How Personality Tests Might Help You Find a Job You'll Love – Psychology Today

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The question is not whether you’ll change; you will. Research clearly shows that everyone’s personality traits shift over the years, often for the better. But who we end up becoming and how much we like that person are more in our control than we tend to think they are.
Verified by Psychology Today
Posted September 1, 2022 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
Co-authored by Reb Rebele and Luke D. Smillie
Many of us have been asked to complete a personality test at some point in our careers. Employees might encounter such tests in professional development workshops, and job seekers are sometimes asked to complete them when applying for government assistance.
Filling out surveys about our habits and preferences can feel “pointless” and “uncomfortable,” as one job seeker recently told The Guardian—especially when we have pressing financial needs. For many readers of that article, and for anyone who has been asked to take one of these tests, it is natural to wonder: What are personality tests and how might they help job seekers?
Personality refers to characteristic ways of behaving, feeling, and thinking. In a nutshell, your personality is a description of what you’re typically like.
Imagine your friend was going to try to help you get a job at their company: How would they describe you to your prospective boss? They might say that you’re driven and hard-working, or perhaps that you’re outgoing and friendly. Those are descriptions of your personality.
Anyone who knows just one other person can readily tell that people have quite different personalities. These differences influence not only how we feel about our work, but also how we are perceived and evaluated in the workplace, as well as our career success.
To capture these differences, psychologists have developed various kinds of personality assessments. The most common of these is the self-report questionnaire, which gathers descriptions of what you are like by asking you questions about, well, what you are like.
Although these surveys are often described as personality “tests,” that’s a bit of a misnomer. Unlike the exams you took in school, personality assessments don’t really have right or wrong answers. And the answers you provide aren’t subjected to some mysterious interpretative process, like “Freudian slips” dissected for clues to your unconscious.
Personality assessments are tools for describing, not diagnosing. For instance, you might be asked to describe how “talkative,” “outgoing,” and “sociable” you typically are, and your description should be interpreted as, well, an indication of how talkative, outgoing, and sociable you think you are—no more, no less. These specific examples are what you might typically find on measures of a personality trait called extraversion.
The use of personality assessments during a job search is predicated on the idea that they capture something meaningful about how likely it is that you would enjoy and/or succeed in a certain job.
Indeed, there is considerable evidence that valid personality measures predict both job performance and job satisfaction. For example, literally thousands of studies have shown that trait conscientiousness predicts job performance. There is also robust evidence that personality traits predict job satisfaction.
For such reasons, many employers incorporate personality assessments into their process for screening new job candidates. As one of us has written about more extensively elsewhere, there are good reasons employers should proceed cautiously when using personality assessments to inform selection decisions. But, given the right expertise, well-validated measures of personality can offer more reliable and less biased information than some of the assessments that job seekers may question less often—such as unstructured interviews and reference checks.
Why might personality assessments be useful to the jobseeker themselves? One reason relates to the notion of “person-occupation fit.” This draws on evidence that different kinds of people tend to thrive in different kinds of occupations, and may perform better and enjoy their work more if their jobs fit well with their personalities. For example, one study of more than 22,000 employees across 25 different occupations found that those whose personalities more closely matched their occupation were more satisfied with their jobs.
The notion of person-occupation fit is likely an intuitive one. Indeed, a large review shows that roughly half of people already choose careers that match their personalities. Personality assessments can potentially facilitate this process by complementing what people already intuitively know about themselves, thus helping more people work out what kinds of jobs might suit their interests, traits, and other characteristics.
Crucially, merely providing job seekers with a description of their personality profile, devoid of any context or coaching, may not offer much benefit. We are therefore sympathetic with the job seeker featured in that Guardian article, but not because we doubt the potential for a personality assessment to help them. As an analogy, consider a music teacher who can help you work out if you are more of an alto or soprano. Knowing that information might help you sing more comfortably and beautifully, but only if you are also taught how to choose songs that are appropriate for your vocal range and tone. Similarly, personality assessments have the potential to provide job seekers with useful, career-relevant information––but it’s a long road from there to productive and meaningful employment.
Luke Smillie, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor and director of the Personality Processes Lab in the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne.
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The question is not whether you’ll change; you will. Research clearly shows that everyone’s personality traits shift over the years, often for the better. But who we end up becoming and how much we like that person are more in our control than we tend to think they are.

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