Pre-Employment Personality Tests Are a Bad Idea

By Jim Griffin, JD, Employment Counsel
Published June 12, 2018

Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it reached separate conciliation agreements with Best Buy and CVS Caremark Corporation to resolve charges of race and national origin discrimination brought against the companies. The EEOC had conducted lengthy investigations into both companies and found it probable that personality tests that the companies had used to screen applicants adversely impacted certain applicants based on their race and national origin.

pre-employment personality tests a bad idea

Although the details of the conciliation agreements are confidential, the EEOC stated that both companies agreed to implement many "best practices" nationally, such as modifying hiring processes, adding staff to recruit and monitor the hiring of minorities, creating comprehensive in-house training modules for hiring managers, and forming regional diversity and inclusion committees. The companies also agreed to conduct regular evaluations of their hiring performance and submit reports to the EEOC for several years.

These agreements should serve as a reminder to employers to use extreme caution when implementing and utilizing pre-employment personality tests. Two issues commonly arise from the use of such tests: 1) the use of such tests opens up the possibility of an adverse impact discrimination claim if it turns out that the tests screen out a disproportionate amount of a particular protected class; and 2) the tests are often not job-related or predictive of success at the job.  

Employers who wish to use a pre-employment personality test should first take steps to ensure that the test has been validated and demonstrated not to have a disparate impact on any protected class (race, gender, age, etc.). Often, the company marketing the tests will tell you that they have been validated, which is good, but even if they have been, there is still the chance that when you administer the test, it ends up screening out a certain protected class at your specific organization, leaving you at risk for a discrimination claim. If you utilize a personality test, it's important that you conduct your own adverse impact analysis to ensure that there has not been an adverse impact on any protected class.

The second concern with utilizing personality tests is that they may not actually be an effective predictor of who will be a good employee. There is a chance that you miss out on qualified candidates because the test screens out poor test takers, not poor potential employees.  

If you are set on utilizing a pre-employment test as a screening tool, you should ensure that the test actually measures something that is directly related to the job. For example, if you are hiring for a position that requires public speaking, require the final interviewees to give a 10-minute presentation during the interview process. Another example of a job-related pre-employment test is a test that many libraries require applicants for a shelving position to pass, where the applicants are asked to sort a cart full of books to ensure they can properly alphabetize and follow the Dewey Decimal System.  

Association members with questions regarding pre-employment testing should contact us for assistance at 800-448-4584 or at

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