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I work for a tech company in the US and they just started asking some employees (not sure if all, or just a selected few) that we take something called the Predictive Index (PI). I could not find much information about it online.

I have never seen a company asking for something like this before. Wikipedia has little information about the test, and I am anxious about taking it. The email we got from our boss is that they are doing it as part of the hiring process.

Would do these tests aim to measure in the work place, and how do companies typically use their results? Is asking employees to take this test extended practice, as the Wikipedia article seems to claim?

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    Can you describe why you feel that it is an invasion of privacy? For example, a question like "when you have to make a decision do prefer to make the decision based on available data or 'gut feel'?" is very different from "were you yelled at as a child?"; I have seen both questions on personality tests, but work-related personality tests tend to focus on the former, not the latter kind of question. – Eric Lippert Feb 10 '15 at 17:55
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    And yes, these pseudo-scientific nonsense tests are becoming distressingly common in the tech industry. A former employer of mine once spent a ludicrous amount of money to discover that their technical staff working in a highly competitive industry were competitive people who enjoyed working on data-driven technical problems. I could have told them that for a lot cheaper. – Eric Lippert Feb 10 '15 at 17:56
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    What I would take from it is a company that values the employees and is trying to get the most out of them. And I don't mean exploit employees. Put you in a role that you are good at and enjoy. – paparazzo Feb 10 '15 at 18:40
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    In my experience, these tests are a waste of time. Even if they were accurate and correctly determined personality type (which they do not), there is the question of WHAT to do with that info. I wish HR departments would just stick to the basics. – teego1967 Feb 10 '15 at 19:39
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    @teego1967: not that I'm in HR, but what you're supposed to do with the info is to try to create diverse teams which can then bring multiple perspectives to what they do. For example, don't put 5 analytic introverts in a room unless you know every problem they'll face is susceptible to analytic solution. Whether tested personality type is an effective to achieve that is another matter, and anyway users of the tests notoriously fall into the error of thinking certain roles should be done by specific types. – Steve Jessop Feb 11 '15 at 10:01
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Would do these tests aim to measure in the work place,

They aim to measure... you. Your strengths, weaknesses, biases. They want to know what you like to do, how you approach problems, what causes you grief.

how do companies typically use their results?

Increasingly, companies are using the results in a "big data" sort of way. Google for example. They measure a bunch of people. Then they correlate those measurements to other stuff, like how likely those people were to quit in 2 years, or how likely they were to get promoted (and succeed once promoted), or how likely they were to go postal and shoot up the place. The main goal is to figure out what sort of person will be successful in a role. It's the same thing HR has been doing for ages, but instead of guessing or the old ways that are known to be crappy and biased, they're using (psuedo-)science.

Personally, I think it's a vile practice that is assuming causation where it may not reliably lie. Worse, it's likely to create a mono-culture when other studies have shown that mixed teams tend to be best. But so far the stats say I'm wrong. At least for some companies, this sort of thing has done wonders for making hiring less of a crapshoot, keeping employees happy (since they're better setup for success), and even promoting diversity (since personality/motivations matter more than race/history/schooling/communication style/looks).

And as such, it's far more prevalent than even 5 years ago - and I would expect it to continue to expand as it remains successful. I would also unfortunately expect people to misuse it more as more people do it "because google is doing it".

  • It may not be for hiring though. The web page says it "provides managers with accurate, actionable data quantifying the unique motivating needs and behavioral drives". Our company did the Gallup Strengths Finder survey as more of a tool for understanding how to adapt the management and team organizations to particular work styles and to make us aware of our own predilections. Happy workers are productive workers. – ColleenV Feb 10 '15 at 15:00
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    For the record, I am in full agreement with you about this trend toward mono-cultures where diversity is measured in skin color and gender instead of differences in the things that truly make us unique. – ColleenV Feb 10 '15 at 15:09
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    @ColleenV - Eh? I said that these sort of personality tests are likely to encourage mono-cultures of people who have decidedly similar personalities (as opposed to the mono-cultures of race/gender that the non-data-driven HR methods tend towards). I'm not sure I read your comment as meaning the same thing. – Telastyn Feb 10 '15 at 15:29
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    Sorry my mobile makes it hard to type out complete thoughts. Using personality tests to match top performers during the hiring process is getting more popular, which leads toward mono cultures at the same time companies are pushing for more diversity in gender and race. I think the focus is on the wrong type of diversity. The idea that my perspective is diverse simply because I'm a woman is ridiculous if you hired me because my personality matches your top performers who just happen to be male. – ColleenV Feb 10 '15 at 17:52
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    @ColleenV I completely agree. It can be a real issue with these sorts of tests where you start to see less variation in regards to personality, behavior, how people think, etc. Sure the gender, race, and religions might vary, but it doesn't matter if everyone has roughly the same mind set. This can be especially limiting to a company when brainstorming comes into play. Even the most absurd suggestions sometimes are the beginnings of our best work, you need that diversity to got that variety of ideas. – RualStorge Feb 10 '15 at 18:10
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I am going to cut against the grain, here a little, and I fully expect to get downvoted, but this is something that needs said:

I would be EXTREMELY cautious of any company that does personality testing. I have had only one company ever ask me to do one, and less than a year later, this is what happened.

I know this is an edge case, but personality testing is a pseudo-science at best, and the questions are easily "gamed" by anyone who understands the motivation behind the tests.

@ColleenV's comment about "diversity" being only about ethnic background and gender is well-taken. In order to be successful (in my opinion), you need people on the team who don't think like you do. Simple example: I'm a VERY INTJ personality type. My software works, works well, and actually "fights upstream" when it has environmental issues. I'm very proud of that. It looks like hell because I don't have a very good visual aesthetic sense. I need right-brained people around me to say, "That's great, but can it look like this?"

That applies to a lot of other things as well. I come from western Nebraska, raised livestock, and play Bluegrass music as a hobby. I don't have clue 1 about what it's like to be from an urban culture. I have to work with urban-centric media producers all the time. If I were determined to only have people in my team who "fit," we honestly couldn't communicate with those customers well at all.

These personality tests are often some manager trying to fill their stables with "Stepford Employees" who would never threaten their own personal views. I'd be very reluctant to work for a company that put value on them.

My experience only. Your mileage may vary.

  • So it would be bad to have a team full of people all with personality traits that have been shown to be successful at a particular company? Why would a team of successful people be bad, simply because they aren't diverse enough? I'd much rather have a team full of really good people regardless of any sort of diversity measurement than a very diverse group of people ranging from poor to good. Whether the tests can identify those traits that make someone successful is another matter entirely. BTW, the link took me to some article about a guy getting shot? I didn't see the relevance. – Dunk Feb 10 '15 at 19:14
  • @Dunk - that was the company that had me do a "Personality test." And you can, and should, make sure you hire people with quality skills. The issue is that "skills" do not mean that they think and react the same way as everyone else. I know it's hyperbole for the sake of drama, but the "10th man" concept put forth in the movie "World War Z" is worth spending some time contemplating. – Wesley Long Feb 10 '15 at 19:45
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    @dunk The problem is that you can't be sure that those top performers would perform as well if they were surrounded by people who think exactly the same way. They might need the support of a team that challenges their view or doesn't mind taking on tasks that don't mesh with their work style. In general, everyone has an Achilles heel, and the risk of that weakness is mitigated if the group all has different weaknesses and strengths. – ColleenV Feb 10 '15 at 19:53
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    @Dunk - that's an interesting viewpoint - but where would your world be with regard to art? music? dance? food? literature? agriculture? mining? energy production? I know I just moved "up" about two levels, there, but the point is you NEED the different mindsets, thought processes, skills and sensitivities in order to develop the "total picture." You should read "Brave New World" again, and pay particular attention to the experiment where they set up an island of only alphas. – Wesley Long Feb 10 '15 at 22:22
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    @Dunk - Seriously, re-read Brave New World. Somebody has to do the drudgery work. That being said, no one is saying you need lazy employees. A different, non-conformist personality type is hardly lazy. In fact, they are usually more motivated and energetic, as they live life differently than the rest of the group. – Wesley Long Feb 12 '15 at 18:05
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Following the link you already provided, it seems this survey is based on the work of Matt Poepsel. His psychology credentials seem to be based on online schools.

Matt Poepsel, Ph.D. – Vice President of Product Management

Matt is responsible for overseeing the company’s product solution portfolio and roadmap. Prior to joining PI Worldwide, Matt co-founded Covocative, a web-based coaching software company. He previously served as the Vice President of Professional Services at Gomez, Inc. While at Gomez, he held a variety of roles including the leadership of the product management, sales engineering, consulting, and training teams. Matt spent six years in the US Marine Corps serving as an Arabic Linguist and a Reconnaissance Marine. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Excelsior College. He received his MBA and a second masters degree in management information systems from Boston University. He earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from Capella University where he researched the effectiveness of technology-enabled coaching.

I can't be sure about the first online school, but the online school where he got his Ph.D. from doesn't seem to be legitimate to me. Half of the written student reviews from that school seem to be extremely positive and half of those written reviews seem to be extremely negative. That's a significant red flag for me.

That being said, if I were you I would still take the test and let the cards fall where they may.

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    Yes, if only HR double-checked the degrees and references of everyone they hired, that would be a much better tactic than relying on the promises of pseudo-science. – Stephan Branczyk Feb 11 '15 at 19:38
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I have done one of these as a part of the hiring process for a company. It was very similar to a Meyers-Briggs personality test.

While I have never heard of this sort of thing being applied to existing employees, they may be attempting to validate the results prior to implementing. By testing your existing employees you can see if there is any correlation to performance and test results. If this test doesn't accurately predict performance (either good or bad) then it would be best to nix it before it becomes formally part of the hiring process. Business often doesn't use this sort of scientific validation before implementing new policies but it is definitely good practice.

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    @JoeStrazzere The fact that they are testing existing employees makes it seem like this isn't a standard implementation. Agreed about the merit of these, I've known unproductive people of all sorts of personality types :). – Myles Feb 10 '15 at 14:55
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It's not particularly unusual, although it's not something that occurs in every company (or even, really, the majority).

It's not something I'm entirely happy with personally, either, but I have taken them both as part of the application process and shortly after being hired and have never noticed any adverse influences from it. Maybe because they're not used negatively, or perhaps because of my winning personality and superb sense of humour. Shut up. I also found the results were approximately accurate, although there were areas I disagreed with.


My boss explained his use of them as being due to the following: he found that an analysis of your personality and behaviours can be a good indicator of how well you will fit into the team. Not how good you are, or how bad: it's a subjective analysis, there is no good and bad, but how well you will fit with the company style and ethos, the personalities of those who are already engaged with the company, and the clients. This is the aspect which may be used as part of the hiring process.

The other side of things can be more beneficial: a personality test can give an indication of how to manage you. Not just how to get the best out of you, but also how to best approach situations with you to reduce conflict, improve your motivation and job satisfaction etc. This is generally a good thing - as it allows your boss to tread more carefully in areas which may be more likely to bother you, or target techniques which are more likely to increase your happiness.

And as the final use, they may be used alongside competency questions (which focus mainly on experience) and skills list (i.e. your own claims) to build a full picture of who they're hiring.

Overall, they're not usually used negatively, they're just one tool which employers can use to differentiate between candidates. Although it can sound like a bad thing to choose people based on personality, remember that you won't be happy if your job is a bad fit for you personally, any more than the company won't be happy if you're a bad fit for their role professionally. The best outcome is that the most suitable person is chosen.

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    Shortly after being fired? How does that work? "Hi Jon, I was wondering if you could come take a personality test? No, we won't pay you to take it, but I figured you had some spare time on your hands?" – ruakh Feb 11 '15 at 3:01
  • Haha good catch, hired not fired... I've fortunately never been fired – Jon Story Feb 11 '15 at 8:11
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    +1, a well-reasoned discussion of how these tests should be used: to facilitate your workplace experience. It matches what I've heard and read from hiring managers as well. – Lilienthal Feb 11 '15 at 9:13
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Like a lot of things, it can depend on how the company plans on using the information. Some tests have scientific support, but there are requirements and training necessary for the giving and interpreting. I don't know if the results are skewed if people are forced to take the test.

In one example, a company that just hired me adjusted my responsibilities based on my personality type. They correctly assessed my aversion to repetitive tasks. Going forward, I was more inclined to believe the company was on my side and were willing to do what they could to improve the workplace.

Your company may be giving it to existing employees to try and establish their own norms. I don't know if you're better off people making assumptions, limited observations, listening to gossip and having evaluations biased by their personal baggage. Some may feel a standardized test is the best way to handle large numbers of applicants or save time for hiring managers.

I think they should be citing problems in their current hiring practices that they feel will get solved by using the test, but that is perceived as admitting one is wrong which some people will never do. Hopefully this won't affect your situation.

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Firstly, Do not participate in these tests in any way. Ever.

Look at the spin that is on their websites. Pitched at executives who -

  1. Are looking for ways to limit their staff.
  2. Are unaware that working in an emotionally toxic environment causes productivity problems.
  3. Are unable to understand the social needs of their staff.

These managers are either:

  • So emotionally blunt that they cannot interact with other staff effectively,

-or-

  • Are the type of person who lacks the ability to feel empathy (Psycho).

Absolute best case this test will remove opportunities and limit your career or get you fired.

Worse than that the test results can be used against you by a Psycho to make your working life hell and drive you into a breakdown. I know there are Psycho deniers out there, but unfortunately Psychos make up about 1% of the population and a high majority of upper management (Google Hare's pcl-r).

Polity decline. If they insist, ask for the rational behind the test and ask for an alternative. If they still insist "play" the test and give the answers you think they want to see.

You can make your workplace a happy one. If you see an injustice, don't rail against it, try to show an alternative that helps everyone. Most people are rational and solutions focused if you take time to consider their perspective. Others are not worth working with for any amount of money or fame.

Hugs all round :)

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