Target Personality Testing


Humans Are The New Cattle


I recently attended a Target job fair.  I was excited to see that they had everyone taking a personality test.  I was excited because I have studied the theories and mathematics behind personality tests in school.  I have also been responsible for interviewing and hiring employees, and I think I know a little about what employers want.


I was horrified by the test, although I can’t say I was exactly surprised.  I immediately decided that answering honestly would be career suicide.  As I took the test, I tried to answer each question how I figured they wanted it answered.  I ended up lying on almost every question.  It was depressing to realize that Target wanted someone that was the complete opposite of me.


I took the Retail Associate Candidate Survey, version 3B.  (F4639.02, revised 7/03).  The test was created in 1998 by Paragon Inc.


(Paragon is an HR Testing and software firm, currently going by Kenexa.  It still offers what it calls Behavioral Assessments, which it describes on its site ( as “Kenexa Selector™ behavioral profiling tool combines personality, experience, situational judgement, and problem-solving assessments to provide accurate performance predictions for hourly, sales and managerial positions. Kenexa Selector™ is used to improve individual performance and retention significantly by selecting the high-potential candidates best suited to the daily requirements of the job. Kenexa Selector™ is a fast, fair, reliable tool to help you select and promote your ideal candidates.”)


Sample Questions


2. Compared to others, I know I have a rebellious attitude.

            1. Strongly agree.

            2. Slightly agree.

            3. Not sure/in-between.

            4. Slightly disagree.

            5. Strongly disagree.

I wonder who answers 5 on this test.  They must either be stupid, or not care whether they get hired or not.


3. All things considered, I am very satisfied with my life so far.

            1. Strongly agree.

            2. Slightly agree.

            3. Not sure/in-between.

            4. Slightly disagree.

            5. Strongly disagree.

This was disturbing to me because I tried to imagine someone who is applying for a minimum wage job at target who was completely satisfied with his or her life.  There were several more questions like this in the test.


4. Regarding the future, I am:

            1. very optimistic.

            2. somewhat optimistic.

            3. uncertain.

            4. somewhat pessimistic.

            5. very pessimistic.


5. Most people would steal if they thought they could get away with it.

            1. Strongly agree.

            2. Slightly agree.

            3. Not sure/in-between.

            4. Slightly disagree.

            5. Strongly disagree.

Here they ask about ‘most people’ to try to get you to answer about yourself.


9. Traditional values of my upbringing play an important role in my life.

            1. Strongly agree.

            2. Slightly agree.

            3. Not sure/in-between.

            4. Slightly disagree.

            5. Strongly disagree.

They don’t explain what ‘traditional values’ means, so I can only assume it’s the conservative-fundamentalist-Christian euphemism for hating homosexuals, obeying authority figures, traditional roles for women, avoiding drugs, crime and premarital sex.  They could have asked ‘does god hate fags’ and probably gotten the same response, but they probably would have gotten in trouble.


11. The percentage of politicians I think are honest is:

            1. 95% to 100%.

            2. 90% to 94%.

            3. 75% to 89%.

            4. 50% to 74%.

            5. Less than 50%.

How could politicians not be honest?  Their campaigns are financed by the same rich people who own most of Target.


27. Promotions at work are usually based on:

            1. effort or who tries the hardest.

            2. ability or who has the most skill.

            3. who has the most experience.

            4. other factors like who the boss likes best.

            5. luck or being in the right place at the right time.


29. During high school, the number of clubs or organizations I belonged/belong to is:

            1. 0.

            2. 1.

            3. 2 to 3.

            4. 4 to 5.

            5. more than 5.


40. Most people:

            1. are completely honest.

            2. are basically honest and tell only “white lies.”

            3. not sure/in between.

            4. will tell you what they think you want to hear.

            5. will lie if they think it will help them and they won’t get caught.

Another ‘are other people honest’ question.  This was one of the most common types of questions on the test.


44. I am more of a:

            1. logical thinker.

            2. not sure/in between.

            3. day dreamer.

Apparently you can’t be logical and enjoy daydreaming a lot.  Maybe they meant to say “unimaginative” instead of “logical.”


45. There are leaders and there are followers.  Viewing myself as objectively as possible, I am:

            1. much more of a leader than a follower.

            2. slightly more of a leader than a follower.

            3. about as much a leader as a follower.

            4. slightly less a leader than a follower.

            5. much less a leader than a follower.

This question didn’t phase me while I was taking the test, but going over the test again afterwards I realized that it starts with a statement about the nature of the universe before asking the question.


48. I believe that the percentage of the U.S. population that cheats when they fill out their federal tax returns is:

            1. 10% or less.

            2. less than 25%, but more than 10%.

            3. 25 to 50%.

            4. 51 to 75%.

            5. 76% or more.

The funny thing about this one is that it asks a fact.  If you happen to have heard how many Americans report cheating on tax returns, you’re probably screwed.  They probably want you to answer incorrectly, so too bad if you happen to know things.  (By the way, a survey says 1 in 4 Americans think it’s okay to cheat on taxes.)


A group of associates is discussing a recent employee theft.  If you were part of that group, what would be your comment?

1. H/she should have known he would get caught.

2. He/she has probably gotten away with it before.

3. I would have thought he/she was carrying it out for a customer.

4. Say nothing, it’s over and done with.

5. Maybe he/she thought it was worth the risk.

At the end of the test there are a number of questions that start with a little fictional vignette, offer a number of possible responses on your part, and ask you to choose the best response and the worst response.  Most of the vignettes I guessed the correct answer is ‘rat out your fellow employees to the boss.’  This one was especially interesting because they don’t want to know what you do but what you say.  It’s not enough that they want you to do a good job, they want you to spout their propaganda in your off hours.


An Analysis of the Test


Without knowing how the test is scored, I can’t say anything for sure, but base don my knowledge of personality tests, here’s by best guesses:


Is there built-in deception detection?

            People lie on these tests, so some test makers ask questions more than one (changing the wording only slightly).  The idea is that if you’re lying then you will answer the questions differently.  Questions that are almost exactly the same aren’t very useful in terms of describing the person, the only thing they’re really good for is deception detection.  My best guess is that the test does have deception detection.


Are there axes?

            Most personality tests have ‘axes’.  Each question belongs to a certain axis, and your answer on that question either bumps you up or down on that axis.  For instance, a test might have a depression axis and a psychotic axis.  If you answer ‘I often think about suicide’ or ‘I spend a lot of time in bed’ then your depression axis is bumped up.  If you answer ‘I hear voices’ or ‘I think some passages in the bible are about me’ then your psychotic axis is bumped up.

            The other option is that there is only one axis “good employee” and when the test is scored then your answer on each question only adds or subtracts from the good employee score.

            I tried to put together the questions in to axes.  It helped me get a better idea of exactly what target wants, but I don’t think the test truly has axes.  The variety of questions was just too great for specific axes to be measured with any sort of reliability.


Do these questions have a right and a wrong answer?

            If the test had axes, then it would be possible to score it such that any particular question doesn’t have a right or wrong answer.  For instance, you could have a test that says “this person is a good employee if he or she either has a high A and low B or has a low B and high A.  However, I don’t think there are true axes on this test, which means that each question has a right answer (that which means you’re a good employee) and a wrong answer (that which means you’re a bad employee).


Is the test deceptive?

            Yes, but all personality tests with any validity are deceptive.  If you ask people to honestly rate their personality features, they will either lie or get it wrong.  The purpose of a personality test is to ask questions the person can and will answer to figure out something they can’t or won’t tell you.

            I think the deception in the test goes beyond that necessary for the test.  I think they ask questions so as to trey to hide what their real values are.  Specifically, a number of questions seem designed to ask if you’re politically conservative, however they are careful not to say ‘conservative’ because I imagine they don’t want to get in trouble for discriminating against people because of their political leanings.


Is the test unethical?

            Okay, this has nothing to do with the science and mathematics of personality tests.  I think it’s worth asking, though: is this an unethical hiring method?

            First of all, the test is clearly not very accurate.  Anyone with brains can see what they’re trying to find out and tell them what they want to hear.  Even if people answered the questions accurately and honestly, it’s not the best predictor of job performance.  It’s possible for a person to be a pessimistic, dissatisfied, disorganized liberal who thinks most people are dishonest and be an excellent worker at a shitty minimum wage job (I can tell you because I was one).

            So, it’s a bad test, which they can only afford to use because they have so many applicants that they can afford to accidentally toss out some good ones with a bad test.  They could spend more money, interview people in depth, contact all their references, and get a much more accurate picture.  However, that would cost more, and why spend the money when there are more people looking for min. wage shitwork than there are fish in the sea?


The Axes


Here’s by best guess as to the axes of the test:


Honesty/Conservativism (11 questions)

This is the most interesting axis to me.  There are six questions about human nature: do you think most people are good, do you think most people are honest, do you think most people cheat on their taxes.  There are two ways of looking at these questions.  First, you could take them at face value: if you don’t trust other people, you won’t be able to work with them well.  Second, you could take it as a veiled attempt to gauge your honesty: if you are dishonest then you are likely to think that other people are dishonest.  There is some psychological validity to this: people tend to think that other people are like them (especially people who are shallow, stupid and consider themselves ‘normal.’)  If you’re one of the minority that considers yourself honest but thinks that other people are dishonest, then this test screws you over.


Then there is a question about whether you trust politicians.  This has much in common with the ‘are people honest’ questions.  However, it almost measures how much you trust and are willing to submit yourself to authority.  There’s another question that asks how rebellious you are.  Another question asks if you were raised with ‘traditional values.’  Another question asks whether you think promotions are based on merit or on other things (like kissing up).  I see this as another question on whether you trust authority figures (and ‘the system’) to reward honesty and hard work.  Another question asks the number of clubs you were involved in during highschool.  I wasn’t sure about this question, and thought about putting it in the Extraversion axis, but then I figured it was more of an attempt to weed out rebellious ‘I hate the system’ types.


Putting these altogether, I call this the “Honesty/Conservativism” axis.  It tries to determine simultaneously whether you are honest and whether you trust your authority figures.  I’m sure they would ask “are you a republican or a democrat” if they thought they could get away with it.


Unambitious (8)

There are 6 questions that ask how satisfied you are in life or how proud you think your parents would be of you.  There’s also a question about how often you change jobs and how much money you save up.  I think the purpose of all these is to weed out anyone who will start work and then quit in a few weeks.  If someone is not satisfied with their lives as they sit there applying for a job at Target, then they will probably try to find a better job.  In other words, if you want something better in life than a shit job, Target doesn’t want you.


Responsible/Careful (8)

These questions ask if you are careful or carefree, if you daydream a lot, whether you are orderly and clean.  I believe they are trying to weed out those who are irresponsible and disorganized.


Leadership (5)

These questions ask what kind of leader you think you are and how much confidence you have.  I imagine they want some leadership, especially if you’re applying for some kind of supervisor position, but they might count too much leadership against you if you’re applying for a starting level position.


Good With People (5)

These questions ask whether you like dealing with others in social situations, if you like helping people and whether you can be tactful.  They’re obviously trying to weed out any people too shy or antisocial to work with customers or in a team.


Likes Challenges (4)

These questions ask about how well you deal with challenges, hectic work environments and how well you adapt.


Pessimism (3)

These questions bluntly ask about pessimism.  They could purely be a measure of a pessimistic worldview, or perhaps it is used as another measure of the Honesty/Conservatism axis or the Unambitious axis.


Grades (3)

This axis measures how much education one has had and how well one has done.  I imagine they want people in the middle.  Too little education might mean they are stupid, too much might mean they are a smartass and would get bored with a minimum wage job.


Stubborn (2)

These two questions ask if you are stubborn or if you are vengeful.  I think the purpose of these is fairly obvious.


First Time Job (1)

I’m not sure about where this one goes.  It’s a question about when you had your first time job.  It could be a measure of how much job experience one had had, it could be a measure of slackerness, or it could be a measure of “too much education.”


The Perfect Target Employee


If my guesses about axes and what they want is correct, then the perfect target employee is:

not stubborn

got moderately good grades

is not pessimistic

likes challenges

enjoys socializing with people

thinks he or she has moderate leadership skills

is responsible and organized

is happy with where his or her life is leading

thinks everyone is honest

trusts politicians

thinks the system is fair

has conservative values

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