Personality Questionnaire

The 'Big Five' model of personality is the most common way employers classify personality traits. Learn about personality questionnaires and take our free personality questionnaire.

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Take a free personality questionnaire

Business psychologists have kindly helped us produce this free personality questionnaire. It is based on the classic 'five-factor' model: the most popular system of classifying personality traits and as used by employers in their selection processes.

Free Personality Test

This free big 5 personality test contains 20 questions and does not have a time limit.

big five factor personality model

Personality questionnaires and how they work

Personality questionnaires have become a commonly used recruitment tool, and candidates may come across them at both the early stages and the late stages of the recruitment process. Research has shown that personality tests are highly robust predictors of job performance, and are used for both selection and development as a result. Candidates will be likely to encounter personality questionnaires in all industries and all sectors, however candidates are most likely to undertake these tests in graduate schemes and recruitment for larger companies with high recruitment volumes. These tests may be online and unsupervised, they may be online and supervised and they may be pencil and paper tests at an assessment centre.

What is a personality questionnaire?

A personality questionnaire is used for recruitment to highlight personality traits and competencies which are valued in the workplace. Personality questionnaires are in multiple choice format, and will not have a time limit, allowing candidates to decide on their responses in their own time. An example personality/competency question would be "I like to identify new business opportunities" or "I am likely to made decisions based on facts and figures alone", requiring the candidate to rate on a given scale (often 1-7) how much they agree or disagree with the statement.

Once the candidate’s results are collected, they are compared to a norm group, and subsequently informs the organisation how, for example, analytical, influential and adaptive you may be in the workplace. Similarly the test may assess values, which can be useful in identifying if the candidate fits well with the organisation and its culture. Depending on the test, over a hundred individual traits and competencies may be assessed by the questionnaire. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to personality tests, however there are good and bad reports, and recruiters will be looking for specific competencies and traits in candidates.

What traits are assessed in a personality questionnaire?

Personality tests in general are based on a small number of broad personality traits, such as the big 5 model of personality (openness, agreeableness, extrovertism, neuroticism and conscientiousness). Personality questionnaires used for recruitment will follow a similar format, assessing for a small number of broad traits, and subsequently breaking down each broad trait into separate sections and individual competencies.

For example a broad trait may be "influence", within influence a subsection may be "assertiveness", within "assertiveness" may be "ability to take on responsibility". Competencies are a set of an individual strengths, and employers may be looking for a set of key competencies, i.e. analytical ability, for that position These tests will assess your preferences towards these competencies in the workplace, getting an idea of where your strengths, weaknesses and areas for development are.

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What you should know before taking a personality questionnaire

As with all recruitment tools, recruiters in the assessment stage of recruitment are unlikely to base their recruitment decision purely on one tool. Instead the decision will be made based on the mixture of results based on numerous tools, such as competency interviews, aptitude tests and group/role-play exercises. However, if a personality test is used at the start of the recruitment process, it is likely to be used as a screening tool, screening out candidates who do not express the key competencies of the role. In this case, an unsuitable report may cause a candidate to be screened out at an early stage, regardless of performance on other measures. Although there are no right and wrong answers, there are good and bad profiles for a particular position/organisation.

Types of personality questionnaire being used

The personality questionnaire industry is a $450 million industry and candidates are likely to encounter numerous varieties of personality questionnaire.

We surveyed job applicants on the type of personality test they encountered when sitting their assessments. Explaining each format to them, over 50% of candidates faced some sort of likert scale:

personality test style frequency

Now you may be familiar with a lot of those formats, but confused at what a likert scale is. A likert scale is a scale with varying intensities of answer allowing the user to select a particular value for how much they agree or disagree with the statement.

There are numerous variations, one could be a 5 point likert scale where the answer options are: Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. Or another could be a 7 point likert scale where the options are: Very Unsatisfied, Unsatisfied, Somewhat Unsatisfied, Neutral, Somewhat Satisfied, Satisfied, Very Satisfied.

Here is a list of some of the most commonly encountered personality questionnaires on the market today:

1. Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ): The OPQ is a personality questionnaire designed and published by SHL, and is the most commonly used personality questionnaire for recruitment and development purposes. This test may be scored either normatively or ipsatively and will always be multiple choice format. The report for this test will evaluate a candidate’s competencies, personality preferences and work place behaviours.

2. Saville Wave©: This online personality questionnaire platform will combine both normative and ipsative style questions in the same questionnaire, with all questions being multiple choice format. This test can only be performed online and candidates will not sit a pencil and paper version. Typically candidates will be asked to undertake the professional styles version (40 minutes long) or the focus styles version (14 minutes long).

3. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): The MBTI assesses a candidate’s personality preferences, and evaluates how the candidate makes decisions. The MBTI asks questions regarding how you function as a person (i.e. How do you prefer to make decisions?) and asks you to select one of the personality preferences (extraversion- introversion, sensing-intuition, thinking-feeling, judgement-perception).

4. Talent Q Dimensions: This test typically takes 25 minutes to complete, and is primarily used to identify the “fit” between the candidate and the organisation/job role. However the test can also be used for development and team building.

5. Personality and preference inventory (PAPI): The PAPI is available in both normative and ipsative versions and assesses numerous work place relevant traits and competencies. This test may take round 15 minutes to complete and has been used extensively for over 40 years.

Normative and Ipsative

There are two types of personality test on the market, which differ in how they are scored, normative tests and ipsative tests. Normative tests are rating tests, in which the candidate rates how much they agree with a statement, i.e. strongly agree/strongly disagree/neutral. Ipsative tests on the other hand are ranking questions, requiring the candidate to select out of a list of statements, which one(s) they agree with or disagree with most.

example of normative and ipsative scales

An advantage of normative scoring is that tests can be administered both online and on paper. An advantage of ipsative is that they are considered more accurate and less prone to exaggeration. Normative tests are far more common, and are most likely to be encountered during recruitment processes.

Norm groups

Norm groups are a group of previously tested individuals, which are used as a comparison to evaluate if a candidates ratings are higher or lower than average. Norm groups vary depending on the level of recruitment, for example a graduate scheme would use graduates as their norm group and for senior management recruitment, and a senior management norm group would be used. The norm group will also vary depending on the role, for example for a finance position a norm group of finance workers would be used.

1. Take your time: Personality questionnaires are far less stressful than aptitude tests for numerous reasons; one of the most obvious is that there are no time limits. Personality questionnaires have no time limits because they want to allow candidates ample time to make their decision, without rushing them or making them feel uncomfortable. Take your time when completing a personality questionnaire and feel free to think about your answer before answering.

2. Over strengths: Although companies are looking for your strengths and weaknesses, over strengths are also a factor which are taken into account when analysing your personality profile. For example if a candidate expresses high levels of assertiveness, the organisation may see this is a potential over strength, as this may mean the candidate is dominating and less diplomatic. As a result overestimating, or intentionally exaggerating your ratings on a personality test will not lead to an improved personality report, it may in fact make you seem less attractive to recruiters.

3. Key competencies: In any interview for any position, the HR department will have designed a framework of key competencies which are essential and/or desirable in a potential employee. For example analytical ability would be a key competency for a role in finance and interpersonal skills would be a key competency for consulting. Although the competency framework will vary depending on the role, and the organisation, certain competencies will remain essential to a particular role. Ensuring you express your preference particularly highly in these key areas can help build the correct profile for the role. If you do not feel you have high preferences in these key areas, it may be an indication that this role is not suited to your work preferences and personality.

4. Avoid acquiescence bias: Acquiescence bias is a form of response bias, in which questionnaire respondents agree with all or too many statements or indicate a positive connotation. As a result the profile may show exaggerated levels of a particular trait or competency, and may be mistaken for the candidate lying or intentionally exaggerating. Try to answer as truthfully as possible, as during later stages of the recruitment process, recruiters may use your profile to from competency based questions, asking for direct evidence for these competencies. If you have little/no experience in this particular competency and have rated yourself highly in it, this may put off recruiters and give them the impression you tried to distort the test.

5. Persistence: Although personality questionnaires are not designed to test ability, they can be quite taxing due to their length, and the level of introspection required in answering the questions. It is therefore very important to remain focused and persist, answering all the questions and still maintaining a high degree of accuracy. Without time limits and without right or wrong answers, personality tests can seem boring, drawn-out and unimportant, but the personality profile will be used as an highly informative recruitment aid, and candidates are advised to take it as seriously, and focus as intently as any other exercise or test.

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Final thoughts

Personality questionnaires can be a break from the nerve racking aptitude tests and recruitment exercises, providing a much needed period of reflection and ease. Should you feel nervous before taking a personality questionnaire, just remember there will be no time limits, no right or wrong answers, multiple choice format and as a candidates you should have some idea of the key competencies looked for in this role.

However, it is important to take the test seriously, although the questionnaire may take a while to complete it is as valuable a tool as many other well-known selection procedures such as aptitude tests and interviews. Take it seriously; take your time and good luck!

Personality Questionnaire FAQs

  • What is the most accurate personality test?
  • Are personality tests accurate?

    Certain evidence-based personality tests such as the Big Five personality test have been seen to be accurate when performed in an appropriate manner. Many personality tests are created more for entertainment purposes, or should not be trusted as accurate assessments. Many self-assessment personality tests should also not be trusted as very accurate as they rely on the person's ability to accurately self-assess.

  • Can your personality change?

    It's believed that your personality is relatively constant and will not change once you have passed childhood. However, some studies suggest that your personality can change through the effects of major life events or persistent effort.