Nearly everyone has taken a personality test at some point. Whether it was a quiz about what your love language is you are or your core values, the test results probably made you reflect on who you are and what you put out into the world.
Personality tests play a role in the workplace, too. The results tell you what your strengths are and categorize your traits so they’re easier to communicate. Understanding what you’re good at and where your weaknesses are can help you collaborate more effectively and delegate tasks accordingly.
Personality tests can also help you create effective team-building activities. Taking individual tests, independently or at the same time as the rest of your team, and sharing the results can help you function better together.
What are personality tests used for in the workplace?
Employers use personality assessments for two main reasons. First, human resources (HR) professionals and team leaders can use personality tests for team-building with current employees. This can increase employee engagement and improve team alignment.
Second, pre-employment personality tests might help make hiring decisions by assessing the applicant’s work style and company culture fit. It’s important to note that using personality tests for hiring is generally frowned upon.
Evaluating personality traits with quizzes isn’t as effective as other hiring methods, and applicants could answer to skew the results in their favor. And the Meyers-Briggs test, for example, wasn’t created with recruitment in mind, meaning the results might not give employers the information they actually need to make a hiring decision.
Using personality tests in the hiring process could also raise potential legal issues. For example, asking people to disclose certain traits could lead to discrimination, which is against the law. It could also lead to interview bias and create a less diverse workforce.
Instead, the best use of personality tests is to help employees develop self-awareness, verbalize their needs, and support their personal development.
The 5 most common workplace personality tests
Not all tests are created equal. Here are five of the most common workplace personality assessment tools that measure personality from different perspectives.
1. The CliftonStrengths Assessment
The CliftonStrengths Assessment (formerly the Clifton StrengthsFinder) is based on the work of educational psychologist Donald Clifton. The Gallup Organization now administers the test, and its researchers claim that over 90% of Fortune 500 Companies have used it to help their employees grow.
The online assessment consists of 177 pairs of statements — for example, “I read all of the instructions from the beginning” and ”I jump into things.” The test-taker has 20 seconds to choose which one best describes them before the site moves on to the next question.
The results of this assessment uncover people’s relative strengths and weaknesses at work. The test identifies these traits from four broad areas, each of which has sub-areas for specificity: strategic thinking, relationship building, influencing, and executing.
- Employees who receive professional development assistance based on their CliftonStrengths results are more engaged, perform better, and are less likely to leave their jobs, according to Gallup.
- The test focuses on the teamwork context, so the results are specialized for team-building activities.
- There are specific versions for leaders and managers.
Price: Individual reports range from $19.99 (Top 5 CliftonStrengths) to $59.99 (a detailed report on all CliftonStrengths).
2. The Big Five
The Big Five, also known as the Five Factor Model (FFM), is one of the most used personality models in psychology. There’s an official Big Five test called the NEO-PI-R (Revised Neuroticism-Extraversion-Openness Personality Inventory), but open-source versions (like The Big Five Test) are popular and often free.
These tests evaluate five dimensions, which some people refer to by the acronym OCEAN:
Openness to experience: Curiosity, imagination, and artistic or creative thinking
Conscientiousness: Diligence, reliability, and self-discipline
Extraversion: Sociability, energy, and talkativeness
Agreeableness: Warmth, empathy, and cooperation
Neuroticism: Anxiety, moodiness, and negative emotions
While The Big Five is a general personality model, its results can inform workplace performance. For example, agreeableness may improve teamwork and extraversion improves job performance in certain professions like teaching.
If you’re hiring for a high-risk role, it could also help to know that extraversion and neuroticism are linked to slightly higher levels of risky behaviors.
A similar model, the HEXACO Personality Inventory, reframes neuroticism as emotionality and adds an extra dimension: honesty-humility. The honesty-humility dimension predicts, to some degree, whether people will behave ethically at work.
Price: There are many free Big Five tests available online, but they do vary in quality. Psychological Assessment Resources (PAR) offers official NEO-PI-R tests and booklets for $79–$131.
3. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
The MBTI was developed by the mother-daughter team Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers based on the work of psychiatrist Carl Jung. The pair originally created it to help people better understand each other after World War II.
The MBTI measures four dimensions:
Extraversion/Introversion: These dimensions identify the degree to which people gain energy from social activity versus reflecting and being alone.
Sensing/Intuition: These options discover someone’s preference for interpreting new information in a concrete way (through their senses) or by searching for patterns and links to information they already know.
Thinking/Feeling: These identify whether people make decisions through logical, objective analysis or empathy and harmony.
Judging/Perception: These options measure whether people prefer to have closure on decisions or keep their options open.
Under MBTI theory, everyone is a combination of either E or I, N or S, T or F, and P or J, yielding 16 possible specific types (ENTP, INFJ, and so on). While the official Myers-Briggs site warns against using the test to select candidates and assign job tasks, it offers some ways to apply the results in the workplace.
For example, employers could learn to make space for introverted team members to speak up during meetings.
- It’s extremely popular. Around 500,000 people take the test every day on the 16 Personalities site alone.
- Many people find the questionnaire fun to fill out.
- There are free detailed reports on each personality type.
Price: The official MBTI site offers an individual careers report for $79.95. The 16 Personalities site offers free detailed individual reports and a Team Assessments package for $19 per team member per month.
4. The DiSC
Industrial psychologist Walter Clarke created the original DISC assessment in 1956 based on the work of psychologist William Marston. Marston originally developed his theory to explain why soldiers behaved differently even though they’d gone through the same training process. The currently popular DiSC assessment was adapted from the DISC, with a small “i” for copyright reasons.
The DiSC measures personalities in four dimensions:
- The report provides concrete tips to help each type collaborate better at work.
- It may indicate which team members fit certain jobs, like how a person with high influence could be better at handling difficult coworkers.
Price: The DiSC workplace profile, which includes your own profile plus advice on how to relate to other types, costs $81. Other packages are available for group facilitators and team leaders. The DISC assessment is similar to the True Colors Test, which you can take for free.
5. The Enneagram
The Enneagram of Personality emerged in the late 1960s from a combination of South American and European traditions. There are nine enneagram types, each of which is defined by its numbers:
The Reformer: Type 1s are perfectionists focused on ethics and justice.
The Helper: Type 2s are caring individuals who sacrifice themselves for others.
The Achiever: Type 3s are competitive, confident people who are often popular and successful.
The Individualist: Type 4s are artistic, sensitive types who tend to isolate themselves.
The Investigator: Type 5s are analytical, innovative people who may become detached from reality.
The Loyalist: Type 6s are anxious, reliable, and focused on building security.
The Enthusiast: Type 7s are talented, optimistic people who like to multitask.
The Challenger: Type 8s are strong-willed individuals who aren’t afraid of confrontation.
The Peacemaker: Type 9s are humble, harmony-oriented people who can be overly pliable.
The test will tell you your dominant type and your wing, which define prominent and less prominent traits respectively.
- The underlying theory is complex and detailed, so it’s a way to get to know yourself and others deeply.
- The Enneagram is a versatile resource for team-building activities, as it includes information such as the type’s main mental fixation, basic fear, basic desire, and behavior under stress.
Cost: The Enneagram Institute’s formal test costs $12, or you can take a simplified version of the test for free at Truity.
Are business personality tests accurate?
Some personality tests can be accurate, but they aren’t reliable enough to use when making important decisions. While some aspects of personality are stable, people’s personalities change over time, and there’s even evidence that your personality can be a product of your work environment rather than the other way around.
All of these tests involve self-reporting, meaning you explain and identify your own traits. They reflect your idea of who you are, so they might not line up with colleagues’ perceptions. And some people can learn how to answer test questions to get the result they want.
For example, if someone taking the MBTI test wants to show they’re an effective leader to get a promotion, they could answer according to leadership characteristics instead of following their own feelings.
It’s also important to keep in mind that many of the most popular personality tests weren’t designed for online administration. Trained psychologists are the best people to give those tests and interpret their results. People who aren’t experts could misread the answers, which is why personality tests shouldn’t affect decision-making.
Even the most accurate personality tests above can’t tell you much about individual people, as the research findings are based on patterns, which aren’t always correct. And most tests find specific personality traits, which won’t give you the bigger picture about a person.
Because tests aren’t always reliable and don’t have a lot of scientific backing, you shouldn’t use them to make decisions — hiring or otherwise. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use test results to build understanding, compassion, and support within your team.
The CliftonStrengths of your team members might give you clues about what they do well, and knowing someone is an Enneagram Type 2 might lead you to thank them in detail for their help with a task.
How to use personality tests in team-building exercises
To use any of the above personality tests as the basis for team-building activities, start by giving employees time to fill out the tests alone. Then, ideally within a short timeframe so the experience is still fresh, hold a meeting where you discuss everyone’s results.
This can be a structured activity or a more open conversation, depending on your team’s needs and learning style. To get the most out of these team-building activities:
Start a conversation: Talk about the distribution of strengths in the team, focusing on how team members can rely on each other to deliver great outcomes.
Build a culture of openness: Sharing your own strengths and weaknesses as a leader encourages your team to do the same.
Focus on action: Ask team members how they can use their strengths to compensate for or overcome their weaknesses.
Encourage a growth mindset: Let team members see their weaknesses as opportunities to improve.
Avoid bias and stereotypes: Recognize your coworkers as more than their traits. If someone is introverted, that doesn’t mean they’ll be a bad public speaker. If someone’s results show they’re detail-oriented, that doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes.
Tests are tools
Sometimes, it’s hard to find the words to describe your personality. Tests can verbalize it for you. Taking a workplace personality test and discussing results can be a fun team-building exercise, and better understanding other people’s traits aids communication and collaboration.