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Facing a personality assessment? Don’t panic!

Many employers use personality questionnaires when recruiting, especially when they are looking to fill senior positions or they are looking for very specific personality traits. It can feel like a dark art is being used, but really it isn’t!

Most of them are well researched, tried and tested tools that you can find out about. Knowing what you are letting yourself in for can help alleviate your fears, so do find out all you can. There are hundreds of assessments out there for recruiters to choose from so we can’t mention them all here, but there are a handful that are very popular so easily researched.

personality assessment

Will they make a decision based on a questionnaire?

Hiring decisions should not be based on assessments results alone - no ethical employer will do this. They are used as an another source of information to be added to your CV, interview, qualifications etc as part of the ‘mix’ that employers or recruiters use to get as much information as possible so that they can make a good decision.

Personally, I prefer to use them between first and second interview. Second interviews tend to be more in depth and specific than first interviews, where all candidates are asked the same questions with the aim of getting a shortlist. Once you have a shortlist, a personality assessment can provide pointers on what to explore further with the candidate, which is why it’s a good idea to know how you will have portrayed yourself; forewarned is forearmed.

What will the assessment say about me?

There are many different theories of personality that questionnaires are based on, but many of them are similar or overlapping. One that is used a lot is The Big Five, also known as OCEAN or CANOE, or called Global Factors. The factors it measures are:


There are plenty of descriptions around that will help you understand fully what these terms mean in a psychology context, so do look them up.

Related: Top Tips on Handling an Assessment Centre

More comprehensive questionnaires break these down further into a set of traits that make up, or have an influence on, each area. For example, when looking at how extravert you are, an assessment might take into account factors like warmth, social boldness and liveliness, with privateness being a negative indicator.

For every factor an assessment measures, there will be some type of measurement gleaned from your responses. By now I you may be wondering how on earth you can measure things like personality traits! Behind every questionnaire there will be norm groups, i.e. large groups of people that have completed the assessment. Your results will be compared to the norm group.

Typically, an assessment will have a norm group of the general population, which might include sub groups of male/female or age range. There might also be norm groups such as managers, graduates or sales staff. So, depending which norm group you are measured against, you might come out with an above average extraversion score when compared to the general public, but average when compared to sales staff.

Most of us come out in the ‘normal’ range for most factors, with perhaps a few scores that are higher or lower. it might be these factors that interview questions are based on.

If you can find a sample report of the assessment you are being asked to complete online, you will be able to see the specific factors it includes.

By the way, I often hear folk say that questionnaires are trying to ‘catch you out’ by asking similar questions. They’re not, they are simply confirming information and the strength of your preference - few of us are consistent all the time!

Related: How to Present Yourself in a Group Presentation

What to do

Being able to articulate what you are like is an important skill in job search and career management. Any time you use researching personality questionnaires and working out how do describe your own behavioural preferences and traits will be time well spent.

Here are some top tips to help you prepare:


  • Ask which questionnaire is being used and do some research online about it

  • If you can’t find out in advance, note what the test is called when you complete it.

  • Find some tests online that will give you some understanding and practice. There are plenty of free ones available. They may not give you in depth feedback or be of the same quality as paid ones, but they can still be useful

  • Answer the questionnaire honestly, going with your first instinct. Don’t worry if some questions don’t give you an option you like, or if you think you contradict yourself. It’s the same for everyone!

  • Know how you are likely to portray yourself in the Big Five personality factors

  • Once you know how you might come out, think how that information might seem to a recruiter and be prepared to discuss it. Do you have any extremes? What might they ask you? Are there any particular traits that may be useful in the job role or suit the company’s culture?

  • Ask for feedback. If you were tested by someone who is on the register with the British Psychological Society, it is part of their Code of practice that they provide feedback. You might even be able to get a copy of the report.

What not to do!

A good questionnaire has had a lot of complex scientific research behind it. You might think you can see ‘how it works’, but the chances are that the tool is much more sophisticated than you give it credit for, and if you don’t give truthful responses, it will show in the report.

  • Don’t try to ‘shape’ your answers to give a good impression

  • Don’t think you’re cleverer than the questionnaire ‘s authors.

And remember... There is no such thing as a right or wrong personality. You are who you are, so learn to make the best of what you’ve got!

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