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Personality Assessment: The Robustness of Personality in Uncertain Times

Learn why focusing on assessing potential enriches your talent acquisition and talent management strategies.

We live in exciting times which are, however, filled with challenges. We have been transitioning from a VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) to a BANI (Brittle, Anxious, Non-Linear, Incomprehensible) world, going through tough years of a pandemic and post-crisis period and witnessing geopolitical tragedies like the war in Ukraine. All of these factors have impacted our global economic situation and people’s working lives. Our skills to adapt and cope with challenges got heavily stretched and one would assume that all of this changed not only the world around us but our inner world as well.


The impact of major life events on personality

Personality is described as a person’s preferred way of behaving, thinking, and feeling that distinguishes individuals from others and remains relatively stable over time. However, we know that significant, so-called ‘major life events’ can impact it and that there is an interplay between environment and personality.


What does objective data say?

Previous SHL research indicated that the outbreak of the pandemic had an immediate, short-term impact on personality. In a regional study, our colleagues in the US analyzed the responses to our Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ) of 4,574 US-based participants. The OPQ measures behavioral preferences, which then indicate to which extent individuals are likely to find it easy to adopt the behaviors necessary for a specific competency, such as adaptability or resilience.

The findings showed that, a few months after the beginning of the pandemic, during lockdown, people’s levels of adaptability and resilience declined by respectively 5% and 8% (compared to pre-Covid). While this study demonstrates an immediate negative impact of a major life event on personality, our follow-up research (conducted on a broader, global level and including a longer timeframe) paints a more positive picture: we looked at OPQ-based adaptability and resilience scores of a huge dataset of 4,243,520 people all over the world who completed the OPQ between 2016 and 2022. Even though we found some slight changes in both adaptability and resilience across the years, the differences were too small to indicate a meaningful substantial change.

Combined with SHL’s former study, this demonstrates that we went at that time (the beginning of the pandemic) in a crisis mode and witnessed a short-term effect on our personality and our capabilities in terms of adaptability and resilience, but as we got used to the new situation and returned to normal after lockdown, also personality aspects came to stabilize at their initial stage.


How and why does personality assessment enrich your talent acquisition and talent management strategies?

In today’s world, the only constant is change and we never know if and when a disruptive event such as a pandemic could happen again and impact our people and businesses. How can you ensure that your people will be successful, knowing and expecting that the future will be uncertain?

Rather than looking backward at previous experiences and qualifications, hire for potential and durable, transferrable soft skills to be prepared for future requirements! Considering an individual’s potential is essential to predict who will show the required behaviors and therefore gives us an indication of their future performance at work. Personality assessment is one way of looking at potential and our research reinforced the message that personality is relatively robust, even in the face of a systematic shock as big as the pandemic.

Currently, many researchers and business leaders are reflecting on which are the skills for the future to be ready to deal with constant changes and new contexts of work. John Bersin recently created a model of 16 professional business skills which he defined as priorities to fulfill the requirements of the future (PowerSkills). With SHL's Universal Competency Assessment, we are able to assess for these PowerSkills—Optimism (Resilience) and Flexibility (Adaptability) are among them. This allows you to better understand a) if you hire future-proof candidates and b) what kind of development programs you need to upskill your workforce.

Rather than looking backward at previous experiences and qualifications, hire for potential and durable, transferrable soft skills to be prepared for future requirements.

How to put it all in place—a call to action

For HR – The right skills may not be visible on a resume! Use skills (behavioral-based) personality assessments to bring objective data into your processes, which in return, will aim to make the processes more inclusive and fair, expand your talent pool, and help your recruiters find employees who will thrive in this new age of work. By implementing online assessments such as the OPQ, one of our clients reduced time to hire by 30%, decreased employee turnover, and hired employees aligned with their critical competencies which reflected in an increase in sales.

You may already have employees with PowerSkills or traits relevant to your future business challenges. Implement behavioral skills assessments to 1) identify untapped skills in your current talent pool and 2) to understand how to develop your workforce. How to create effective and powerful development programs for PowerSkills? In John Bersin’s words, “design around ‘experiences’ and ‘activities’ and ‘group interactions’, not just content”.

Have a look at our talent management offering to find out how you can deliver real-time insights into individuals, teams, and the entire organization with SHL Mobilize and how you could use it to identify high potentials and hidden gems in your company.

For managers – With the transition into the hybrid world, SHL has published a checklist with elements to watch out for as a manager. It underlines the importance of creating organizational cultures of fairness and objective talent assessment, with opportunities for employees to grow and develop and with managers who showcase an empathetic leadership style as part of which people care for one another.

By implementing online assessments such as the OPQ, one of our clients reduced time to hire by 30%, decreased employee turnover, and hired employees aligned to their critical competencies which reflected in an increase in sales.

Read more on what great people management could look like in Sarah McLellan’s blog or watch the webinar about how to identify great managers in a new era of work.

For individuals – As adaptability and resilience seem to be stable, people indicating a more limited predisposition for these capabilities are particularly at risk when the environment asks for change or bears challenges. For them, it is more important than ever to watch out and take care of themselves. In this regard, our colleague, Caroline Hall, has written an excellent article on how to protect our well-being in turbulent times. Her article gives 15 tips that focus on setting boundaries, staying connected with one another, and ensuring mutual empathy. Do also have a look at our colleague, Sabrina Wijaya’s, blog about how to become a change agent for yourself and the five steps of mobilizing change within yourself.

Contact us to learn more about how we can help you build your talent acquisition and management strategies!

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Dr. Johanna Walter

Dr. Johanna Walter is a Senior Consultant in the European Delivery Team. She started her career at SHL in 2019 and leads projects across Europe and a wide client base, including talent acquisition and management. Johanna holds a MSc in Psychology and has also completed her Ph.D. in 2023.

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Lewe Rullmann

Lewe Rullmann is a Senior Consultant in the European Professional Services team. He started his career at SHL in 2019 and is based in Paris. Lewe completed his Studies of Psychology and Management in Bristol which he followed up by a Masters in Human Resource Management at Sciences Po Paris.

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