This essay will evaluate the literature available on the value of the selection method of personality tests to business organisations. These tests measure individual’s responses to what are usually fixed choice questions to uncover characteristics that have important implications for their job performance (Beardwell and Claydon, 2007).
Personality tests were first reviewed in a personnel selection context in 1965 (Guion and Gottier, 1965) but it is only recently that they have become popular with around 30% of companies using them (Heller, 2005), particularly for candidates applying for managerial and graduate jobs within the top companies in the UK (Faulder, 2005; Newell, 2005: 133). However, despite their popularity there is still continuing controversy in debates surrounding this selection method.
These debates will be explored alongside identifying relevant concepts such as the validity and reliability of personality tests which have implications for their value to business organisations. Although there are many debates surrounding personality tests they can be broadly grouped into four main areas (Taylor, 2005). The first of these debates concerns whether and to what extent it is actually possible to measure an individual’s personality.
The uptake of personality tests highlights that there is now a level of agreement that personality is measurable, but there is a need therefore to adopt similar systems of personality descriptions if findings are to be compared (Newell, 2005: 134). The five factor model also referred to as the “Big Five” is close to achieving this as it becomes more readily accepted as the model of choice when constructing personality tests (Robertson, 2001).
This model breaks personality into five important traits of open to experience, agreeableness, emotional stability, conscientiousness and extraversion (Rothstein and Goffin, 2006) with the latter two being considered the most valid predictors of job performance (Barrick and Mount, 1993), however it is important to note it is not without its critics (Murphy and Dzieweczynski, 2005). Furthermore, when using personality tests in selection an individual’s willingness to be honest when answering questions needs to be considered and will be explored in more detail later (Torrington, 2005).
Secondly, there is much discussion about whether personality is context dependent (Torrington, 2005: 152) or whether it remains consistent over time (Barrick and Mount, 1993). This has significant ramifications for the value of personality tests in selection methods and specifically the reliability of research to establish its predictive value. There would be ultimately no value to a business organisation spending resources to measure a characteristic which is fluid as it would only serve to identify an individual’s personality at one point in time.
This issue also feeds into the notion of faking personality tests and social desirability which has been the subject to much research into reliability (Furnham, 1986). It has been argued that such limitations in selection can be overcome by implementing detection measures into tests which can expose when a candidate is trying to fake their responses (Dalen et al, 2001). Another debate which is central to the use of personality tests as a selection method is whether personality characteristics can really be matched as necessary for a specific job.
As some jobs will pose more constraints on an individual than others and therefore limit their ability to express their personality (Barrick and Mount, 1993). This perhaps explains why the increased uptake in personality tests has been specific to certain types of work where this matching is possible (Taylor, 2005) and therefore that in a large amount of recruitment the use of personality tests would be undesirable and pose little value to the business organisation.
The final debate which has implications for the value of personality tests is whether the method, i. e. the completion of a fixed questionnaire, provides a suitable depth of information about the candidate’s personality to make decisions about their suitability for the job they are applying for (Taylor, 2005). Iles and Salaman (1995) have argued that these measures are stronger predictors than had previously been thought but there have been many limitations of studies demonstrating its predictive value.
Armstrong (2006) points to the need to have tests which are sensitive, standardised, reliable and valid in order for them to be considered effective. It has also been suggested that instead personality tests should be used as part of a two way process whereby results are discussed during interviews to consider how an individual would deal with certain situations (Newell, 2005). This would perhaps help manage the limitation that individuals feel pressurised into giving a ‘right’ answer and therefore fake their responses to a personality test.
Throughout these debates there is the reoccurring theme of the need for reliability and validity in personality tests, as with any other selection method a business organisation may adopt. Here it is important that the method is consistent in its measures both throughout the personality test itself and should the personality test be applied to individuals over time. Furthermore, the predictive value will be heavily affected if no clear relationship is established between the tests results and job performance (Newell, 2005).
In conclusion, from the literature review it is evident that there is still little clarity or agreement about the validity and reliability of personality tests as a selection method. What is certain, however, is that it is necessary to carefully match certain personality characteristics against aspects of performance on the job for personality tests to have predictive value. Building on this literature review, this essay will now focus on and describe the research findings of two relevant papers.