Personality Tests and Executive Search

Bibi Boas Bondesen

How do we find executive leaders who create value for the company? And will a personality analysis help us choose the most value-creating candidate? No – there is not an unequivocal connection between personality and results. We cannot demonstrate that a certain personality will guarantee results in a given company.

It is obvious that a personality analysis cannot show whether a top manager will create great results. It is also important to emphasize that there are many ways to conduct good management and create results. In fact, management theorists struggle to find a method to measure the effectiveness of management. Some executives exude confidence and charisma, which can easily be mistaken for competence, without these executives necessarily creating results. Other executives create results but may have a personality characterized more by modesty and integrity.

Personality analyses can undoubtedly be used as a valuable tool in the hiring process. Although they do not provide specific information about how competent or knowledgeable a person is, they can provide hypotheses about job performance when combined with other hiring tools, such as skills tests, interviews, or assessments. If we are looking for a Chief Sales Officer (CSO) where networking and strong interpersonal skills are required, then extroversion is a trait that will help someone perform well in it. Similarly, an introverted, quiet, withdrawn person is unlikely to make the best CSO. Even the best personality tests cannot give a complete picture of the candidate’s personality.

As an Executive Search company, we naturally have an obligation to ensure that we use methods that are most likely to predict whether the candidate will become a value-creating CEO. So, what do we do to ensure the selection of the most value-adding candidate? We start by determining which results the CEO must succeed with. Next, we assess what type of management this calls for. Should the company be listed on the stock exchange within a shorter time horizon? Is there a desire for significant growth? Should internationalisation take place? We investigate which business model the executive must be able to operate in, including what this particularly requires in terms of experience and skills.

We thus determine both the need for professional experience, competencies, personality, management style and values.The Executive Search process includes dialogue with sources, structured and unstructured interviews, use of cases and assessment of the candidate’s results creation and management skills. In these assessments, we must naturally challenge whether the candidate’s results creation in the previous jobs, with a certain probability, will be able to be transferred to future contexts, which the new role will entail.We use personality analyses. But these tests/analyses must not stand alone.

The good advice is to use the personality tests with care – and not to attach more importance to them than they can bear. The analysis result must not be assigned an objective truth value that is too large.

General sources of error in personality tests/analyses

When you use a personality analysis that is based on a self-assessment, there will naturally be possible sources of error. What is the candidate thinking of while ticking? Is it a current issue in a specific context or a general assessment? Will the outcome of the test therefore be able to say anything about the candidate’s behavior in a future professional context?

  1. We are chameleons.

Most personality tests use largely generalized questions about personality. This is due to an assumption that the candidate will tend to act in the same way in different situations and different relationships, regardless of which role the candidate assumes and regardless of who the candidate collaborates with.

  1. Our self-perception is colored by our environment.

Another classic source of error can be the contexts the candidate is frequently involved in. If the candidate is frequently with very “controlling” people, the frame of reference could constitute a “backdrop” that might give a distorted self-image. The candidate may describe himself as less “controlling”, because all the others in the executive board are very “controlling”, while we as headhunters may want to assess the candidate as distinctly “controlling” in relation to a general population of leaders.

  1. We understand the same word differently.

Although the test is scientifically validated and work has been done on the linguistic translation of each individual word, there is still a high risk that the candidates will understand a question in a different way.

  1. Personality changes.

The whole discussion about heritage and the environment must also be included. Personality is considered a fixed quantity. However, personality can change over time. New synapses are formed precisely when we learn new skills.

  1. Parts of the personality can unfold in new contexts.

In a recruitment context, the test is often used to say something about the candidate in the upcoming job. But when you get a new job, you also get a new future. You get new management colleagues, a new board, new tasks, new frameworks, and these aspects affect the candidate’s behavior in unpredictable ways.

  1. References can have different experiences.

References can also be very different. The chairman of the board may think that the CFO has been out in the business too little, while the CEO may think that this CFO was the best wingman who was just good at being out in the business. So, who is telling the truth?

Advantages of using personality tests

There are of course good reasons for using personality tests in recruitment.

  1. You get a uniform language between candidate and headhunter, but also between headhunter and client, which makes it easier to compare candidates.
  2. The test can provide a faster way to talk about the candidate’s preferences and values.
  3. Candidates can experience being treated more objectively and thus get a more professional impression of both the Executive Search process and the company.
  4. The tests can reduce biases. The risk of unconscious biases in the recruitment process decreases, as decisions can be made based on data from the test.

Criticism of the use of personality tests

In recruitment contexts, one can challenge whether personality analyses should be used at all. Some would think that cases should be used instead. If some relevant cases are designed, all candidates will be assessed on the same basis and the case will be aimed at the future context rather than each candidate’s past context. Others believe that it should be ensured to a greater extent that structured interviews are used. This will require the development of certain questions that all candidates must answer.

The structured interviews must reduce bias. Most people will be inclined to ask questions based on bias. The question is though; What assumptions, prejudices and unconscious preconceptions shape your questions, observations, and decisions? It is good to be critical.

  1. The candidate can cheat the test.

If a candidate wants to appear in a certain way, he can choose answers that will give a certain personality expression.

  1. The personality analysis can create bias.

But if you look at a personality test before you meet the person, you will have formed some hypotheses. The question therefore becomes whether you should only see the personality analysis after you have interviewed the candidate? In any case, it requires that you are trained in using questioning techniques and be aware of your own beliefs if you are to be able to listen without bias.

  1. Real curiosity about each other and possible cooperation can improve the decision-making basis.

A completely different method, also used in recruitment, is a more iterative method. Here, both the candidate and hiring manager colleagues choose to solve a specific task together and thus do some small experiments that should give an indication of how a collaboration will take place.

Of course, the above methods do not exclude the use of personality tests as a supplement.


    Persona: The Dark Truth Behind Personality Tests (2021) HBO Max Documentary Review
  • (OBS! MBTI bør ikke bruges til rekruttering)
  • Når personlighedstest bliver koblet til kunstig intelligens, algoritmer, big data og machine learning.
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About the author

Bibi Boas Bondesen


Director Executive Search, Head of International


  • Executive Search Consultant
  • Head of Business Development
  • Trade Support
  • Client Services Manager

Bibi has delivered Executive Search to a wide range of industries.
Bibi has most recently worked with Executive Search at Spencer Stuart and The Ashton Partnership in London, and she was previously employed by Morgan Stanley.
She has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Mathematics and Statistics from the London School of Economics and an MBA from Copenhagen Business School.

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