Lives in Alaska Anyhow?
The Wall Street Journal last week ran an interesting article that summarizes a study that aggregates personality data on a state by state basis. The research is based on a Five Factor approach to studying personality (Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism/Stability, and Openness). Criteria's pre-employment testing solution features a personality inventory, the CPI, that is built on the same theoretical principles – and other employment personality tests that we offer also focus on a subset of these traits. Armed with over 600,000 internet surveys, the researchers showed that on average, respondents from North Dakota were the most agreeable in the country, and those in Alaska – by a huge margin – were the least agreeable. Alaska also ranked near the bottom on the other four personality dimensions too — but we'll have more on that in another blog post. But before we jump to any conclusions, let's stop to consider why small states seem to pop up a lot near the top and bottom of these lists.
Following up on the discussion I started last time about the Big Five personality traits, I want to provide a little more context on the Big Five and how they relate to the field of personality testing as a whole. The Big Five are personality dimensions that describe the ways in which an individual reacts to other people and to the world around them. For example, the Extraversion/Introversion dimension describes the extent to which an individual is more or less outgoing, gregarious and in need of social stimulation. If a personality test determines that an individual is in the 65th percentile for "Extraversion," this means that the individual is more extraverted than 65 percent of the individuals in the norm group.
A recent report summarized here suggests that personality testing is the fastest growing segment of the pre-employment testing market. The survey of HR professionals revealed that the percentage of respondents whose firms used personality tests has grown from 21% to 59% in the last five years alone. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of misconceptions about what personality tests are, and how they should be used. Since we get so many questions about how personality tests work, from both HR professionals and job candidates, I thought I'd try to explain some of the basics.