Businesses that use personality testing are often asked if the practice is fair to job applicants and career seekers. Fairness is primarily a matter of perspective, but there are three factors that contribute to differences in personality test fairness. Understanding these three makes it easier to respond to the questions and guide those who ask.
Individual differences in personality
We are each different in our own wonderful way–that is what makes us all so interesting. Our differences cannot be adequately captured in some small set of buckets as personality “types” (that would be much to easy); we vary along multiple continuum like the differences in the colors of a sunset. Each of us possess our own unique personality blend that helps us thrive in some situations, and is an obstacle to our success in other settings.
Stability of personality
Our personality is relatively stable throughout our adult life–which is beneficial to decision making. If our personality changed over time, we would not know how well we would interact in new situations, or to those around us. We would lose our ability to predict our behaviors and outcomes, as would those who depend on us to behave in certain ways. Without stability of personality, the world would be a chaotic place.
Fairness of personality
The concept of fairness is defined by our societal norms. Individual differences and their stability do not really have anything to do with fairness, until we consider that society defines the positive aspects of personal characteristics. In our world today, shorter people are less likely to be seen as positively as taller people. Being ‘thick’ is sometimes perceived as less positive than being slim. According to many business experts, extroversion is a more positive characteristic than is introversion. Is this fair? Does it matter if it is not?
The more positive aspects of personality is not a given across every group, situation, or job in the global population. A person’s level of agreeableness may be viewed as positive in one situation, but as a negative in another setting. Working hard and following rules is a positive characteristic in most jobs, but not all. Some groups prefer people who are open to change–others prefer those who are more rigid in their approach. Perhaps this is unfair, but it is reality given the uniqueness of every person we know to exist.
Fairness of personality testing
The fairness of personality testing is driven by two factors: a) the fairness of a particular test, and, b) the fairness of individual differences in personality. The degree to which any test is fair to users is knowable and driven by test design, content and use. This is an issue that we take very seriously at PointLeader, and should be a primary criteria for development, use and value of any test (see post on the Value of Assessments). As discussed above, the second factor contributing to personality test fairness, (i.e., the fairness of personality) is driven by the perspective, situation and outcomes for the test user.
Fairness of outcomes
“Who says life is fair, where is that written?”
― William Goldman, The Princess Bride
The fairness of personality and testing does not always equate to fairness of personal outcomes; however, everyone fits well in some situation, group and/or job–it is a matter of gaining insights to achieve perceived fairness. It is often useful to look at the results of a personality test in such a way as to guide a person to where they will have good fit and “fair” outcomes.