You Failed Your Employer’s Personality Test. Now What?

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on August 06, 2019

When people talk about pre-hire personality tests, they usually mean questionnaires like the Myers Briggs Inventory, the Big Five or the DISC profile. A test, like a numeracy or literacy test, has a right or wrong answer so you can pass or fail it. A personality questionnaire, on the other hand, helps the employer figure out if your strengths and weaknesses match up with the job requirements. You can’t actually flunk or ace a personality test—it simply shows if you’re a good fit for the job. 

So what happens if you’re knocked back for a dream role because you “failed” a personality test? Or if you’re repeatedly turned down for all sorts of jobs because you’re not what they employer is looking for? Is it possible that your personality is not fitting any job profile … or is something else going on?

Why Do Recruiters Use Personality Tests?

From an employer’s perspective, the results of a personality quiz can reveal far more about your character than it’s possible to glean from an interview. Interviews tend to focus on a candidate’s education, skills and experience and it’s possible for a well-rehearsed candidate to nail an interview, simply by parroting out an impressive set of responses. It’s tough for employers to gain insights into who you really are and how you might fit into the team culture through a single, 45-minute interview. That’s why recruiters use personality tests—it helps them assess suitability in ways that may not show up in an interview. 

Another reason employers like personality tests is because they give a really good baseline for performance. If your star sales reps all score high on agreeableness, openness and extraversion, for instance, then it makes sense to filter candidates against these traits. The logic here is that a candidate with a similar personality style is more likely to have what it takes to perform in this role. I know it’s a simple way of looking at it, but personality tests give an easy apples-to-apples comparison for companies to replicate the skills that have worked for them before. 

From a recruiter’s perspective, making a hiring mistake is expensive—like, really expensive. Some researchers attribute an eye-watering price tag of $240,000 to making a single bad hire when you factor in advertising fees, staff time, relocation, training, litigation costs and the negative impact on team morale and the company’s reputation. 

Numbers like this make active champions of recruiters who are looking for insight into a candidate’s suitability for a job role. Advocates believe that personality tests provide a quick and repeatable way to weed out poorly aligned candidates before they make an expensive mistake.  

Are the Benefits Real?

As a hiring tool, testing only works if the employer knows what they want. Sometimes, this is obvious. A company that’s hemorrhaging customers due to its rude and aggressive customer service may go out of its way to hire a person with strong people skills, for example. Or if the role requires many hours of traveling alone on the road, then logically we can assume that an independent person would be happier in the role than someone who gets her energy from working on teams.

Where pre-hire personality tests fall down is when a recruiter has a horribly stereotypical view about what it takes to succeed in a role—the notion that you have to be “bubbly” to work in HR or “authoritarian” to be a good leader. These assumptions are just plain wrong. Last year, the use of personality testing as a hiring tool came under fire in the UK when it transpired that former Co-operative Bank chairman Paul Flowers was given the job ahead of more experienced candidates after nailing his personality test. Flowers was later forced to quit over a £1.5 billion black hole in the bank’s finances, showing just how much damage personality testing can do when it’s given priority over other factors.  

Personality is not destiny. Despite years of rigorous testing, no one has ever found a relationship between the results of a personality test and actual on-the-job performance. Every personality has the ability to be persuasive, or creative, or to lead, for instance: they just do it in different ways. So if a company is using tests to measure for that, all they’re really doing is weeding out potentially good candidates who just have an “unconventional” approach to the job role. 

And that means you could be disqualified from a job quite unfairly.

Is There Anything You Can Do?

So what happens if you “fail” a pre-hire personality test? Is there anything you can do to get back in the game? The unsatisfactory answer is maybe; it depends how much weight the personality assessment holds in the decision-making process.

If you receive the dreaded email “sorry, we don’t think your personality style would be a good fit for us,” ask for a debrief. The recruiter should be willing to give you a copy of the personality test scoring so you can see how they’ve interpreted the results. This will give you a heads up on what their concerns are and how you might address them. 

Once you’ve got the results, match the strengths identified in the report to the job requirements and identify any weaknesses. Is the employer pigeonholing candidates or testing for the wrong characteristics? For instance, you may be testing as quiet and introverted but still be the best salesperson you know—and your resume shows this. The chances are the company has stereotyped sales people as gregarious and extroverted and is overlooking the skills you bring to the job, such as listening and giving thoughtful advice. 

If the whole thing looks off, then you might contact the recruiter and explain how you were surprised by the test results since the traits they describe as weaknesses have actually been the foundation for your success in previous roles. It may prompt them to take another look or it may not; but it’s worth a try.

A good hiring manager will use the personality test as one data point among many, so it’s a good idea to call on your collateral evidence as to why the company should move forward. If you can (and it won’t jeopardize your current job) encourage the hiring manager to call your references and speak about specific areas where you did not do well. If you’re confident that the referee is going to say that you excelled in a similar job role, then that may carry more weight than the one-shot of a personality test that’s completely devoid of the human factor.  

Finally, ask the hiring manager if they ever hired anybody who didn’t look perfect on the test, but turned out to be a real winner—for instance, an introverted sales rep. Most people know stellar performers who defied the personality test results and really contributed to the company. Can you prompt the recruiter to think of you in that same category?

In Summary

Employers want personality tests to be the silver bullet for weeding out the problematic candidates and delivering the perfect ones to the door—but they are not. To suggest that only one type of person can do each job, and to bounce good applicants for “failing” an assessment is pretty silly and can lead to the company developing a monoculture instead of good, diverse teams.  

Ultimately, you need to treat the experience as a mutual evaluation of fit. “Failing” a candidate solely on the basis of her personality test suggests that the employer is looking for people who think and act in a certain way, rather than hiring people for their unique talents. They also think it’s okay to make hiring decisions based on a test with limited relevancy rather than meeting you and getting to know you. Is that a culture you want to be a part of? 

Jayne Thompson

Jayne is a B2B tech copywriter and the editorial director here at Truity. When she’s not writing to a deadline, she’s geeking out about personality psychology and conspiracy theories. Jayne is a true ambivert, barely an INTJ, and an Enneagram One. She lives with her husband and daughters in the UK. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


Anita S. (not verified) says...

I would like to point out that these tests work well for weeding out jobs that would not be a good fit for employees. As a homemaker returning to the workforce after 18 years, I was applying for everything and feeling very discouraged when I didn't get as much as one call back. I decided to dig deeper and try to see me through the interviewer's eyes. I started with a few personality tests generally used by employers. The accuracy of these tests opened my eyes to a new level of clarification. I saw coping patterns, strengths, and weakness that my resume lacked. I stopped applying for everything and started focusing on opportunities that fit my skill level and personality type.

Also, I saw red flags in my test results, distracting potential employers. My penchant for multi-tasking looked like a person who would routinely bite off more than she could chew.  For example, my tests highlighted patterns that I wear a lot of different hats which could produce feelings of being overwhelmed and scattered. The reality couldn't be farther from the truth. Age has taught me to say, "no," to tasks that don't fit in my schedule or give me joy. However, this trait looks like a detriment on its face without qualification to an employer. When one interviewer expressed his concerns, I simply stated, "I don't think there is a mother out there who doesn't juggle multiple tasks in a dynamic family. Further, I'm more than a mother and homemaker in my community and enjoy volunteer work. Being able to fulfill my career goals is missing for me at this time in my life. I don't see the issue being what I choose to take on. The issue is how I manage my time and care for myself in the process. " I received an offer for employment within 24-hours. But, I also received several other offers from other employers because I handled interviews with a better awareness of their office culture and needs. Understanding myself as a total package from an employer's perspective was a tremendous help. Use test results as a tool to negotiate what you want from your next employer. Remember, employer/employee relations are a two-way street. You're an asset that shouldn't be squandered in a mismatched work environment.  

Elllen (not verified) says...

Thanks for writing about this. It's so hard to find information on this. I was never asked to take a personality test before this year and now it seems every employer uses them. And if you fail, you are automatically dropped from consideration. I keep hearing it's hard to find skilled workers in the U.S. (I am in the tech field) yet they keep putting up all these ludicrous obstacles to hiring skilled workers.

Tamtam (not verified) says...

I was feeling extremely down about these tests. Thx for sharing your experience.  I have an extensive background in the mortgage field, but have been dropped from consideration by 3 employers because of personally tests. Just about every job I apply for uses them. I have excellent references, but can't even get that far.

Suzie McKenna (not verified) says...

I was denied a position for the personality test as well. And my past work says different 


Jac (not verified) says...

This "personality test" to secure employment provides a disturbing loophole for all sorts of discrimination, plain and simple. Modern day Eugenics. Probably shouldn't make people take a test based on a system created by a racist. For personal development, that's your choice. However, relying on a test for your livelihood is very disturbing and should be illegal during hiring process. There are a lot highly functioning people who live with mental health issues. They don't deserve to provide for themselves or their family because of systemically biased test???

Carol (not verified) says...

This was an interesting read. I am so disappointed that I can be highly qualified for a position and not even be granted an interview based on a personality test that identifies strengths and weaknesses that can often be considered adaptable tweaks for the culture or role. I am very humble and probably didn't express that in the test, yet I have had many success and have offered up a great resume that should speak for itself. I didn't have longevity and success in a field that was all about building relationships and a proven track record for ranking high in sales amongst my peers because of personality issues. Those successes required strategies and a mix of many natural and adaptable personality traits to better suit the personality of my clients. If anything, my performance was based on how I was able to adapt to the personality of others. This might be a temporary sign of the times but I feel employers will begin to realize that they bought into an idea of using a personality survey that is not the most effective approach to weed out candidates. I understand how HR might want to evolve with new tools, but an old school interview process and resume review provides a much better glimpse of a candidate. I wasn't even given a chance to present myself and give my elevator pitch. Just a flat out rejection for the interview process. 

Thiago (not verified) says...

I was invited to a 2nd interview after a initial video interview with the hiring woman, plus a Dpt. specialist (engineer) and a HR employee for a position as a engineer in a big Pharma company.In the meantime, they sent me a personality test and a logical test to fill out before i meet them in the interview. Then i travelled all the way to the company almost 2 hrs trip. This time instead of the Dpt specialist, there was the Director. So the same 2 women, project manager and HR employee and the dpt director, a woman. First thing the HR woman showed all the tests results, we spent like 10 mints talking about the logic, which went average and almost 1 hour making weird questions about the personality test. When i was younger i started studying Biomedical at Univesity, them after first semester realised that was too much theory for me. I had been studing Automation as a teenager at technical college so naturally I quicky made a decision to move back to something i knew i would be great at it. The interviewer asked me. Didn't you feel jaded, or anything when you changed your path? I said, no. I justify the real reasons why i decided to move towards automation engineering. First i said the lack of practical approach in Biomedical,especially early on study course. 2nd i said the lack of market and job opportunity where i lived at the time for that area. Lastly i said i believe it was the right choice coz i finished my studies w/ good grades and some experience. In my turn, i made smart thought questions to each one of them. When asked about salary i replied saying i'd rather look for the whole proposal first( vacation time, health insurance,etc.) so i would be at easy not giving an uneducated answer to them. I sent later at same day a thouthful thank you letter to each one of them, short and precise. The project manager quick replied she would geyt back w/ answer soon. So 6 days after, she called me in a friday 16.00 to say, they would move with another candidate. I asked why? She replied my personality test, they couldn't figure out some things. I said what exactly. She said, that question on changing career path, she said. When you said you just decided to change and didn't have any emotion, thougths on it. I laughed. I realised they didn't pay attetntion to half of the conversation. First of all, I give not one, but three different reasons why i made that decision. Secondly, the company that says that value inclusiveness is ditching a cadidate for being honest?? WTF. Just so you know this month of "pride" they already set a colorful flag at their company flag on their social media. Yes I am a male. If they are really looking for a pimp,they better look somewhere else. Man and woman have distinguished atributtes, unique to each one. Males are generally more logical. we rationalize more on our decisions, tend to show less emotion when they are not necessary. Women is generally the opposite, but it don't make each other less or more based on cognitive ability, personality or decision process. I fell that all the comments here in the section have some similarity in this. I got nothing against anyone, i treat everyone with decensy and respect. But hey, welcome to the private company woke agenda 21. Fasten your seat belts, before it all blows up on you face!!

Cameron (not verified) says...

Ask for the results? That's rich.  I can't even get a response after I have had an interview, let alone a pre-interview assessment. 

Tama (not verified) says...

Once I find a job I'm interested in I find out their hiring process specifically if they include personality tests  if the do I will not apply since I have no desire to work for companies who cannot interview without them 

Joel Ross (not verified) says...

Interviewers should take personality tests to see it they're" a good fit" and the proper person to interview a qualified candidate and not just looking for a reason to ignore an applicant. No wonder why so many positions go unfilled-they're not looking for potential hires. They are trying top disqualify as many as possible unless a personality test says otherwise. 

Beata (not verified) says...

Just to share my very recent experience with the perosnality testing process. To begin with I have been approached direclty by a recruiter through Linked in for a middle management role in my area. I have agreed to proceed with teh interview as the role was in teh industry that intersted me and I had a great deal of experience in this field. Had to one-to-one Zoom interviews with one of the stakeholders and a hiring manager. According to the recuriter both interviews went very well. Then I was asked to pass a personality test online. Here was a surprise: when I logged into the test provider site and fllled in personal inormation, in addition to the personality test (SHL) another test, general ability test interactive version (numeric resoning, inductive and deductive) has dropped out. Here's an important disclaimer: I havent trained  my algebra and calculus since I finished my high school. Being a lawyer by profession, verbal reasoning is what i worked primarily on in my carreer. Not surprisingly, I failed this test, to make things worse it was also timed (36 mins/24 questions loaded with graphs, calculus, calendars, patterns). The personality test seemed to have gone well (at least that was my impression). After a one week silence, the recruiter came back saying that there was an issue with a test (not indicating which one ) and teh company decided not to proceed. No report or specific feedback as to the actual issue, just like that, with a test not relevant to my skills and profession and which made me feel really inadequte 

JasonAmes (not verified) says...

I was interviewing at a forklift company in the Southeast US.  Interviews went very well.  They asked me to take a cognitive/analytical assessment test that also included a personality test.  I am sure I did really well on the cognitive test, although the test took me a few HOURS to complete. There were a lot of questions all across the logical spectrum. I took the test on a Saturday, so I could be fresh-minded, instead of after work.  I found out on Monday they had already offered the job to someone else before I even took the test!  I took it on Saturday, the candidate accepted on Monday.  Based on what I saw on LinkedIn, it looks like they offered it to an internal candidate!  All of that studying and time and stress was a WASTE.  They never bothered to even tell me anything, nor did the recruiter I was working through. I eventually got the message from their HR person.  And...they refused to give me the results of my test.  It's "their" property.  Bottom line, I would not recommend taking one of these things unless the company agrees to give you the results.  Also, for just some run of the mill company, I wouldn't bother with them if they require it.  If it's a Microsoft or Google, then yes, take the punches.  But for a forklift company in the boonies?  Gimme a break.  They probably couldn't pass it themselves.

Brittany Chism (not verified) says...

I can’t seem to get past any pre assessment for any job I am applying for. All the test are based around my personality or to see if I’m a good fit for the job as to what they call it. But the questions are repetitive and utterly irrelevant and ridiculous. 
After months of going through this I feel inadequate and hopeless.

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