Personality questionnaires vs situational judgement tests for recruitment

Personality questionnaires vs situational judgement tests for recruitment

When it comes to behavioural assessments, two main assessment modalities exist. Firstly, you have the traditional personality questionnaire, which utilises multiple-choice questions using Likert scales or equivalent ratings. These are typically used to capture a candidate’s level of agreement with a specific behavioural indicator, such as “I enjoy working within a team”, requiring the candidate to rate their level of agreement with that indicator. Alternatively, we also have situational judgement tests (SJTs) which follow a different assessment methodology.

SJTs provide candidates with workplace relevant hypothetic scenarios and then suggest a range of possible actions that one could take to remedy any problems that arise within that scenario. Candidates then need to either rank the effectiveness of the options or rate them independently.

Both assessment methodologies have their uses, but due to their differences, they display advantages and disadvantages relative to each other. In this article, I will outline the key differences between these assessment tools, with the aim of identifying which is the better assessment methodology for achieving certain key organisational aims.

Job Performance

When it comes to predicting real-world job performance, both personality questionnaires and SJTs are valid and reliable predictors of performance. Although SJTs are individually more predictive of performance than any specific personality trait, a well-balanced personality questionnaire measures a wide range of personality traits and is thus likely to predict performance more strongly than the typical SJT. However, this does depend on organisations identifying the personality traits which are indicative of performance beforehand, and that information may not be immediately obvious without a thorough job analysis or a talent analytics research intention.

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These two assessment modalities also predict job performance in different ways. For example, personality questionnaires measure the specific personality traits which underpin performance, both ubiquitously across all roles and those which are predictive in specific contexts. Remember, some tests like MBTI and Enneagram measure personality types rather than traits. SJTs however, measure a person’s judgement and decision making, focusing more on outcomes and predicting performance in a more indirect way. Both methodologies are highly useful predictors of performance, but ultimately I would say those personality questionnaires come out on top here.

Candidate Experience

When it comes to candidate experience, both assessment methodologies rank among the more candidate friendly assessments. Consider numerical reasoning tests, which have strict time limits, require a calculator to complete, and have explicitly correct/incorrect answers. This assessment methodology often reduces candidate experience by introducing test anxiety into the mix. Both SJTs and personality questionnaires avoid time limits, giving applicants as much time as they require to participate. This vastly reduces test anxiety, improving the candidate experience and putting the minds of applicants at ease.

However, when comparing SJTs with personality questionnaires, I would say that SJTs offer a better candidate experience than personality questionnaires. A common criticism of personality questionnaires is that they are repetitive, and thus candidates may occasionally zone-out. Although this can be remedied by using shorter assessments, SJTs present candidates with interesting and realistic workplace scenarios, making the assessment intrinsically more interesting. As a result, when maximising candidate experience, the SJT comes out on top here.

Adverse Impact

Adverse impact, also known as disparate impact, occurs when certain groups score differently on average on a specific assessment. For example, if men and women score differently on a specific assessment tool, that tool could be said to create an adverse impact. The research is very clear that personality questionnaires create almost no adverse impact, representing one of the fairest assessment methods known. However, some research does suggest that SJTs can create adverse impacts based on ethnicity, with ethnic minority groups scoring lower than white candidates. The reasons for this are unclear, but research does suggest that response format seems to make a difference here, with certain scoring methodologies creating more adverse impact than others.

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As a result, if equality, diversity, and inclusion are the primary objectives of your employee selection processes, then personality questionnaires will show greater utility than most SJTs. However, not all SJTs create high levels of adverse impact, and instead hiring managers and human resources departments should evaluate the technical documentation associated with assessments beforehand. This will highlight to potential users the risks associated with that specific assessment, helping organisations to make informed decisions.


Both SJTs and personality questionnaires are extremely commonly used assessment tools, and the research evidence does suggest that both have their place in employee selection and assessment programmes. However, if organisations are forced to choose between them, on the balance of evidence, I would say that personality questionnaires are the more useful selection tool. Firstly, personality questionnaires have significantly greater breadth than SJTs, allowing organisations to measure a wider range of traits. They also show lower levels of adverse impact, making them more useful when supporting D&I activity. Lastly, although SJTs typically offer a better candidate experience, personality questionnaires are still comparatively relaxing and stress free assessments compared to ability tests and interviews, making them almost ideal employee selection tools.

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