Personality tests. Maybe it’s been a while, but you’ve taken one.

Ask yourself if this sounds familiar: Three minutes into the test, a forced-choice question stumped you, and were unsure how to answer the question because you’re thinking, “it depends.”

But, as instructed, you select an answer because you’re required to finish a test that will corner you into an acronym to help someone or a group of people identify your personality type.

Maybe the test results reveal you are “introverted,” so you think to yourself, I suppose I am…most of the time…except for that time last week when I was negotiating hard with a vendor and got what I wanted. Or let’s say the test revealed that you “give up easily.” You know that you do, but only on things you don’t find particularly important. But you also know you’ll fight to the end for things you believe in, without thinking twice.

As many employers use personality tests in attempts to hire a perfect fit for a particular position; it’s important to note that how people respond to different questions can be influenced, at times subconsciously, by five distinct variables:

  1. Question interpretation. For example, let’s assume the participant is asked whether he’d like to stay in on a Saturday evening or meet up with friends for dinner. What if he likes to do both? How should he answer? Yes, there will be other questions to determine if he is more introverted than extroverted, but how he answers each individual question will impact or sway results.
  2. The mood and mindset of the participant taking the test. Did she recently have an argument with someone that placed her in an unusually foul, pessimistic mood? Alternatively, maybe her spouse’s very recent bypass surgery was successful, placing her in an unusually good, optimistic frame of mind. Each affects how questions and options for answers are perceived.
  3. Outside influences. Maybe the participant is currently in a support group to beat an addiction, pushing him to change the way he views and interacts with the world and people around him. Maybe he loves to read self-help books and desperately wants to be someone other than who he is, consequently influencing him to answer a fair number of questions as his aspirational self versus his authentic self. 
  4. Level of self-awareness (or delusion). It’s a fact that we see ourselves differently than others see us. Further complicating matters is that we react differently to different people based on their relationship to us and how we compare ourselves to them. So, here’s an interesting exercise if you happen to place a lot of faith in personality tests: take one for yourself, and then ask your spouse or a close friend to take one as they see you. Compare the similarities and differences.
  5. The circumstances under which the participant is taking the test. Whenever a potential employer asks an applicant to take any kind of test, it comes with an element of anxiety and a desire to perform well. So here’s something worth noting – According to CNBC, 78% of job seekers lie during the hiring process. And by extension, we could reasonably conclude that a fair amount will deliberately answer personality test questions based on what they assume employers want to see.

Based on these variables alone, it would be easy to understand why 50% of applicants would be labeled with different personality acronyms if asked to retake the identical test after only one month.

Am I suggesting that personality tests are useless? Not completely. In all fairness, there are people who have rehearsed the best answers to the toughest interview questions, but that doesn’t mean interviewing is meaningless. And there are candidates who embellish their qualifications on applications or resumes, but that doesn’t mean we should disregard their claims.

As you probably don’t have the luxury of “dating” candidates for six months or three years before making a hiring decision, oftentimes the best filters are the collective gut feelings of everyone involved in the interviewing process.