Monday, June 27, 2011

Psychological Testing in the Workplace

Psychological testing has found a valuable place in selecting and retaining employees. Psychological tests measure a variety of characteristics and traits, including personality. Ultimately, they are used to match a person's capacities and qualifying characteristics to a job within an organization. Other than employee selection, testing accommodates the retention of employees through assessing their abilities and performance along with other important information. Although ethical issues exist, many types of psychological testing is both valid and reliable and a benefit for both the prospective or current employee and the organization when used appropriately (Spector, 2008).

Specific Psychological Testing used in the Workplace

Psychological tests are standardized questions or problems that assist in assessing a specific characteristic or group of characteristics in an individual (Spector, 2008). Typically, they assess knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes, interests, and personality types. They are usually easily applied, completed quickly, and often made to assess several characteristics in one test. Many companies and websites have tests available online, which makes the application easier for the taker and the organization (Spector, 2008).

Personality Tests

Personality Tests assess innate predispositions and tendencies to behave in similar ways in different situations. Some personality types can predict certain behaviors that may be important in certain jobs and organizations (Spector, 2008). These tests can provide an abundance of information on a single trait or entire personality profiles. Furthermore, personality tests can assess the Big Five personality dimensions of extroversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, openness to experience, and conscientiousness. Understanding personality types can be valuable in determining appropriate candidates for specific jobs. For example, in a position that requires sales and constant communication with people, finding someone who leaned toward extroversion might be more accommodating for the organization's goals (Spector, 2008). For a forest ranger, the traits of emotional stability and openness to experience may positively affect job performance.

Emotional Intelligence Test

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions appropriately (Spector, 2008). This type of intelligence is neither a personality trait nor a cognitive ability, but a developed emotional state. Theoretically, a well-developed emotional intelligence enables specific social skills and may influence how people affect others. In an organizational setting, this type of person would be beneficial in a supervisory or managerial position. Furthermore, people who receive high scores on these tests are likely to be skilled at interpreting, understanding, and using emotions appropriately. They are competent in social or emotional conflicts, they express their feelings well, and do not hesitate to deal with emotional situations. Evidence on various emotional intelligence tests suggests this test can predict job performance, especially when trying to determine leadership characteristics (Spector, 2008).

Integrity Test

The integrity test is designed to identify levels of integrity. This test does not rate the moral values of an individual, but it quantifies patterns of behavior. In an organizational setting, it may predict which employees will be dishonest or engage in behavior deviant to the notion of a positive workforce. Theoretically, the test can predict cheating, sabotage, theft, and unethical behavior (Spector, 2008). One integrity test called the personality integrity test measures personality traits that have been associated with undermining behavior. Research suggests integrity tests can predict such behavior and job performance and "may do a better job of predicting absence, general counterproductive behavior, and job performance than theft" (Wanek, 1999, as cited by Spector, 2008, p. 120).

Psychological Testing for Pre-employment or Retention

Psychological tests are not only used for interviews for selecting employees. They may be used during employment as a developmental exercise, or as part of a job performance evaluation (Spector, 2008). The personality tests, especially the MBTI are widely used in both employee selection, and employee development and advancement. Emotional Intelligence tests are usually used in pre-employment applications although they continue to be used in some retention applications. The Integrity test is most often used in a pre-employment evaluation and might be considered somewhat insulting when used in a retention application. Organizations hope when they use psychological tests for employee selection, they will choose more appropriate applicants. Choosing the best candidates for jobs ultimately translates to a higher retention rate (Spector, 2008). This is the hope, although there are no guarantees from scientific evaluation. In the case of employee retention, testing can help both the organization and the employee identify strengths, weaknesses, growth, and change in performance (Spector, 2008).

Validity and Reliability Issues of Psychological Testing

Good testing results in better predictions of job performance but their predictions are not perfect. A good test is reliable and valid. A reliable test works the same each time it is given, and a valid test measures what it aims to measure. For example, an English language reading comprehension test would not be valid when given to someone who was only fluent in another language. Some tests are more reliable than others (Spector, 2008). Multiple items on a test facilitate increased reliability as single item measures can be made unreliable if the test taker misinterprets or misreads any one item.

Regarding the emotional intelligence test, some researchers have suggested this test measures long-established variables like cognitive ability or aspects of personality. The validity of the test's construct continues to be disputed, and additional research is necessary (Spector, 2008). With integrity tests, it is difficult to determine how reliable the test is at predicting stealing. Most employees who steal are never caught, so an organization would not know which employees were dishonest. Spector (2008) supports these tests as reliable predictors of other useful work behavior such as work performance.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the most popular personality tests and is taken by two and a half million Americans each year (Psychometric Success, n.d.). Eighty-nine companies out of the Fortune 100 companies use if for recruitment and selection, and to assist employees in self-understanding or to understand co-workers. A National Academy of Sciences committee reviewed data from the MBTI and concluded it "has not demonstrated adequate validity, and at this time, there is not sufficient, well-designed research to justify the use of the MBTI in career counseling programs" (Boyle, 1995, p. 5), which is what it is most often used for (Psychometric Success, 2010). Bjork and Druckman (1991) claim the MBTI's popularity is far greater than the scientific research supporting it.

Ethical Issues in Psychological Testing

There is an interesting conundrum in contemporary psychological testing. Test construction has become more specialized and the techniques of the tests have become considerably more defining, although there has been insufficient research on the interpretation of test scores. Theoretical claims are not always backed by solid science (Boyle, 1995). Some of the popular objections to the ethics in psychological testing include their ability to invade privacy, the inability of organizations to honor confidentiality, and the communication of test results. Furthermore, many claim the tests are inadequate and are often misused (Anastasi, 1967). Other objections regard some psychological tests as biased against culturally disadvantaged groups, and some tests foster a narrow conception of ability. More research is necessary before prospective employees and those seeking advancement can count on the accuracy of psychological testing (Anastasi, 1967).

If the "pressures of reality lead us to establish policy-based self-regulation in psychological assessment, it would seem imperative to include at the same time formal provisions for its continuing reappraisal" (Messick, 1965, p. 141). According to the American Psychological Association (2011), there are specific rights of test-takers, and organizations must facilitate compliance (American Psychological Association, 2011). At no time should an organization ask questions about disabilities, sexual orientation, sexual practices, with whom one lives, religious beliefs or ethnic background are inappropriate although not necessarily illegal (USA Today, 2001).


Under the best of circumstances, and when used appropriately, psychological testing in the workplace can assist organizations in making judgments on prospective employees, and for the successful retention of current employees. A large percentage of companies apply tests for employee selection, retention, and advancement, even though many experts question their reliability and validity. Several types of tests are implemented regularly, such as the widely used MBTI, which may have little scientifically proven effectiveness, yet demonstrates ongoing popularity. Psychological testing measures are fraught with ethical issues and they need continued scientific exploration. As they evolve, they will find their rightful and appropriate position in the workplace.


American Psychological Association. (2011). Rights and responsibilities of test takers: guidelines and expectations. American Psychological Association (APA). Retrieved June 12, 2011, from

Anastasi, A. (1967). Psychology, psychologists, and psychological testing. American Psychologist, 22(4), 297-306. doi: 10.1037/h0024521

Boyle, G. J. (1995). Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): some psychometric limitations. Australian Psychologist, 30(1), 71-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-9544.1995.tb01750.x

Bjork, R. A., & Druckman, D. (1991). In the mind's eye: Enhancing human performance.

Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Cherry, K. (n.d.). What's your EQ? - emotional intelligence test. Psychology - Complete Guide to Psychology for Students, Educators & Enthusiasts. Retrieved June 10, 2011, from

Messick, S. (1965). Personality measurement and the ethics of assessment. American Psychologist, 20(2), 136-142. doi: 10.1037/h0021712

Psychometric Success. (2010). Myers-Briggs widely used but still controversial. Psychometric Testing. Retrieved June 10, 2011, from http://www.psychometric-

Spector, P. E. (2008). Industrial and organizational psychology: research and practice (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

USA Today. (2001, January 29). Illegal interview questions. Careers and Workplace. Retrieved June 12, 2011, from


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