About the Project


In the Western World, the concept of personality assessment is not a new one. Organisations have been using such procedures to add to the predictive validity of their workplace assessment programs for a number of years and with varying degrees of utility. However, this potentially-valuable tool remains rather illusive in the Chinese workplace, owing not only to the fact that historically, Western tests have been imported into the Asian region and translated into the local language with the expectation that what works in the West will work also in the East, pending translation, but also because there is a scarcity of Chinese language tests developed specifically for workplace psychological assessment. This project examines the use of personality assessments, highlights the benefits of such methodology and introduces a program of international research that has taken place to develop and examine the reliability and validity of a number of workplace personality assessments that are used in Asia.

Why use personality assessments?

With continued technological advancements and growing unemployment, the world of work is becoming an employer’s market. However, with a greater choice of available and interested potential employees, this does not mean that an employer is bound to select the most appropriate one for a given job. In fact, given such an increased selection bank, it is even more important than ever that reliable and valid tools that are able to discriminate between the most potentially-effective employee and the one who will not fit the job or who will be unlikely to stay or will upset the current team atmosphere etc. An employer, on the other hand also needs to remain attractive, both internally and externally to potential and current employees. One way of doing this is to have a well designed system of continual development that benefits both the employee and the organisation. For both of these scenarios, personality assessment is an objective tool that is able to contribute to the validity and successful outcome of the process.

How valid are personality assessments?

Validity is related to whether or not a test is fit for its purpose, that is, whether it measures what it purports to measure. In this article, there is an assertion that personality assessments can in some way predict the performance of an individual at work. This type of validity is referred to as criterion-related validity. What a candidate scores on a test must be related (correlate) with an objective measure of their work performance. Typically, this measure would come from performance appraisal records, 360-degree assessments or more objective performance indicators such as number or amount of sales. We know from a large body of research evidence that alone, personality assessments cannot predict a great deal of the variance in these performance indicators between candidates. However, when used in conjunction with other forms of assessment such as a record of employment experience, a standardised interview (better still, a behavioural interview informed by the results of a personality assessment), aptitude tests etc., personality assessments add incremental validity to the process that cannot be gleaned from other sources. Additionally, although it may be possible in an interview for the candidate to act in a positive, friendly and impressive manner for the relatively short duration of the interview, this is far less easily done with personality assessments because in-built scales detect different response styles, such as socially-desirable responding or responding without due care and attention. In essence then, personality assessment, using well-designed and researched tests is a valid form of assessment, well worth the relatively small fee for use, provided the results are used in conjunction with other evidence in any decision-making process.

Why are personality assessments valid? Are all tests valid?

Well-designed and thoroughly tested personality assessments afford an extra element of information in the decision-making process that other forms of assessment are unable to offer. Specifically, when used in conjunction with a formal job-analysis, personality assessments become legally-defensible methods of selection in countries where unsuccessful candidates are able to appeal such decisions. Not all personality assessments are the same of course and the degree of validity afforded by an instrument will vary. Before investing in tests, it is important to understand the purpose for which the test was designed and in which different populations it has been tested. There are a huge number of free personality tests available on the internet and whilst these may be fun to complete, they usually are unsuitable in work situations because a ‘free test’ developer cannot, by implication, afford to invest in initial and ongoing studies of the reliability and validity of the test under different conditions and within different populations.

What theory underlies personality assessments?

Different theories of personality underlie different instruments. The most widely accepted model of personality on a universal basis is that known as the 5-Factor Model. Simply put, this model assumes that individuals’ personality can be described and measured in terms of their variance along five bi-polar traits. These ‘Big-5’ traits are Openness to Experience (O), Conscientiousness (C), Extraversion (E), Agreeableness (A) and Emotional Stability (N). A number of instruments have been developed over the years to measure these traits.

One of the ‘Big-5’ measures which has been used extensively in cross-cultural research is the NEO-PI-R. This personality assessment has been translated into more than 40 languages/dialects and used in over 30 different cultures. Research results have shown that the NEO-PI-R traits hold together in a reasonable approximation to their intended structure in many cultures. This suggests that the test has continued utility outside of its Western place of origin (USA). It is, however, important to note that the factor structure does not hold together as intended in all cultures (for example it appears that Openness to Experience is far less salient in China), and even where it does, this does not imply that each trait has the same importance in the observed culture as it may do in others, or that there are not indigenous traits which may be capable of explaining variations in personality and behaviour over and above the variation that the NEO-PI-R or other ‘Big-5’ measures can account for. Additionally, for the purposes of this article, it is useful to question whether the test was actually developed as a measure of workplace personality, thus, with the intention to measure the range of traits that may be associated with the prediction of an individual’s workplace performance.

Thus far then, we know that the universal concept and measurement of personality does seem to have a high degree of validity whilst at the same time it is necessary to acknowledge that such a model is unable to capture the complete essence of Chinese personality.

Indigenous personality researchers have been working on the development of a localised measure of personality. For example, researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong have published the CPAI, originally named the Chinese Personality Assessment Inventory and more recently, the CPAI-2, now the acronym stands for the Cross-Cultural Personality Assessment Inventory. Whilst the CPAI-2’s research programme is starting to assess the instrument’s ability to predict aspects of work performance, the majority of validation evidence to date has come from the measurement of non-work specific personality and clinical samples.

Our previous research specific to the prediction of workplace performance in China

Researchers based in Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand who have academic and business links with Hong Kong, Singapore and China were involved in a research program in the region to converge both Western and Eastern models and measures of personality in order to provide a holistic and locally-validated Chinese measure and predictor of workplace performance.

The 15FQ+ questionnaire, based on the 5-Factor Theory, was been translated into Chinese and subsequently ‘back-translated’ into English by Hong Kong specialists. The Chinese 15FQ+, along with the NEO Five-Factor Inventory were given to 300 Hong Kong University students in March 2004 for completion. 178 valid questionnaires were returned and now the researchers are carrying out item and validity analysis. We also collected GPAs (Grade Point Averages) from students.

Phase two involved the administration of both the Chinese version of the 15FQ+ personality assessment alongside the CPAI-2 and the collection of workplace performance data. The research team then assessed the overlap and unique differences in and between the 15FQ+ and CPAI-2 data. There was an assessment of the composite test’s ability to predict workplace performance and an analysis of the incremental validity (if any) that the CPAI-2 questions and scales hold over the 15FQ+. Subsequently, the scales of the CPAI-2 that may hold prediction over and above (if any) the 15FQ+ scales were to be added to the 15FQ+ and transported into Australian and UK business settings and an assessment made of their ability to predict workplace performance in these non-indigenous cultures. See actual results here.

What are the benefits of this research to business and industry in China?

One obvious benefit is a greater knowledge and understanding of how Chinese-specific personality traits may be linked to work performance. Thus not only can we expect to find better predictive validity of work performance in China, but also, we will be able to use these assessments with all levels of employee. In the current scenario (apart from a few Chinese language tests), there is little alternative but to use English-language tests of repute or otherwise, thus only applicable to positions where incumbents possess adequate skills in English comprehension. A Chinese language test, researched in China on Chinese people and utilising both universal and indigenous personality measurement, opens up the personality testing arena and provides a world-class alternative personality assessment. Ultimately then, with hypothesised increased levels of personality-based workplace performance prediction, businesses can expect to: be more successful in recruitment and selection; have a greater knowledge of where best to place an individual within an organisation or team; and have a more accurate identification of an individual’s training needs. This in turn will enable anticipation of reduced staff turnover, increased employee morale, greater job satisfaction and higher productivity.

Newspaper Article on Personality Testing in Hong Kong

You may also wish to read the article published in the Hong Kong Standard on 15th March 2004.