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16th July 2019

Changes in Personality and Employee Selection over the past 25 years

Changes in Personality and Employee Selection over the past 25 years 1Over the past 25 years, there have been significant advances in employee selection research1. Researchers describe it as a “highly active senior who has not been slowed down by age”2. Broadly speaking, the field deals with the effective attraction, screening, selection, and onboarding of employees in an organisation1. In this context, effective means choosing the future members of the organisation that will achieve or exceed organisationally defined metrics of success. Personality testing can add value to the selection process by identifying the presence of behavioural preferences which will aid the candidate in performing well and really thriving in the role3. This helps in making sure the candidate is a good fit for the role, as well as the role being a good fit for the candidate.

What do we mean by personality?

Before discussing personality within selection and the advances in the field, it is worth defining the term personality. The history of personality psychology dates as far back as Ancient Greece, therefore it’s no surprise that Allport4 discovered over 50 different definitions. To name a few:

  • “The unique and stable set of characteristics and behaviours that sets each individual apart from others” 5
  • “an individual’s characteristic pattern of thought, emotion and behaviour, together with the psychological mechanisms – hidden or not – behind those patterns” 6
  • More recently, the “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving” 7.

Current approach

Personality is historically based upon several theoretical approaches6, however, for the purposes of this article we will focus on the trait approach as it has widely influenced organisational psychology and initiated advances in the field.

The main idea behind the trait approach to personality is that people have generally stable personality characteristics that can be identified, measured, and studied. The Big 5/Five Factor Model is currently the consensus model to describe traits and measure personality. The traits that constitute the five-factor model are extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

Thinking broader than the Big 5/FFM

Most studies have relied on the Big Five/FFM model to explain how personality characteristics may affect work-related outcomes and therefore employee selection. This is a popular and useful model, however, it does come with its limitations. For example, by aggregating many narrower traits into one high level trait, we may lose potentially vital information. It also focuses on ‘positive’ aspects of people’s personality over ‘negative’ or ‘darker’ sides, which could potentially reflect personality in a more holistic way i.e. acknowledging that people can have both a ‘bright’ and a ‘dark’ side. Taking this into account, researchers and practitioners have started looking at new ways of understanding and describing personality in the workplace.

Person VS. Situation

Researchers8 recently went back to take a deeper look at the person-situation debate from an interactionist perspective i.e. how everyday interactions contribute to someone’s identity. Their meta-analysis of 125 studies concluded that when people operate within a flexible environment (e.g. work was unstructured, employees have discretion to make decisions) they are more likely to freely express their individual differences. Whereas, in constrained environments, the expression of individual differences is lower. For example, an extrovert within a highly structured environment, such as a military setting, may refrain from frequently chatting to colleagues or making jokes. The opposite effect is also evident; people may choose a work environment depending on their individual traits. For example, an introvert may seek out a place which is away from people, perhaps even preferring to work from home.

What does that mean for the selection process? Well, it seems that it is not as simple as previously thought to predict which personality traits fit a certain job. We need to analyse the company’s culture, group dynamics, and leadership style so that we can identify the situations that are most likely to ‘trigger’ the desired behaviour or attract the ‘right’ person.

Dark traits

Several researchers have emphasised the importance of examining “darker” aspects of worker’s personality, as these traits have been found to predict work-related behavior such as risk-taking, workplace manipulation, counterproductive work behaviour and many more work-related outcomes.

So what does this all mean for the selection process? Certain ‘dark traits’ may actually be helpful when performing certain tasks e.g. sell a car using manipulative techniques. However, they may hinder performance in other situations e.g. being inconsiderate and stubborn during a period of change. Going a step further, it seems that certain ‘situations’ or ‘environments’ may actually trigger these ‘dark’ behaviours and influence whether these traits are adaptable to the environment or not. For example, if employees have high Machiavellianism traits (i.e. manipulativeness, amorality and desire for power) and have an abusive supervisor, it is more likely that they will, for instance, steal from the company or hinder their colleagues’ performance by gossiping or being unhelpful9.

Changes in Personality and Employee Selection over the past 25 years 2

Gamification and Game-Based-Assessment

Gamification in terms of assessment, generally refers to psychometric assessments that incorporate elements of traditional game play. These elements could be progress bars, avatars, narrative context, earning badges, etc. Empirical evidence implies that gamification could have the potential to increase user engagement, enjoyment and motivation10. Depending on the design, gamified assessments can provide a greater amount of simultaneous cognitive stimuli (such as moving objects or increased attentional requirements), meaning that candidates are required to respond to a greater amount of information within a short time frame. Therefore, we could potentially measure personality and ability within one test. However, we do need to be cautious with the use of gamified elements as we could introduce new opportunities for measurement bias to prevail.

Going one step further from just a simple inclusion of game elements are Game-Based-Assessments (GBAs). GBAs rebuild the assessment as a game, which means that a person’s interactions with game elements becomes an integral part of the assessment model. These assessments draw on the fields of cognitive, neuroscientific and experimental psychology. Instead of asking questions personality is measured through tasks that assess cognitive functioning. These tasks capture authentic behaviours that can distinguish between candidates’ wide range personality traits11.

Artificial Intelligence

Advancements in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) have now led to research being conducted into the ability of AI to analyse video interviews and recognise an individual’s personality traits. This presents one of the most interesting developments in the progress of employee assessment and selection over recent years. Developments in computer vision and pattern recognition software which utilise Deep Learning (DL) techniques have established Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) models. Through the use of a camera, these models can successfully recognise non-verbal cues and then predict the personality traits of individuals.

A recent study12, used asynchronous video interview (AVI) processing and an AI engine to perform automatic personality recognition (APR) based on the features extracted from the video interviews and the true personality scores from the facial expressions and self-reported questionnaires of actual job applicants. The results demonstrated that the AI-based interview agent can successfully recognise the “big five” traits of an interviewee at a very high accuracy level. This method may radically change the way we traditionally distribute and score personality questionnaires as it does require the candidates to fill out the survey and once the interviewee gives an answer the AI-based interview agent automatically recognises the associated personality trait. However, further studies need to be conducted on this new field and organisations need to consider the return on investment for using such sophisticated computer systems compared to more traditional methods of selection.

How can we help?

Impact are recognised as one of the industry leaders in effective psychometric testing and we regularly share our expertise and knowledge in this area. To find out how we can help you design a robust selection process which effectively incorporates personality tests, please get in touch with one of our expert Business Psychology consultants at [email protected].


1. Nikolaou, I. & Foti, K. (2018). Personnel selection and personality. In V. Zeigler-Hill & T. K. Shackelford, The sage handbook of personality and individual differences (pp. 458-474). 55 City Road, London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

2. Ryan, A. M., & Ployhart, R. E. (2014). A century of selection. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 693–717.

3. Hughes, D. J., & Batey, M. (2017). Using personality questionnaires for selection. In H. Goldstein, E. Pulakos, J. Passmore, & C. Semedo (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Recruitment, Selection & Retention. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

4. Allport, G. W. (1937). Personality: A psychological interpretation. New York: Holt.

5. Baron, R. A. (1989). Personality and organizational conflict: Effects of the Type A behavior pattern and self-monitoring. Organizational Behavior & Human Decision Processes, 44, 281–296.

6. Funder, D. C. (2001). Personality. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 197-221.

7. Mikulincer, P. R. Shaver, M. L. Cooper, and R. J. Larsen, APA Handbooks in Psychology. APA Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology. Personality Processes and Individual Differences. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2015.

8. Judge, T. A., & Zapata, C. P. (2015). The person-situation debate revisited: Effect of situation strength and trait activation on the validity of the big five personality traits in predicting job performance. Academy of Management Journal, 58(4), 1149-1170.

9. Fasoura, A. (2018). Employee Machiavellianism on Work-Related Outcomes: The role of Trait Activation. The University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kindgdom.

10. Flatla, D. R., Gutwin, C., Nacke, L. E., Bateman, S., & Mandryk, R. L. (2011). Calibration games: making calibration tasks enjoyable by adding motivating game elements. In UIST’11 – Proceedings of the 24th Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (pp. 403-412). New York, USA: Association for Computing Machinery.

11. Arctic Shores. The Science Behind Gamified Psychometric Assessments. 21 May 2019,

12. Suen, H.-Y., Hung, K.-E., & Lin, C.-L. (2019). TensorFlow-based Automatic Personality Recognition Used in Asynchronous Video Interviews. IEEE Access (Vol. PP).