Are Workplace Personality Tests Fair?

Lauren Weber and Elizabeth Dwoskin, Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2014


The use of online personality tests by employers has surged in the past decade as they try to streamline the hiring process, especially for customer-service jobs. Such tests are used to assess the personality, skills, cognitive abilities and other traits of 60% to 70% of prospective workers in the U.S., up from 30% to 40% about five years ago, estimates Josh Bersin, principal of consulting firm Bersin by Deloitte, a unit of auditor Deloitte.

Workplace personality testing has become a $500 million-a-year business and is growing by 10% to 15% a year, estimates Hogan Assessment Systems, a Tulsa, Okla., testing company. Xerox says tests have reduced attrition in high-turnover customer-service jobs by 20 or more days in some cases. Dialog Direct, of Highland Park, Mich., says the testing software allows the call-center operator and manager to predict with 80% accuracy which employees will get the highest performance scores.

But the rise of personality tests has sparked growing scrutiny of their effectiveness and fairness. Some companies have scaled back, changed or eliminated their use of such tests. Civil-rights groups long focused on overt forms of workplace discrimination claim that data-driven algorithms powering the tests could make jobs harder to get for people who don’t conform to rigid formulas.

Julie Brill, a Democrat on the Federal Trade Commission who has examined companies’ use of data, says algorithms designed to reduce bias “ironically could have the effect of creating a new kind of discrimination.” The FTC doesn’t have the power to regulate workplace issues.


Xerox quit looking at data about job applicants’ commuting time even though data showed that customer-service employees who got to work faster were likely to keep their jobs at Xerox longer. Xerox managers decided the information could put applicants from minority neighborhoods at a disadvantage in the hiring process.

“There’s some knowledge that you gain that you should stay away from when making a hiring decision,” says Teri Morse, Xerox’s vice president of recruitment. Overall, though, the company is “shocked all the time” by the accuracy of tests it began using in 2012, she says.


The Equal Employment Opportunity commission is investigating whether personality tests discriminate against people with disabilities. As part of the investigation, officials are trying to determine if the tests shut out people suffering from mental illnesses such as depression or bipolar disorder, even if they have the right skills for the job, according to EEOC documents.

EEOC officials won’t comment on the investigation. In general, though, “if a person’s results are affected by the fact that they have an impairment and the results are used to exclude the person from a job, the employer needs to defend their use of the test even if the test was lawful and administered correctly,” says Christopher Kuczynski, EEOC acting associate legal counsel.


Test sellers have said their own studies show personality tests don’t have an adverse impact on applicants based on race or gender. However, little work has been done on disabilities.


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  • MekongDelta69

    “Is this ‘fair’?” “Is that ‘fair’?” Wah. Wah. Wah.

    Life ain’t ‘fair,’ you leftist wusses.

    Deal with it…

    • Oil Can Harry

      The useless bureaucrats at the EEOC are trying to see if the tests discriminate against the mentally ill! As if companies wouldn’t prefer sane employees.

      Then again, if the mentally ill are barred from working every transgendered person will be on welfare.

    • Harvard Professor of Medicine

      WSJ is supposed to be a conservative publication. But ever since that Jews took over, it has been advocating unlimited immigration, gender equality and “racial justice.”

    • awb

      Fair is where you go to eat cotton candy & step in monkey s##t.

    • guest

      But actually, leftist wusses don’t want what’s fair.
      Fair, as it applies to this issue, is when a company hires the best man they can find for the job. Of course, determining that is no easy thing, but the company should be allowed to use whatever strategies they deem appropriate for the task.
      The subtext I get from this: To hell with fair. Hire more minorities. Hire more mentally ill.

  • TruthBeTold

    Civil-rights groups long focused on overt forms of workplace
    discrimination claim that data-driven algorithms powering the tests
    could make jobs harder to get for people who don’t conform to rigid

    They claim that bias is wrong. By using an algorithm, you remove human bias. But the objective results turn out to be biased.

    Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

    • Christorchaos

      Who da thunk it? “Racial discrimination” all along was just personality discrimination.

    • LHathaway

      The whole point of the test seemed to be to remove those with biases from the job.

    • Ed

      This is why getting rid of disparate impact is so important. Than these nonsensical findings will disappear.

  • If the algorithm is based on objective criteria, of course it’s going to have a disparate impact on blacks and Hispanics.

    • 1stworlder

      Maybe they should include a short distance run time to counter all the mental criteria

      • The Worlds Scapegoat

        …or maybe a short spit rap. I think it is called beat boxing, but I call it spit rapping.


    • SFLBIB

      What I’d like to know is how can some people “conform to rigid formulas” unless they know what those formulas are?

  • propagandaoftruth

    A clever person with mental illness should be able to fool these silly things easy, especially a chameleonic sociopath.

    A dullard negro psychopath, however, will probably be flagged.

  • phorning

    Phone based customer service jobs have always had high turnover. I don’t see that changing with a personality test being given to applicants. I’m thinking someone in corporate America was sold a bill of goods by a testing company. If we have gotten to the point where it mental illness is a protected class for employment, it may not be safe to go to work anymore.

    • SFLBIB

      “…it may not be safe to go to work anymore.”

      Guess what.

  • AmericanCitizen

    If liberals had their way there would be no test or professional requirements for anyone. Just pick the right skin colors and religions, give them jobs, and hope they don’t kill any co-workers through incompetence.

    • SFLBIB

      What I find ironic is that Julie Brill, a Democrat on the Federal Trade Commission, all those EEO officials, et al were beneficiaries of discrimination when they got their jobs; otherwise, how do you make a determination for selection if you don’t discriminate [observe a difference]?

  • Ike Eichenberg

    “assess the personality, skills, cognitive abilities and other traits”

    Yep definitely going to be racist if it accurately measures cognitive ability.

  • Easyrhino

    I believe the NFL using 40 yard times as a qualifying test for hiring has a “disparate impact” against White players and this blatantly discriminatory practice should cease!

    Anybody here know Eric Holder’s number?

    • PvtCharlieSlate


  • Guest

    Our company administered Meyers Briggs personality test to employees. There are two parts to the test . My results from the first part, and what it said about me, was as complimentary as humanly possible, I would not have minded having its description of me on my tombstone. However, the second part of the test described me , based solely on a written test, of a person who did the least amount of work required. Since I had been working there for 15 years with glowing performance reviews and averaged 55 hours a week and had pulled more than a few 24 hour days just to get a job done, I was somewhat pissed when our boss said all the employees who got the result as I did need to shape up or start looking for other employment. I stood up and asked the roomful of my fellow employees I had worked with for years if they agreed with the test assessment of me. They said no, they thought the opposite.
    The outside consultant who was getting thousands of dollars to administer the test said he was puzzled, as it was never wrong, with the exception of a few cases with French Canadian employees. Which was funny, the only other person in my department who got my result was French Canadian and worked like a dog just as I did.
    Some of my ancestors were French Canadian, several generations ago, but I find that an implausible answer. I still consider personality tests to be about as useful as astrology, and bosses who rely on them as their sole basis for making employee decisions to be ignorant fools.

    • The Worlds Scapegoat

      I bet the outside “consultant” scored very high on his/her own tests.

      Those test are usually formulated by psychopaths to make themselves and people like them look good.


    • SFLBIB

      Back in the mid ’80s I took the test along with others as part of a team-building course. Being an INTJ, I found it fascinating, but at that time there was no second part. I asked the instructor, an occupational psychologist if anyone tried to compare personality types with political leanings. She didn’t know, but I later found it on-line at politicaltypes. com/content/view/24/56. The unions in our office objected to the use of the tests, so they were never implemented; however, they might serve a useful purpose in pairing up workers, as some personalities clash.

  • dd121

    I don’t know why it’s “unfair”. How smart do you have to be to game a personality test?

    • GeneticsareDestiny

      I’ve taken these tests before. They’re very easy to game. The questions are mostly about how often you’re late to work, what you would do if a customer did _______, how much effort you put into your work, whether you like interacting with customers, etc.

      Even if you’re lazy, often late to work, and hate customers, it’s simple to just lie and make yourself look good. I suppose that it takes a certain minimum IQ to realize that these tests have good answers and bad answers, though, which means they’ll have a disparate impact against blacks and Hispanics.

      • Alexandra1973

        Exactly. Just tell them what they want to hear.

      • John R

        “No, da test axed me iv da custumer was disrespecten me wat wud I do? Iz sed dat iv he wuz disrespecnten me den I uz gunna dis respecten hims rite bak. So dey says dat I uz failed dat test. Dat test be ray-ciss. Knomesayen?”

        There, now that is the best argument against this test. Let’s be objective here and give all viewpoints!

      • SFLBIB

        The Meyers-Briggs doesn’t ask questions like that. It would ask what you prefer, like, do you prefer to work on a team or work alone?

        • GeneticsareDestiny

          I know, I’ve taken Meyers-Briggs before too (not for a job, just on my own). But that is not the only personality test companies require prospective employees to take. The type I described above is very common is low-level, low-wage jobs offered by places such as McDonalds, CVS, Walmart, etc.

  • LHathaway

    “Xerox quit looking at data about job applicants’ commuting time even though data showed that customer-service employees who got to work faster were likely to keep their jobs at Xerox longer”.

    I was waiting to read that this is explained because those running Xerox have principle, then the next paragraph gets to the punch line, the company only ended this because it might have been unfair to people of color, and only to people of color, with on one and nothing else, apparently, being a consideration. If this is a ‘principle’ or a ‘value’ it seems to be the only one left.

    • The Worlds Scapegoat

      They wanted people who got to work faster, not earlier.

      So they want people who leave their house late and drive over the speed limit to get to work on time; endangering themselves and others. Gee, you spent an extra 10 minutes at home with your family, so now you have no excuse not to work Saturday without pay. Now that is the American Corporate way.


  • Ed

    Anything with standards will produce a disparity. Most. Blacks tend to have low character as well and will only do what is right if they are made to do so.

  • Race aside, I think those tests are blatantly unfair to anybody who’s honest. Some of the questions are vexing and seem to have no correct answer.

    • SFLBIB

      But they probably do. I once took a test for a military officer program and remember questions that asked, “How old were you when you first bought flowers for a girl?”, and “How old were you when you made your first long-distance phone call?”

  • Applicant: Which of the three following responses to a customer complaint is most appropriate?

    a) “I’m sorry to hear that you’re having difficulty, sir. Please let me put you in touch with the right department to fix this issue immediately.”

    b) “Usted es un gringo estúpido y yo voy a violar a su hija ahora. Mi familia tiene 37 hijos y viviremos en su dormitorio extra.”

    c) “STFU biatch, homey don’ have 2 put up wit yo raciss boolsheet nah step back ‘fo I bust a cap in yo white azz”

    • Alexandra1973

      I actually understood the Spanish.

      I bet the applicant that chooses letter a won’t get hired…need that diversity!

  • I asked about enlistment in the Army Reserves as an 11b, but they wanted me off federal paper first. I had what was either a mild stroke or a really bad TIA just before I turned 40, so that plan went under, as they wanted a two-year wait, by which time I was overage. I wasn’t able to get a decent job, and this seemed like a possible way to get my gun rights restored.

  • RyanP

    “Civil-rights groups long focused on overt forms of workplace discrimination claim that data-driven algorithms powering the tests could make jobs harder to get for people who don’t conform to rigid formulas.”

    Pretty soon employers will have no tools left in order to find the best candidates. These leftists will not be happy until all jobs are assigned based on a random lottery system.

    • The Worlds Scapegoat

      Maybe they can look for fried chicken crumbs and watermelon dribbling on their clothing.


    • SFLBIB

      Even then, someone will complain.

  • Leon NJ

    You don’t really need a personality test to see if someone will be a good hire or not….just go by the first name of the applicant. Duh.

    • SFLBIB

      Here are the names of four of my employees. Which are better performers, and which were worse?





  • John Smith

    I support doing away with these because they aren’t all that accurate (20% is a large margin of error) and that they could just as likely be used to weed out those persons who are non-thinking herd animals and may hold conservative views that don’t fit “modern values.” Modern corporations are actually fairly liberal in view and have bought into the “diversity” lie.

    • SFLBIB

      I have found that the least accurate measure is the interview.

      • John Smith

        That’s a given. The hiring process produces results no better than chance, yet HR thinks they’re doing something. All they do is cover the employer’s rear end for the firing process.

  • Paleoconn

    I see a future of blindfolded interviewers, candidate voices disguised to conceal ebonics and accents, names neutralized on cv’s. Mark me, this will happen.