Self-reports are the most widely used method of assessing personality, primarily due to their convenience. While self-reported personality is useful for understanding how a person perceives themselves, on its own, this form of assessment often provides more insight into a candidate’s self-perception than it predicts their likely job performance.
When completing a self-report, people are typically consciously aware of what is being measured and the questions that are measuring it. This conscious awareness allows assessment-takers to regulate their responses, leading to biases in self-reporting. For example, "social desirability bias" is common in self-reports, where people tend to answer questions in ways that makes them look good rather than answering truthfully. As a result, job candidates hoping to impress a potential employer may portray themselves more favourably in self-reports (e.g., as more conscientious than they really are).
Self-reports are also subjective, in that they rely on and assess one’s point of view. The subjective nature of self-reports often results in "reference-group effects," where a person’s perception of themselves is biased by the degree to which they compare themselves to other people. For instance, a candidate may think of themselves as extraverted if the people they surround themselves with are extremely introverted.
Reducing self-report biases with language-based assessment
To deal with the limitations of subjective and explicit self-reporting (like social desirability biases and reference-group effects), candidate evaluations should be based on more objective measures of personality. Personality assessments that are not dependent on personal perceptions, where candidates are not consciously aware that their personality is being measured (or how it is being measured), help improve the accuracy of the assessment.
Researchers using Receptiviti’s science have shown that language can be an objective behavioural measure of personality. Function words, in particular, are used largely unconsciously, which makes them an ideal implicit measure of behaviour and provides an approach that helps mitigate the biases inherent in self-reports.
Research also shows that people use similar language patterns over time and throughout different contexts, which makes language a reliable measure for understanding personality traits and differences among individuals. For example, people who score higher on extraversion typically use more language indicative of positive emotion and social topics.
Self-reports measure a person’s self-perception, while language measures how they behave
People’s language-based personality may not match their self-reported personality because self-reports evaluate how a person perceives themselves, while language measures how they behave. For instance, a candidate may respond to a personality assessment with the belief that they are not a neurotic person because, compared to their neurotic friends, they see themselves as emotionally stable (i.e., the"reference-group effect"). While this same person considers themselves as emotionally stable rather than neurotic, they may also use highly self-focused language (i.e., first-person singular pronouns: I, me, my), which research shows is highly associated with neuroticism. Clearly, a person's self-perception does not always coincide with ground truth.
A comprehensive examination of personality should combine self-report with language-based assessment
Self-report assessments of personality have long been considered a “gold standard.” In reality, self-reports have limitations, but they remain popular because they are an inexpensive and convenient way to assess personality—just answer these 100 questions! Language-based assessment is, in fact, a faster and more efficient undertaking than completing a self-assessment.
Used together, self-reports and language-based assessments provide the means to gain a comprehensive understanding of a candidate’s personality, their likely behaviours, and their suitability to the culture of the hiring organization. Plus, when examined concurrently, language-based assessment adds a remarkable feature—insight into each candidate's biases about of their own personality.