Do you coach or manage a group of vastly different people?
Perhaps they respond differently to news or react differently to your feedback. They voice different opinions and values and, as such, behave differently.
If you respond with a resounding yes, we understand the challenges you face.
As more and more organizations diversify their talent, a new challenge emerges of how to get the best out of employees and teams of all personality configurations.
In this article, we embark on a whistle-stop tour of the science of personality, focusing on personality assessments to measure clients’ and employees’ character plus the benefits of doing so, before rounding off with practical tools for those who want to bolster their professional toolkits.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Strengths Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help your clients or employees realize their unique potential and create a life that feels energizing and authentic.
Personality is a tricky concept to define in concrete terms, and this is reflected both in the number of personality theories that exist and the lack of consensus among personality psychologists.
However, for this article, we can think of personality as the totality of one’s behavioral patterns and subjective experiences (Kernberg, 2016).
All individuals have a constellation of traits and experiences that make them unique yet simultaneously suggest that there are some generalizable or distinct qualities inherent in all humans.
In psychology, we are interested in understanding how traits and qualities that people possess cluster together and the extent to which these vary across and within individuals.
Now, it’s all very well and good knowing that personality exists as a concept and that your employees and clients differ in their groupings of traits and subjective experiences, but how can you apply this information to your professional work with them?
This is where measuring and assessing personality comes into play. Like most psychological concepts, researchers want to show that theoretical knowledge can be useful for working life and brought to bear in the real world.
For example, knowing a client’s or employee’s personality can be key to setting them up for success at work and pursuing and achieving work-related goals. But we first need to identify or assess personality before we can help others to reap these benefits.
Personality assessments are used for several reasons.
First, they can provide professionals with an opportunity to identify their strengths and reaffirm their sense of self. It is no coincidence that research on strengths is so popular or that strengths have such a prominent place in the working world. People like to know who they are, and they want to capitalize on the qualities and traits they possess.
Second, personality assessments can provide professionals with a social advantage by helping them to understand how they are perceived by others such as colleagues, managers, and stakeholders — the looking glass self (Cooley, 1902).
In the sections below, we will explore different personality assessments and popular evidence-based scales.
4 Methods and Types of Personality Assessments
There are multiple ways personality is routinely assessed. Below we outline four key methods used, what they entail, and what their limitations are.
1. Self-report assessments
Self-reports are one of the most widely used formats for psychometric testing. They are as they sound: reports or questionnaires that a client or employee completes themselves (and often scores themselves).
Self-report measures can come in many formats. The most common are Likert scales where individuals are asked to rate numerically (from 1 to 7 for example) the extent to which they feel that each question describes their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.
These types of assessments are popular because they are easy to distribute and complete, they are often cost effective, and they can provide helpful insights into behavior.
However, they also have downsides to be wary of, including an increase in unconscious biases such as the social desirability bias (i.e., the desire to answer “correctly”). They can also be prone to individuals not paying attention, not answering truthfully, or not fully understanding the questions asked.
Such issues can lead to an inaccurate assessment of personality. Self-reports can be completed in both personal and professional settings and can be particularly helpful in a coaching practice, for example.
However, if you are a professional working with clients in any capacity, it is advised to first try out any self-report measure before suggesting them to clients. In this way, you can gauge for yourself the usefulness and validity of the measure.
2. Behavioral observation
Another useful method of personality assessment is behavioral observation. This method entails someone observing and documenting a person’s behavior.
While this method is more resource heavy in terms of time and requires an observer (preferably one who is experienced and qualified in observing and coding the behavior), it can be useful as a complementary method employed alongside self-reports because it can provide an external corroboration of behavior.
Alternatively, behavioral observation can fail to corroborate self-report scores, raising the question of how reliably an individual has answered their self-report.
Interviews are used widely from clinical settings to workplaces to determine an individual’s personality. Even a job interview is a test of behavioral patterns and experiences (i.e., personality).
During such interviews, the primary aim is to gather as much information as possible by using probing questions. Responses should be recorded, and there should be a standardized scoring system to determine the outcome of the interview (for example, whether the candidate is suitable for the role).
While interviews can elicit rich data about a client or employee, they are also subject to the unconscious biases of the interviewers and can be open to interpretation if there is no method for scoring or evaluating the interviewee.
4. Projective tests
These types of tests are unusual in that they present individuals with an abstract or vague object, task, or activity and require them to describe what they see. The idea here is that the unfiltered interpretation can provide insight into the person’s psychology and way of thinking.
A well-known example of a projective test is the Rorschach inkblot test. However, there are limitations to projective tests due to their interpretative nature and the lack of a consistent or quantifiable way of coding or scoring individuals’ responses.
7 Evidence-Based Inventories, Scales, and Tests
Personality assessments can be used in the workplace during recruitment to gauge whether someone would be a good fit for a job or organization and to help determine job performance, career progression, and development.
Below, we highlight a few commonly used inventories and tests for such career assessments.
1. The Hogan personality inventory (HPI)
The Hogan personality inventory (Hogan & Hogan, 2002) is a self-report personality assessment created by Robert Hogan and Joyce Hogan in the late 1970s.
It was originally based on the California Personality Inventory (Gough, 1975) and also draws upon the five-factor model of personality. The five-factor model of personality suggests there are five key dimensions of personality: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (Digman, 1990).
The Hogan assessment comprises 206 items across seven different scales that measure and predict social behavior and social outcomes rather than traits or qualities, as do other popular personality measures.
These seven scales include:
The HPI’s primary use is within organizations to help with recruitment and the development of leaders. It is a robust scale with over 40 years of evidence to support it, and the scale itself takes roughly 15–20 minutes to complete (Hogan Assessments, n.d.).
2. DISC test
The DISC test of personality developed by Merenda and Clarke (1965) is a very popular personality self-assessment used primarily within the corporate world. It is based on the emotional and behavioral DISC theory (Marston, 1928), which measures individuals on four dimensions of behavior:
The self-report comprises 24 questions and takes roughly 10 minutes to complete. While the test is simpler and quicker to complete than other popular tests (e.g., the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), it has been subject to criticism regarding its psychometric properties.
3. Gallup – CliftonStrengths™ Assessment
Unlike the DISC test, the CliftonStrengths™ assessment, employed by Gallup and based on the work of Marcus Buckingham and Don Clifton (2001), is a questionnaire designed specifically to help individuals identify strengths in the workplace and learn how to use them.
The assessment is a self-report Likert scale comprising 177 questions and takes roughly 30 minutes to complete. Once scored, the assessment provides individuals with 34 strength themes organized into four key domains:
The scale has a solid theoretical and empirical grounding, making it a popular workplace assessment around the world.
The NEO-PI-R (Costa & McCrae, 2008) is a highly popular self-report personality assessment based on Allport and Odbert’s (1936) trait theory of personality.
With good reliability, this scale has amassed a large evidence base, making it an appealing inventory for many. The NEO-PI-R assesses an individual’s strengths, talents, and weaknesses and is often used by employers to identify suitable candidates for job openings.
It uses the big five factors of personality (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) and also includes an additional six subcategories within the big five, providing a detailed breakdown of each personality dimension.
The scale itself comprises 240 questions that describe different behaviors and takes roughly 30–40 minutes to complete. Interestingly, this inventory can be administered as a self-report or, alternatively, as an observational report, making it a favored assessment among professionals.
5. Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ)
The EPQ is a personality assessment developed by personality psychologists Hans Eysenck and Sybil Eysenck (1975).
The scale results from successive revisions and improvements of earlier scales: the Maudsley Personality Inventory (Eysenck 1959) and Eysenck Personality Inventory (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1964).
The aim of the EPQ is to measure the three dimensions of personality as espoused by Eysenck’s psychoticism–extraversion–neuroticism theory of personality The scale itself uses a Likert format and was revised and shortened in 1992 to include 48 items (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1992).
This is a generally useful scale; however, some researchers have found that there are reliability issues with the psychoticism subscale, likely because this was a later addition to the scale.
The MMPI (Hathaway & McKinley, 1943) is one of the most widely used personality inventories in the world and uses a true/false format of questioning.
It was initially designed to assess mental health problems in clinical settings during the 1940s and uses 10 clinical subscales to assess different psychological conditions.
The inventory was revised in the 1980s, resulting in the MMPI-2, which comprised 567 questions, and again in 2020, resulting in the MMPI-3, which comprises a streamlined 338 questions.
While the revised MMPI-3 takes a lengthy 35–50 minutes to complete, it remains popular to this day, particularly in clinical settings, and enables the accurate capture of aspects of psychopathy and mental health disturbance. The test has good reliability but must be administered by a professional.
7. 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF)
The 16PF (Cattell et al., 1970) is another rating scale inventory used primarily in clinical settings to identify psychiatric disorders by measuring “normal” personality traits.
Cattell identified 16 primary personality traits, with five secondary or global traits underneath that map onto the big five factors of personality.
These include such traits as warmth, reasoning, and emotional stability, to name a few. The most recent version of the questionnaire (the fifth edition) comprises 185 multiple-choice questions that ask about routine behaviors on a 10-point scale and takes roughly 35–50 minutes to complete.
The scale is easy to administer and well validated but must be administered by a professional.
Helpful Tools & Questions
In addition to the collection of science-based interventions, we also have to mention a controversial but well-known personality assessment tool: Myers-Briggs.
We share two informative videos on this topic and then move on to a short collection of questions that can be used for career development.
1. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
Many of us have heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Myers & McCaulley, 1985), and for good reason. It is one of the most popular and widely used personality assessments out there.
A mother and daughter team developed the MBTI in the 1940s during the Second World War. The MBTI comprises 93 questions that aim to measure an individual on four different dimensions of personality:
The test provides individuals with a type of personality out of a possible 16 combinations. Whilst this test is a favorite in workplaces, there are serious criticisms leveled at how the scale was developed and the lack of rigorous evidence to support its use.
For more information on the MBTI, you might enjoy the below videos:
Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless - Vox
Are personality tests accurate? This one is and here's why
We recommend that if you employ MBTI, be mindful of its scientific deficiencies and support your personality testing further by completing an additional validated scale.
10 Career development questions
Tell me about what inspires you. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Tell me about your vision for your career/life.
What aspects of your role do you love? What aspects do you struggle with?
Tell me about a time where you used your strengths to achieve a positive outcome.
Are there any healthy habits you want to build into your work life?
Describe your perfect working day. What would it look like?
Tell me about your fears.
What do you value most about your job?
What goals are you currently working toward?
How would your work colleagues describe you?
Fascinating Books About Personality Assessments
If you are interested in learning more about personality and personality assessments, the following three books are an excellent place to start.
These books were chosen because they give an excellent overview of what personality is and how it can be measured. They also illuminate some issues with personality assessments. They provide a good grounding for any professional looking to implement personality assessments in the workplace.
1. Mindset: Changing the Way You Think to Fulfil Your Potential – Carol Dweck
For those curious about whether personality traits and other heritable qualities are immutable, this book is for you.
Enter Dr. Carol Dweck and several decades of psychological research she has conducted on motivation and personality.
The main thesis of the book is to explore the idea that people can have either a fixed or growth mindset (i.e., beliefs we hold about ourselves and the world around us). Adopting a growth mindset can be a critical determinant of outcomes such as performance and academic success.
2. The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing – Merve Emre
If you are interested in the dark side of psychology assessments, this is the book for you.
This book explores how the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was developed and discusses the questionable validity of the scale despite its widespread popularity in the corporate world.
While many assessments can be helpful for self-reflecting on your own behavior, The Personality Brokers delve into the murky side of how psychological concepts can be used for monetary gains, even when evidence is lacking or disputed.
Designed to help people use their personality and strengths at work, this collection of 17 work and career coaching exercises is grounded in scientific evidence. The exercises help individuals and clients identify areas for career growth and development. Some of these exercises include:
Chart your successes at work, take time to reflect on your achievements, and identify how to use your strengths for growth.
Job Analysis Through a Strengths Lens
Identify your strengths and opportunities to use them when encountering challenges at work.
Job Satisfaction Wheel
Complete the job satisfaction wheel, which measures your current levels of happiness at work across seven different dimensions.
What Work Means to You
Identify how meaningful your work is to you by assessing your motivational orientation toward work (i.e., whether it is something you are called to and that aligns with your sense of self).
A Take-Home Message
When managing people, it is always helpful to have insight into why they behave the way they do. The same applies to assisting someone on their career path. Having an understanding of the qualities that influence behavioral responses can improve relationships, parenting, how people work, and even goal setting.
But there are some caveats to be mindful of:
When using self-reports, take the scores with a pinch of salt, particularly as we all operate with unconscious biases that can skew results.
Remain open minded about our personality traits; if we are resigned to the idea that they are inherited at birth, fixed, and unchanging, we are unlikely to gain any real discernment into our own evolving identity.
Labels can oftentimes be limiting. Trying to condense the myriad aspects of an individual into a neat “personality” category could backfire.
In the right hands, validated personality assessments are valuable tools for guiding clients on the right career path, ensuring a good job fit and building strong teams.
Allport, G. W., & Odbert, H. S. (1936). Trait-names: A psycho-lexical study. Psychological Monographs, 47(1), i–171.
Buckingham, M., & Clifton, D. O. (2001). Now, discover your strengths. Simon and Schuster.
Cattell, R. B., Eber, H. W., & Tatsuoka, M. M. (1970). Handbook for the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire. Institute for Personality and Ability Testing.
Cooley, C. H. (1902). Human nature and the social order. Transaction.
Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (2008). The Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R). In G. J. Boyle, G. Matthews, & D. H. Saklofske (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of personality theory and assessment, Vol. 2. Personality measurement and testing (pp. 179–198). SAGE.
Digman, J. M. (1990). Personality structure: Emergence of the five-factor model. Annual Review of Psychology, 41(1), 417–440.
Eysenck, H. J. (1959). Manual of the Maudsley Personality Inventory. University of London Press.
Eysenck, H. J., & Eysenck, S. B. G. (1964). Manual of the Eysenck Personality Inventory. University of London Press.
Eysenck, H. J., & Eysenck, S. B. G. (1975). Manual of the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. Educational and Industrial Testing Service.
Eysenck, H. J., & Eysenck, S. B. G. (1992). Manual for the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire–Revised. Educational and Industrial Testing Service.
Gough, H. G. (1975). Manual: The California Psychological Inventory (Rev. ed.). Consulting Psychologist Press.
Hathaway, S. R., & McKinley, J. C. (1943). The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (Rev. ed., 2nd printing). University of Minnesota Press.
Hogan Assessments. (n.d.). About. Retrieved May 8, 2023, from https://www.hoganassessments.com/about/.
Hogan, R., & Hogan, J. (2002). The Hogan personality inventory. In B. de Raad & M. Perugini (Eds.), Big five assessment (pp. 329–346). Hogrefe & Huber.
Kernberg, O. F. (2016). What is personality? Journal of Personality Disorders, 30(2), 145–156.
Marston, W. M. (1928). Emotions of normal people. Kegan Paul Trench Trubner and Company.
Merenda, P. F., & Clarke, W. V. (1965). Self description and personality measurement. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 21, 52–56.
Myers, I. B., & McCaulley, M. H. (1985). Manual: A guide to the development and use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Palo Alto Consulting Psychologists Press.
About the author
Kirsty Gardiner, Ph.D. is a Social Psychologist with a passion for using research to power social change. She holds a doctorate in Psychology, a masters in Applied Positive Psychology, and is a registered chartered Psychologist with the BPS. On completing her Ph.D. she taught on the MAPPCP programme for several years. Currently, she is based in the UK as the Research Director at Ardent - a DEI consultancy.