Hiring is a complicated process to get right. Not only do you need to find a candidate who can do the job you’re hiring for, but you also need to find a person who fits into your corporate culture. Some jobs require teamwork skills, while others sit in the back alone and hammer out code. The overall corporate culture needs to be a good fit, but so does the best candidate for the demands of each job.
The process begins to get tricky immediately. For the most part, everybody who walks through the door looking to get hired will put their best foot forward and try to appear good at doing everything. Optimism is a good trait to have in a work environment. Problems arise when the prospective hire is stretching the truth enough to cause problems down the road.
While pinpointing specific examples in interviews is tricky, the stats don’t lie. Nearly 70% of new hires end up being poor matches and possibly can’t adapt and never work out at all. Inefficient hiring can cost companies as much or even more than a position’s yearly salary. Losing a year’s worth of salary money based on poor hiring decisions drags down a company’s bottom line. Drag the line down enough, and the business could go under. The stakes are high. Yet, how does a company function without employees? Hiring is mandatory.
Enter the personality test. Specifically, today we will look at the OCEAN Big 5 hiring personality test. Just as candidates can stretch the truth about their skill sets, they can also fudge an OCEAN personality test and try to give the answers that they think work best. Fortunately, the candidate has to be a genius to paint a rosy picture of their workplace presence and answer the questions in a personality test so that all indicators align and seem consistent with the person in the chair.
In short, lying or stretching the truth too far will cause a mismatch in test results versus conversational personality. Does the process take time? Yes. Are tens of thousands of dollars at stake if the wrong person gets hired? Yes. Taking the extra time on the front end more than justifies the savings on the back end if the employee works out. Come with me, and let’s dive into the Big 5 OCEAN test.
What Is the Ocean Personality Test?
Personality tests come in many forms. Typically the person taking the tests answers in multiple-choice format. The list can be as simple as “yes,” “no,” “agree,” or “disagree.” Higher-quality tests have more descriptive answers to choose between or use a scoring metric. A scoring metric means you typically choose from 1 to 5, where 1 means strongly disagree, and 5 means strongly agree. The 3 is usually neutral. The answers might go higher than 5 up to 7. The meanings of the numbers adjust accordingly.
Many tests have gravitated toward using the scoring metric. The advantage of the scoring system is that you can set up a specific situation or ask a specific question with a qualifier. A qualifier means you ask something like, “You see that your colleague is overrun with work and stressed. You offer to help and do some of the work.”
The above question is a simple and obvious example. If the applicant answers with 1 or 2, and possibly 3, you don’t hire that person. Of course, this situation is where the hard part comes in because no applicant in their right mind would answer with 1, 2, or 3. An answer of 4 might indicate that the person doesn’t like helping others or may seldom offer help.
The OCEAN test works much like the example above, but the outcome of the answer lands in a category that helps you form a picture of the applicant’s personality. Helping others likely indicates an “agreeableness” question to test how much others can rely on a person to help.
Agreeableness is the “A” part of OCEAN. We will get more into how those definitions work below, so keep reading.
An exciting and very effective aspect of OCEAN's personality test is that the subject receives a question or scenario and describes themself in the answer. Strongly agreeing or disagreeing are powerful indicators in this scenario.
They’re both powerful indicators when chosen or avoided. The word “strongly” sets off alarms for people and conjures images of flashing 100% signs. Somebody thinks, “do I 100% help others? No, I’ll pick 4 (agree), not strongly agree.”
You just learned a lot about a prospective employee, and all they did was choose a number after a question. There are usually forty-something questions, and the test often takes about ten minutes to complete.
A personality test is a tool in the arsenal an employer uses to try and find the right person for the job and a good fit for the company. The test shouldn’t be the only tool. Traditional interview practices like sitting down for a formal conversation are still great ideas. After a pleasant conversation, an employer can move on to a personality test to gain more insight into the applicant’s character qualities and true nature.
The applicant can always dishonestly portray themselves on the test. What they don’t know, or shouldn’t know, is the kind of person you’re looking for to fit your company culture. You also know how the person you just talked to portrayed themselves during the conversation. If the test doesn’t match the person you met—you’ll know what to do.
What are the Five Dimensions of Personality Measured by the OCEAN Test?
OCEAN is an acronym for:
- O - Openness: High openness means a person thrives on exciting, new situations. At a party, this is the person going around meeting and learning about everybody. Close friends and family describe this person as smart with an appetite for knowledge.
- C - Conscientiousness: Being conscientious means you do the right thing. At work, the right thing means doing your job. Conscientiousness with the Big Five OCEAN test means having enough self-discipline to meet and surpass expectations. Spontaneity, poor planning, and disordered systems hinder your focus.
- E - Extraversion: These people do well in social situations. With extraversion, people associate a social setting at work with action-oriented tasks done in collaboration with others, the kind of work they enjoy.
- A - Agreeableness: Agreeable people don’t agree on everything, but they show a lot of consideration, kindness, and sympathy toward the people around them. As an agreeable person, people will want to get you into group activities since you’re helpful and easily find common ground with others.
- N - Neuroticism: People generally think of a neurotic person as crazy. The antonym is “stable.” If you have an excellent neuroticism score for a work environment, you don’t panic or radiate nervous energy. The people around you will feel calm in the presence of your calmness. The whole team will gain resilience during tough times.
What Is Another Way to Get an OCEAN Score?
We saw above how a personality test for OCEAN will often use a number system for answers such as “5,” meaning strongly agree. The answers don’t always pair numbers with agreeability factors.
The answers can also be open-ended. In the open-ended format, the evaluator must derive the Big 5 of OCEAN from the words used.
- O - Openness: “I love to escape to the wilderness and enjoy the scenery.”
- C - Conscientiousness: “I’m reliable and punctual.”
- E - Extraversion: “I prefer to work in groups.”
- A - Agreeableness: “I can usually see what people need, and then I offer to help.”
- N - Neuroticism: “People do many little things that annoy me.”
The above are pretty obvious and straightforward answers that fit neatly into their respective traits. What if the answer is more complicated and fits into OCEAN but not so neatly?
Here’s an example: “I enjoy working in group settings when good leadership provides a clear direction with realistic goals”.
There is a lot more substance to unpack here, isn’t there? The above might be a little bit too specific to expect in a typical interview, but we need to enhance our understanding of OCEAN by layering on difficulty.
The first part is simple, “I enjoy working in group settings….” That statement is almost a copy of the above indicator of “Extraversion.” Then the sentence gets more complicated. This person wants leadership, clarity, and achievable goals. Is there a touch of neuroticism here? Does this person get upset if there is confusion?
Perhaps, an interviewer might want to venture down that path for a while to get more information. But the answer doesn’t indicate any neuroticism, even though you can imagine its potential presence. The person who provides this answer is high in conscientiousness.
Remember above what we learned about this trait: “Spontaneity, poor planning, and disordered systems hinder your focus.” A workgroup without leadership or clear goals indicates a poorly planned and disordered system that saps this person’s potential.
An employer needs to decide if this person’s personality fits into how the company functions. You have a conscientious extravert who enjoys organized groups.
How can the Big Five (OCEAN) Personality Test be Used in Hiring?
I need to start by saying that I don’t recommend using any kind of personality test results to make final hiring decisions. There are too many other factors, such as the skills required to do a job versus the applicant's skills.
A personality test helps an employer form a picture of how an applicant might fit into the corporate or company culture. In some cases, an employer can know that an applicant will not make a good fit based on personality alone.
However, in most cases, there are too many variables at work to use a personality test as the deciding factor. Instead, look at the OCEAN model test as a tool that provides insight into the individual and the larger group atmosphere that employees form.
Also, remember that employees can know their test results, which provides individuals with an opportunity to improve as well. Managers can also know which areas need work and provide guidance that helps individuals turn weaknesses into strengths.
How to Use OCEAN to Improve an Interview?
Bringing a personality test into the interview process does not initially seem like the product of clear thinking. Let me give an example and expand on the idea.
Let’s say you need a plumber. What do you do? You call a plumber. You are not likely to assess whether or not you will get along with this person. You just want the pipes fixed. You can easily look at a company the same way: Who cares what the programmer’s personality is like? We need a new computer programmer. Go hire one.
Let’s go back to the plumbing example. The plumber comes over and does skillful work. The pipes are perfect, but the plumber was rough around the edges and downright rude in the process. Do you call that plumber again in the future? Probably not, so you call another plumber and hope you find a nicer person with good skills.
To go back to the computer programmer example, you hire the first qualified programmer who applies. Everybody who interacts with this person leaves the encounter feeling insulted and angry at work. The programmer finally leaves or gets fired, and the company is losing money because necessary programming isn’t getting done.
The company has to spend more money going through the interview process to find another qualified programmer and hope that person fits into the office culture. With the plumbing example, you can’t screen your plumber for personality while water leaks into your home. Hiring for a salaried job provides certain advantages for the interviewer and interviewee.
Companies that use the OCEAN psychology test have a better way. The computer programmer with poor social skills doesn’t need to get hired immediately. Employers waste more time making poor hiring decisions and rehiring than taking the time to hire effectively.
Even if the process takes a couple of extra weeks, screen all the programmers who apply for skills and evaluate their personalities. Finding the applicant with the personality to make a good fit into your company culture is so important that once you find a match, you can make allowances for things like knowing how to code and needing to learn an additional language on the job.
Hiring the wrong applicant who possesses all the necessary skills will probably result in an empty chair again when the job doesn’t work out. By the time you realize your mistake and reach out to the applicant who scored the best on personality, that person will probably already have found another job.
When you find personalities that match your company culture, and other factors like skills and experience qualify, seize the moment. You need to build a team of workers, not individuals with skills who don’t get along or work well together.
How Does OCEAN Break Down Into More Detailed Traits?
We know the Big 5 of OCEAN are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. As you go deeper into the system, these traits break down further.
Each trait breaks down into sub-traits that break down into six more sub-traits, or facets and sub-facets, as the authors originally intended.
The feeling was that the traits in OCEAN work well as a starting point, but they are too broad for more detailed analyses.
There is no high demand to read too much into the facets and sub-facets. Their primary usefulness is to offer more when you feel a trait isn’t covering the full spectrum of a person’s personality.
Openness breaks down into Intellect and Aesthetic Openness. Intellect leads to only one more sub-facet—Ideas. Aesthetic Openness breaks down into Actions, Aesthetics, Fantasy, Feeling, and Values.
Say you get to know a person with high openness better. In terms of personality, you see that this person is open and has a lot of good ideas that also seem to stem from good values. Seeing that all of these traits and facets exist together, you can form a more complete picture of the person.
Conscientiousness contains the facets of Industriousness and Orderliness.
Industriousness leads to Achievement-Striving, Competence, and Self-Discipline.
Orderliness contains the sub-facets Deliberation, Dutifulness, and Order.
With a conscientious person who takes work seriously, you may notice that industriousness is dominant in how the person does work. Specifically, this person may take self-discipline seriously, exercise often, eat well, and abstain from substance abuse.
Over time, you can figure out that the same dedication this person has to fitness also applies to doing good work. Just as you wouldn’t want to go into the gym and remove any weights this person uses, you wouldn’t want to let disarray in the office interrupt this person’s workflow.
The difference is a technicality, but don’t confuse Extraversion with an extrovert, even though both spellings are common. "Extro" is the spelling in the United States. In Latin, “extra” means outside. Extraversion doesn’t turn inward, only outward.
We are looking at extraversion through a psychological lens, so the proper spelling is with an “a,” not an “o.”
The sub-facet Excitement-Seeking blends with both facets. Extraversion leads to Enthusiasm and Assertiveness. Enthusiasm breaks down into Gregariousness, Positive Emotions, and Warmth.
Assertiveness leads to the sub-facets Excitement-Seeking, Activity, and Assertiveness.
Extraverts are probably the easiest trait to spot. They don’t find corners for occupying at parties or in the workplace. Everybody will notice extraversion and probably know who that person is by name.
Furthermore, most people can probably name two different people with extraversion where one is enthusiastic, and the other is assertive. You will find that a warm and excitement-seeking person exhibits enthusiastic-extraversion.
Agreeableness leads to Compassion and Politeness.
Compassion leads to Tender-Mindedness, Altruism, and Trust.
Politeness breaks up into Compliance, Modesty, and Straightforwardness.
Agreeableness isn't as apparent as extraversion, but both traits are equally easy to identify. Agreeable people may not become group leaders, but they’re good at binding groups together so that too many strong heads don’t create division.
You may notice that an agreeable person is always polite but will nicely state the plain truth. This person is straightforward. You can benefit a lot from knowing you have a straight shooter who has almost zero chance of being rude to someone else.
Neuroticism leads to Volatility and Withdrawal. We should pause on these two facets because they’re vastly different outcomes, and one or both could occur.
On the one hand, a person doesn’t get their way, and they withdraw and shut down. People may find this person hard to get close to after a situation. On the other hand, we have a person who gets upset and lashes out. Verbal or even physical assault could follow.
Neuroticism is a trait a good interviewer needs to spot and identify. In group settings, people invariably have to deal with being wrong or overruling an idea by a vote or prevailing opinion. A person who doesn’t deal well with disappointment or stress may not be welcome in any group if the trait is strong enough.
Volatility only has two sub-facets—Angry Hostility and Impulsiveness. Withdrawal has the other four—Anxiety, Depression, Self-Consciousness, and Vulnerability.
In my experience, neuroticism occurs on a scale. If a person is neurotic enough to lash out, they explode first. After the temper tantrum, they may feel embarrassed or still mad and withdraw. Some people refer to withdrawal as sulking.
In the sulking phase, the person may feel anxiety over the consequences of getting upset, become depressed, and ultimately end up vulnerable. The vulnerability makes sense because neuroticism tends to push others away.
What Are Some Potential Benefits of Using the Big Five Personality Test in Hiring?
The ways you can use the Big Five can also mingle personality with the job description for the position you want to fill. About 26% of new hires leave prematurely. Often they feel the job doesn’t match the description they received during the interview.
Why not hit two birds with one stone and explain the job, ask questions, and gain valuable OCEAN information?
Here’s an example: ‘Here at [insert company], we have a lot of tight deadlines for our [insert job-type] department. We often have a vague idea of how much work we need to get done by a certain date. The atmosphere quickly gets chaotic, and making deadlines often comes down to the wire. You could say the process seems disorganized, and we only succeed through solid teamwork. How do you feel about negotiating tight deadlines in teams that tackle chaos?’
The applicant thinks for a second and finally answers, ‘I’m outgoing and enjoy teamwork. My prior experience with this kind of work has involved a known amount of work with clear objectives. I enjoyed being able to see our daily progress and know when we would finish. I think I can adapt to the unknown and still meet deadlines.”
As an interviewer/employer, you are not in an enviable position trying to decipher this applicant’s words. Outgoing and enjoying teamwork these traits are a plus. But are these traits still true when unknown volumes of extra work can suddenly pour in and add stress?
This applicant seems conscientious, and you always run the risk of venturing into someone’s neurotic side if they get put into disorganized environments.
You might want to follow up with a question like, ‘What if you’re working on a project that involves certain rules or laws, and you’re getting near the end? Suddenly, some rules or laws get changed, and you have to scrap a bunch of work and potentially redo entire sections. How would you handle this situation?’
The answers you could receive are too varied to bother getting into the psychological meanings. The point is, you’re probing about injecting chaos into a work schedule. You want to gauge the applicant’s response and learn about this person’s personality. Neuroticism is a red flag.
These types of on-the-spot OCEAN questions will vary with each applicant. You, as the interviewer, are learning and practicing a new skill. You will improve over time if the challenge interests you.
Used correctly, the OCEAN test gives you the benefit of meeting an applicant, learning about their work experience and skills, and pairing what you learn with the results of a personality test. All of the information combined can make the best applicant rise to the top.
Hiring the right person who stays on the job and does reliable, good work saves the company a lot of money and reduces stress.
Are There Any Potential Drawbacks to Using the OCEAN Personality Test in Hiring?
The number one drawback is relying too heavily on the personality test to make a final decision. Imagine you’re hiring for a technical job that not many people can do. There is a lot of demand in the market and not enough highly sought-after applicants.
You may only get one chance to hire anybody to take a high-demand job. In this situation, rather than scrutinizing this person’s personality, you might want to invest more energy into making your company look as attractive as possible, along with your offer.
Another aspect of a personality test result, taken too seriously, is that the person applying can grow into a different person than the one sitting in the chair presently. Furthermore, the person applying could turn out to be talented. Having cohesive group dynamics is nice, but all group efforts rely on talented people. From sport to business, talent matters.
When you sense that someone might grow into a great leader or possess vast talent, you can use a personality test to work on areas that need improvement. You can also encourage good traits. Over time people figure out that their negative traits aren’t winning people over. Change takes time, but people do change.
Which Legal Problems Can Arise?
Hiring purely based on personality can easily end up looking unethical. Unethical behavior can easily land a person, people, or company in court. Even if you get dragged into court and win, accusations of unethical behavior are not an image any company needs.
You want to find good personality fits for the culture in your office(s). You cannot afford to appear biased toward some people. In the modern days of social media, a negative smear campaign can do enough harm to your brand that you become toxic.
How Can a Personality Test Be Wrong?
A personality test can give you the equivalent of a false positive. How do you know that the personality test is reliable? You don’t. The same person can score differently on different days. At no point in time should a company view a personality test as something that tells them what about somebody’s real personality.
The challenge you are dealing with is reliability vs. validity. A reliable result on a personality test is one where a person takes a test multiple times with similar or the same results. Validity means: How good is your test?
Say your test continually indicates a person is high in openness. Is the result accurate? If your test highlights a strong trait, you still have to decide if you agree with the result.
The OCEAN quiz personality indicator has a good track record, trusted all over the world. Remember that OCEAN isn’t one test but a system for creating tests. The odds that nobody wrote a bad OCEAN test are extremely low.
Job performance matters the most. You are unlikely to administer any personality test and come out knowing how well a person can do a job. You can get a feel for some strengths and weaknesses. You have to draw the line somewhere and be aware of what you can’t know until you have more evidence.
Bear in mind that a personality test is a tool in a tool kit for making good hiring decisions. You will have to use multiple tools.
Let’s take a look at some common questiosn regarding OCEANs personality test:
Can I get a free OCEAN personality test?
Yes, you can get free tests all over the internet. Stick to reliable sources for a trustworthy result. As we have already seen, the system provides a great template, but fallible people need to create the tests. The quality can’t remain consistent.
How long does an OCEAN Big 5 test take to complete?
Test times can vary, but they usually take about ten minutes to complete. If the answers are open-ended, finishing the test could take longer.
What is the scoring system on an OCEAN test?
The scoring system can work multiple ways, but the premise remains essentially the same regardless. The simplest example to use is the numeric 1 to 5 system where strongly disagree and agree to sit on the extreme ends.
To use simple math, say there are fifty questions, ten each for the five OCEAN traits. Say a well-mannered person has a lot of “Agree” and “Strongly Agree” in Agreeableness in 7 out of the 10 questions about Agreeableness (simplified example, by the way).
This person will test high in Agreeableness which is a standalone part of the result. There will be four more results for the other traits. The traits typically remain separate so that a person is high-something, low-something, moderately-something, etc.
The final tally of lows, mediums, and highs paints a picture of a person’s personality with descriptions to match.
How do companies use the OCEAN test when hiring?
If a company follows best practices when implementing any personality test when hiring, the test does not serve as a screening device. While a company can rule out a candidate due to personality concerns, the test shouldn’t be the tool to suit that purpose.
Used correctly, an OCEAN test is like a color on a painter’s palette. Many colors will end up in the final painting. The color for personality helps complete the picture. Companies should use the test to understand an applicant better while searching for somebody who will do a good job at work.
The OCEAN Big Five test serves as a springboard for finding good employees who will work well and feel content with their job. As long as the applications and understanding of the test results get handled correctly, the personality test is an invaluable tool.
Many companies all over the world currently rely on the OCEAN system. In the future, the OCEAN system will probably gain popularity as long as people use the results responsibly.