How to Handle Pre-Employment Personality Tests

October, 2013 Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter

A reader of this newsletter who has Asperger’s Syndrome wrote to me expressing her frustration with pre-employment screening tests. “Many companies … require online assessments which rely heavily on ‘normal’ intuitive aspects of relationships,” she began. “I have been consistently informed via impersonal emails that I am not a ‘good fit’ for this or that company…with no options for human interactions, therefore no opportunity to market my strong points!”

She sent along the following sample question: Jill placed candy bars for sale for her youth organization in the break room. Jack took a candy bar during his break, then returned to work without paying for it. What is the logical reason for his behavior?

1. Jack was late from his break and forgot to pay.

2. Jack knows Jill and thinks it is okay.

3. Jack thinks he deserves a free snack.

4. Jack believes any snack left out should be free.

The reader continued, “What is logical about any of these options? How, without further insight into Jack, can one presume to know his reasoning?”

Many organizations use pre-employment testing to screen job applicants. Testing may evaluate technical skills, aptitude, intelligence, or motor skills. Employers may also use testing to assess personality traits, emotional intelligence, judgment, leadership ability and other “people” skills.

There is much debate about whether personality testing discriminates against individuals with certain developmental, cognitive and communication disorders. People with Asperger’s Syndrome and Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD), for example, tend to be concrete, literal thinkers. They have trouble recognizing situational context, and inferring the motives and intentions of others. As a result, they may misunderstand test questions, and choose inappropriate answers.

The example above illustrates this well. From a literal Aspergian perspective, the question is impossible. How could one know what Jack was thinking without any information about him?

For a neurotypical (NT), however, there is an intuitive understanding that the question is not about Jack. It is about the test taker. The NT is aware that the response he chooses provides insight into his attitudes, personality traits and beliefs, as well as how he interacts with others. There is a tacit understanding that within the context of employment screening, one must try to select responses that reflect personal characteristics that the employer is seeking.

For example, we can presume that Jill placed a sign near the candy, stating the cost, and that proceeds would benefit a charity. Attributing Jack’s behavior to his deserving a free snack (response #3) suggests dishonesty, selfishness and a lack of consideration for his co-worker. From a psychological perspective, this answer could be reflective of characteristics belonging to the test-taker, and/or indicative of how he views and treats other people. (Answers #2 and #4 suggest similar characteristics.)

Choosing response #1 suggests entirely different motives and intentions. The presumption is that Jack was distracted and simply forgot to pay for the candy; an innocent mistake. Selecting this answer could reflect a test taker who is trusting of others, tolerant of mistakes, and understanding.

Pre-employment testing is legal, as long as it does not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits an employer from using testing to screen out individuals with disabilities, unless such screening is consistent with business necessity. For example, if a job requires the ability to lift heavy boxes, candidates may be screened for disabilities that impact their strength or mobility.

The use of personality testing was successfully challenged in a 2005 court case. In Karraker v. Rent-A-Center, a court ruled that use of the Minnesota Multiphasic

Personality Inventory (MMPI) in pre-employment screening violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The court found that the MMPI constituted a medical examination, which violates the ADA when administered prior to a job offer, and that it was being used to screen out applicants with mental illness.(1)

What impact this decision will have on personality testing in the future remains to be seen. In the meantime, many job seekers are required to takes these tests, even when submitting online applications. Refusing to apply for these  jobs could limit your employment options.

Tips for Handling Pre-Employment Testing

Understand what skills and personal attributes are critical for the job you want. Employers use personality testing to select candidates who have attributes that increase their chances of success. When you know what these attributes are, you are better able to choose answers that reflect the desired characteristics. An interest in helping people is much more important for a customer service representative than it is for a software programmer. Be honest with yourself. Testing might reveal that you are not suited for a particular line of work.

Practice taking tests. There are several companies that offer practice tests for job seekers. SHL Group (, for instance, offers assessment advice, tips for test taking, and a variety of practice tests you can access at no charge. (This company does collect personal information, and sells products, however there is no obligation to make a purchase). You might enlist the help of a neurotypical family member, friend or professional to give you some pointers about how to interpret the questions.

Request an accommodation. Several clients have asked whether they can disclose their Asperger’s or NLD, and be exempt from personality testing. It is acceptable to make a request, but it is up to the employer whether or not to grant it. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) publishes a booklet called Testing Accommodations that can be accessed at no charge here.


(1) EFE Fact Sheet, The ADA and Personality Testing by Employers, Karraker v. Rent-A-Center, © Equip for Equality and The Illinois ADA Project, 2005; Revised: 10/2/2013,

© 2013, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching.