Personality assessments have featured in personality development and career counseling for almost a century. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and other tests form the basis for helping people deal with conflict, understand team interplay, outline career search, sharpen decision-making skills, and cope with stress.
Personality Assessments Cannot Predict Performance
Even as their use has grown significantly over the last two decades, personality assessments—including strengths inventories, and emotional intelligence assessments—have been criticized at length:
- An individual’s personality cannot be summed up by a personality assessment. Individuality is described best by continuous (not discrete), normally-distributed attributes. For example, the MBTI Step I classification of individuals into 16 categories (or 4 dichotomies from Carl Jung‘s book Psychological Types (1921)) does not encapsulate the full range of personality variance.
- An individual’s behavior cannot be limited to one side of a dichotomy. For instance, every person can be outgoing and assertive in the external world (extraversion,) while requiring time for some contemplation (introversion).
- Many academic studies question the tests’ predictive validity and poor reliability. Moreover, personality assessments have poor test-retest consistency. Test takers have been shown to change at least one dichotomy when they take the MBTI Step I survey a second time.
- Personality assessments can initiate confirmation bias (“Barnum Effect”)—the test scores are self-fulfilling because people tend to behave in ways that are predicted for them. In other words, a person who learns that he or she is “outgoing” according to MBTI may behave that way.
- Personality tests are decidedly fakeable, especially when used to evaluate future career opportunities. All personality assessments are contingent on a degree of honesty, but MBTI test-takers are often motivated to match up to extraverted, sensing, thinking, and judging (ESTJ) proclivities in the modern organization.
- Assessments are regularly offered as universally applicable. Not only do they tend to mirror the biases of the test developers, but also they are skewed in preference of the social groups the developer studied.
Personality Assessments are Starting Points for Change, Not a Predictor of the Outcome
Academics have long acknowledged the previously mentioned criticisms of personality assessments. They’ve argued fruitfully that many of the criticisms should be directed to how HR practitioners understand personality tests and use them in the development arena.
MBTI and many other personality assessments were never intended to sort the talented from the less talented. They are designed for the individual who takes the assessment, and not for the HR practitioner. In other words, personality assessments were designed to help individuals discover their underlying preferences regarding learning styles, problem-solving styles, self-awareness, ethical inclinations, emotional intelligence, and stress management.
Intended for Increasing Self-awareness, Not Appraisal
On the contrary, HR practitioners tend to interpret test scores speciously to gauge behavior, rather than as pointers of categorical preferences. Besides, HR practitioners often fail to factor in the test-takers’ past and current environmental influences.
And then there’s the risk of people being pigeonholed or pushed into a particular course regardless of his or her preferences. HR practitioners and career counsellors who put too much emphasis on personality assessments may compartmentalize people into rigid categories. This flies in the face of a central tenet of the MBTI premise—that individuals could choose to act against their preferred type if the occasion demands it. People’s attitudes and behaviors often change over time because of emotional experiences or socialization into specific work and social cultures.
Idea for Impact: Use Personality Assessments to Facilitate Self-Awareness, Not for Categorization or as Predictors of Achievement
If you’re a manager or a HR practitioner, don’t use personality assessments to categorize people or as predictors of achievement. Encourage people to take personality tests, but help them interpret these pieces of data about themselves—only they could make sense of test results in the context of their life history, social environment, and ambitions for career and life.
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