Personality Tests: What Are They Good For?

Back when I was in undergraduate in psychology (AKA back when I knew absolutely everything), I was openly disdainful of anything to do with personality tests. In my eternal wisdom, I just knew that everyone, like me, was a unique snowflake.

As with most things though, I’m coming to realise that my smugness was a bit premature. When my team took personality tests for my very first big girl job, I waited expectantly for my results – knowing that my inner self-righteous scientist was just waiting to be revealed.

And the results? Womp womp. No smug scientist to see here; instead, my worst nightmare had come true. My answers had outed me as what I’d always feared I was at heart: an airy-fairy, touchy-feely artistic type. Try as I might to dismiss the results as hocus pocus, deep down, I knew those results were right. For me, seeing my personality in black and white helped me to get past my massive blind spots and see myself for who I really am: Luna Lovegood.

What is a ‘personality’ anyway?

In a nutshell, a ‘personality’ is what makes you unique. It’s the characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that make you who you are.

Since psychologists have been dabbling in measuring different aspects of personality for over half a century now, there’s a good evidence for the five traits that are universal across people, called “The Big Five“.

If you’re taking a modern personality test, you’ll likely be measured on:

  1. Agreeableness: How much you value getting along with others.
  2. Neuroticism: How much you tend to experience negative emotions.
  3. Conscientiousness: How much you can control your impulses and use self-discipline to achieve your goals.
  4. Extroversion: How much you’re energised by external situations, like rooms full of people. And:
  5. Openness to experience: How much you appreciate things like art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and  variety of experiences.

The important thing to remember when you interpret your results is that they reflect how you act most of the time –  you can still show up as introverted even if you can talk non-stop to those you know best. We also all fall along a spectrum on personality traits – it’s a very rare person who will score as a complete introvert or extrovert.

Your personality and the workplace

While the effects aren’t huge, your personality does hold some sway when it comes to your career success, and for how you’ll work best in a team. This is partly why nearly 40% of workplaces now include a personality test as one of the hiring criteria. Often employers are looking for people who will match the type of work – someone who enjoys following processes is more likely stick with a data entry job than someone with a strong creative streak. With so many workplaces using personality to vet you, it’s really in your best interests to know where you fall on the personality spectrum. That way, you can demonstrate awareness of what makes you tick, and you can make the case for how your particular personality type makes you the (wo)man for the job.

It’s also common these days to do personality tests as a team. Discussing how results do or do not reflect your colleagues can give you insights into how they see themselves, and how you can all work together. Understanding your team mate’s unique personalities will help you see how they can all complement your own. Personality tests can also be a great way of addressing people’s blind spots – like that person we all know who thinks their people skills are amazing because they talk lots – when actually, everyone is just too polite to ask them to pipe down so they can get some work done.

How your personality affects your health

Personality  is pretty good for predicting the risk of developing certain diseases, and sometimes it’s an even better indicator than biological measures such as cholesterol and blood pressure. You can also use personality tests to figure out who’s more likely to show up at the doctor’s office – people who are high in negative affect (that’s fancy speak for “Negative Nellies”) report more symptoms and use more health services than people who see things sunny side up.

When it comes to interventions though, personality is really only useful for figuring out what kind of treatment someone might prefer – you can’t exactly overhaul someone’s personality on the off chance that they’ll therefore be less likely to develop certain diseases.

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Is personality your fate?

Personality tends to be pretty stable over time, with between 65-85% of people getting the same results when tested over many years.  People who change dramatically may have had life circumstances that have made particular trait manifest more over time; like single fathers becoming more conscientious and agreeable over time. Personality also doesn’t predict how you’ll act in each and every situation – it just predicts how you’d typically act, on a typical day.

Most studies find that personality traits are about 50% down to the genes you inherit (although the percentage can slide up or down depending on the trait). So if both your parents are Debbie Downers, chances are high that you’ll be inclined to go that way too. The good news is that with 50% of your personality being due to the environment, you still have some control over how you turn out. For example, I top the charts for introversion on most tests – but I can chat up a storm when the mood takes me, thanks to growing up in a big, boisterous family.

Want to know your personality type?

If you want to find out where you fall on the personality spectrum, try this test here . And if you’re as big a Harry Potter fan as Luna Lovegood here, you can find out your Harry Potter personality patronus here.

What Harry Potter character is your spirit animal? Let us know @LitDarling

Hanah Kristin Rebekah


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