Job candidates rarely admit to being fired for poor performance… and they might just be telling the truth. A Harvard University study found that for every dismissal based on failure to perform, there are two dismissals due to personality and communication problems.

With the high costs of employee turnover, it’s no surprise companies are turning to personality and behavioral assessments to help evaluate job candidates, build teams and resolve workplace conflicts.

The Right Fit
Ann Taylor Loft, the world’s fastest-growing women’s retailer, recently began using testing to fine-tune its hiring process and bring in top talent. Through a partnership with the Gallup organization, Loft has developed a tool that profiles employees who have been highly successful and identifies candidates who have similar traits.

Desired characteristics vary by position. If you’re applying for a floor sales manager job at a Loft store, for example, you would be asked to complete an online assessment gauging your talents, traits, attitudes and behaviors related to assisting and helping wardrobe clients. Your results would then be bench-marked against profiles and test results of the stores’ best performers to help judge how you would fit into the organization.

“We want to learn more about candidates as individuals,” says Wei-Li Chong, Ann Taylor Loft’s vice president of Organizational Effectiveness. “We want to know what makes them tick.

“Once a candidate is hired, this same information helps us understand and maximize their talents specific to the role they have,” Chong adds. “And we continue to work on developing employees’ self-awareness throughout their careers to help create an environment that ensures success.”

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Hundreds of companies — including Hewlett-Packard and GM — use testing to take advantage of existing staff strengths and avoid personality-based conflicts. And though there are a myriad of test instruments to choose from, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) remains the standard-bearer of all personality assessments. According to its publishers, Myers-Briggs is used by roughly nine out of 10 Fortune 100 companies and is administered to more than 2.5 million employees a year.

Developed 60 years ago based on the theories of psychoanalyst Carl Jung, the MBTI endures because it does a great job of improving team relations by pointing out differences between how personality “types” perceive and process information.

“People have different ways of making decisions and dealing with stress,” explains Lynn Ronchetto, Human Resources Administrator at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “The Myers-Briggs tool offers a conceptual framework for understanding those who are different from us and helps bridge differences between team members by showing there is more than one way to get things done.

“The tool is also very valuable from a personal development standpoint, as it gives individuals a revealing glimpse of themselves as others may see them.”

You Can’t Study For It
What should you do when your boss or prospective employer asks you to take a personality assessment? Experts advise answering the questions truthfully, not the way you think the company wants you to respond. There is often a validity factor built in where many questions are asked solely to determine whether the subject is answering truthfully and consistently.

Even if you do fool the test, you’ll only wind up in a job or assignment that doesn’t fit or will make you — and those around you — miserable. According to Bonnie Bass, vice president of Professional Dynametric Programs testing organization, “When people feel the need to act unnaturally, they waste energy, experience stress and become unhappy and less productive. People are at their best when they’re doing work that draws on their natural strengths and allows them to be themselves.”

Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Other writers have contributed to this story.