What If Employers Want You to Take a Personality Test?

What If Employers Want You to Take a Personality Test?

If you're asked to take a personality test as part of the hiring process, you have some choices to make -- theoretically, at least.

For example, you could respectfully decline to take the test. You could ask the many questions you have concerning how the test was developed, what it purportedly measures, who will be administering it and interpreting the results, who will see the them and how they will be used. You could even ask the employer why he's using a personality assessment for hiring purposes in the first place.

But what you could do in theory and what you should do in reality are two very different things.

"When you're applying for a job, you have to remember that someone else is probably applying for it too," says Josh Pierce, an account executive with financial-planning firm Leon Rousso and Associates.

"If you gripe about a test that gives an accurate blueprint of a candidate and the other person doesn't, I think we all know who will get the job," says Pierce, who took a personality test when he interviewed at the firm in late 2005. "You have to have the confidence that the employer is ethical and does not use the negative traits as a bias against you."

Pierce was fortunate in that regard. Leon Rousso, the company's founder, had a straightforward, laudable goal in using a personality test as part of the selection process: He was simply doing all he could to hire the best-fitting candidate for the job for everyone's benefit.

"In my mind, I'm hiring someone for life," Rousso says. "Josh has been with me now for over six months and is working out as I had hoped…. The bottom line, in my opinion, is that he will become a better employee and associate, and hopefully, I will become a better leader and mentor as a result of this additional aspect of the hiring process."

Find a Middle Ground

Fair enough, but that probably doesn't erase the concerns you have about taking a personality test as part of applying for a job, nor should it. It's only natural -- and wise -- to have questions. The trick is finding the middle ground between the path of least resistance (taking the test and keeping quiet) and the path of, well, greatest resistance (refusing to take the test), especially when the latter path might effectively end your candidacy.

"Remember another thing the company is assessing is your reaction to the idea of taking the test," says Ben Dattner, principal of Dattner Consulting, an organizational effectiveness firm. "If you seem overly defensive or paranoid or whatever, they'll wonder about that."

Be Wise with Your Questions

If you have a question or two, ask away, says Kathleen Shotkoski, vice president of human resources and training for Securities America, a financial-services company. Just be sure to "ask the question in a polite and professional manner," she advises. "Start with something like, ‘It seems like assessments are being used by a lot of employers these days. What prompted you to start using one for this job?' From this one question, you can get a wealth of information, and if you don't feel comfortable with the answer, ask more questions."

At worst, you'll discover that the job and the company just aren't a good match for you, especially if you sense that the employer is quickly becoming annoyed by just a few straightforward questions.

"Ultimately, questions may not only give you insight about the test, which is important, but also about the culture of the company, which is more important," says Joe Schmitt, chair of the Labor and Employment Practice Group at law firm Halleland Lewis Nilan & Johnson. "Do you really want to work somewhere that is going to be upset with you if you ask questions about their test?"