Criticisms of Personality Tests in Education and Employment

WorkForceXL® is our career exploration and job matching tool. It includes an assessment of the person’s work-related aptitudes, interests, and willingness; and uses this data to find the best possible degree fit and job fit.

What sets the WorkForceXL assessments apart from standard personality tests used in both education and business is its focus on what the person (student or job candidate) might like to do, or sentiment, instead of what they might be good at. This is a key differentiator, and is the basis of H2T’s approach to solving many of the workforce development issues of today. No matter how well a person performs at a job, if they don’t like it, they won’t be satisfied. An employee with low job satisfaction, according to research, won’t stay. The result is high turnover and an increased economic burden on employers.  

Other reasons why H2T does not include standard personality tests in the WorkForceXL assessment are the questionable reliability, validity, and fairness of the tests. This is based on the following arguments taken from contemporary articles and research on the subject.

The Unreliability of Personality Tests in Hiring

Personal Bias

By definition, a person’s personality is “the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character.” Personality tests attempt to define this character, by asking questions about a person’s behavior, values, interests, and attitudes. By design, the tests are self-reporting, leaving the results largely subject to personal bias. They are influenced by the test-taker’s interpretation of the questions, views of themselves (or how they would like to see themselves), and their assumptions about how other people experience them. 

In addition, it is basic human nature to want to see ourselves as culturally acceptable and in alignment with the values and ideals of our community. When answering a question that gauges empathy, a test taker may “fake” the answer, assuming the empathy is a valued attribute. 

In employment situations, bias is even more evident. Test-takers will often select the answer they believe the employer is looking for. Their responses are influenced by the desired outcome, such as getting hired, a promotion, or simply looking good in front of a boss. This could mean they are recruited into a position that isn’t suitable to who they really are. 

Social/Contextual Factors

A person’s personality is not static – behavior and response are content-specific. Meaning, how we act or think at any moment is heavily influenced by external factors, such as culture, socioeconomic status, time period, age, and environment. As an example, a person may respond differently to the same situation when at work versus at home or at school. As we mature, we learn to behave based on social appropriateness rather than our true personality. Someone who is generally outgoing may like a work environment that is quiet without interruptions because it is the appropriate thing to do. The way an 18-year old defines themselves in a personality test may be drastically different than how they see themselves at 25, after completing college and learning more about self-regulation. 

Personality vs. Behavior

Most personality tests try to focus on personality “types”, or a set of specific traits that are assumed to result in particular behavior. For instance, having the trait of being the “life of the party” may be equated with being an extrovert. But traits do not always equate to behavior. An extrovert may avoid making leadership decisions. An introvert may be the first to sign up to be on stage or in front of the camera. In addition, a personality type does not necessarily show common sense or basic skills. An example of this is Whole Foods, who found that even though a person was cleared by personality test, they often had little basic food preparation skills. Whole Foods decided to stop using these tests.


Limited Outcome Research

It is generally agreed among critics that personality tests have inherently low validity. Most tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) have not been thoroughly researched to determine if scores actually predict the lifetime outcomes they expect, such as job satisfaction, length of career, or job performance. They have not been able to prove that extroverts who become nurses keep their jobs longer or are happier at their jobs than in other careers. In addition, there are no universal definitions of personality traits and types. 


The personality test industry is worth over 500 million dollars, with large corporations relying heavily on their results to make critical employee decisions. And yet, none of them are standardized. They each use different language, context, definitions, and categories. Cross-validity is therefore minimal. A single person could be defined as a rigid rule-follower on one test and spontaneous on another test. 

Theoretical, Not Scientific

The criticism of personality tests that is most widely agreed upon is that there is little scientific basis for their claims. Most were developed based on theories, such as Carl Jung’s psychological types developed in the 1920’s, instead of actual data. In fact, the MBTI was developed by Catherine Cook Briggs in 1917 when she had difficulty reading her future son-in-law. To better understand why this was, she started reading books by Cark Jung. She wrote articles in Reader’s Digest and created the type-indicator. 


In recent years, the use of personality test in employment-related decisions has been investigated for possible discrimination and unfairness. It is being argued that personality tests could discriminate against people with mental illness, cognitive disabilities, learning disabilities, and socio-economic status. Currently, the Equal Opportunity Commission is investigating tests that specifically discriminate against those with depression and bipolar disorder. 

There have also been cases where questions asked on a test are potentially correlated to extract information about a candidate’s race and socio-economic status. For instance, one company included a question about how far they commute. This potentially caused a discrimination against people in outlying minority communities.

When a personality test is given in the recruitment process, it could also potentially caused discrimination against those with low test-taking skills or other cognitive disabilities. If a test is given early in the hiring process and they have a disability that affects test-taking skills, they may be dismissed before getting the chance to interview. That missed interview may have shown their true, actual personality that is perfect for the job.  

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