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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DSI)

Insights into personality assessment: selecting the best approach

Personality questionnaires serve as valuable tools in fostering effective teamwork, enhancing collaboration, and facilitating informed decision-making in matters of employee selection and development. Research extensively validates their efficacy in predicting work-related outcomes such as job performance, satisfaction, and overall well-being. However, navigating the diverse landscape of personality assessment tools can be daunting. That is why, in this blogpost, we discuss the two primary categories of personality questionnaires: those based on the Big Five model and typology-based instruments.

Big Five versus typologies

Big Five questionnaires, exemplified by instruments like Hudson's Business Attitude Questionnaire (BAQ), focus on evaluating individuals across five overarching traits: Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Emotional stability. These assessments gauge various facets of an individual's personality, assigning scores along spectrums for each trait. The Big Five framework assumes a bell curve distribution, where most individuals fall within average scores, with fewer outliers exhibiting extreme highs or lows in any given trait.

On the other hand, typology-based questionnaires, such as Insights Discovery and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, draw inspiration from Carl Jung's theories to categorise individuals based on psychological preferences. These preferences typically revolve around dimensions like Extroversion vs. Introversion, Thinking vs. Feeling, Judging vs. Perceiving, and Intuition vs. Sensing. By combining these preferences, these instruments generate distinct personality profiles or colours, suggesting that individuals belong to specific categories without much room for overlap.

Main contrasts between both approaches

  1. Spectrum versus category: The fundamental disparity between the two methodologies lies in their conceptualisation of personality. Typology-based questionnaires rigidly classify personality traits into distinct categories. For instance, individuals are typically labelled as either extraverted or introverted. Conversely, trait-based questionnaires operate under the premise that individuals exist along a continuous scale for each of the ‘Big Five’ traits. As an illustration, approximately two-thirds of individuals do not strongly identify as either introverts or extraverts. These individuals, commonly referred to as ambiverts, exhibit a blend of both introverted and extraverted tendencies.

  2. Measurement quality: Trait-based personality questionnaires rooted in the Big Five model, are valued for their scientific rigor in assessing personality. They typically demonstrate commendable reliability and validity, ensuring consistent and accurate measurement of traits. Predictive validity inherent in these assessments enables forecasting of outcomes in both personal and professional domains. For example, high scores in traits like ‘conscientiousness’ correlate with superior job performance and reduced counterproductive behaviours. In contrast, typology-based questionnaires lack comparable empirical support. Research suggests that a significant proportion of individuals who undergo typology-based assessments exhibit a different personality ‘type’ upon retesting after only five weeks. 

  3. Ease of use: Some people find the typology-based questionnaires more user-friendly than the trait-based ones. Questionnaires that categorize individuals into simplified categories, such as four colours, render personality assessment more comprehensible and accessible to a wider audience. This simplicity can facilitate clearer communication and application across various contexts. Conversely, interpreting results from the ‘Big Five’ trait scales necessitates a deeper understanding of each trait and its underlying facets, as well as an appreciation for the implications of specific combinations of scores across traits.


Choosing the right tool

Typology-based questionnaires seem useful in team-building and training contexts by fostering self-reflection and enhancing self-awareness. They have the potential to contribute to empathy and conflict resolution by initiating discussions around personality differences. However, caution should be exercised when employing these questionnaires for significant HR decisions, such as recruitment, selection, and personal development, because of concerns about their reliability and validity. If a questionnaire produces inconsistent or inaccurate results upon repeated administration, there is a risk of HR practitioners making erroneous decisions, leading to mismatches between an individual's personality and job requirements, thus adversely affecting performance and satisfaction.

Conversely, Big Five-based personality questionnaires, like Hudson’s BAQ, are recommended for employee selection, training, and career development due to their scientific reliability. They excel at predicting work performance, job satisfaction, and well-being. They also serve well in team-building initiatives. However, using these questionnaires requires a profound comprehension of personality traits and interpretation owing to their complexity. Yet, this complexity is crucial as it mirrors the intricate nature of human beings. People are multifaceted, and understanding the nuances and subtleties that contribute to their uniqueness requires a comprehensive approach.  Trait-based assessments provide this depth, allowing organizations to grasp individuals' complexities accurately, thus enabling organizations to make nuanced and reliable judgments.

About the author

Amélie Vrijdags | Expert Psychologist Research & Development

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