This just in: Personality assessments spur strong debate among HR professionals and job candidates alike. I know. That is not news. In the debate, personality assessments, such as the Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI), are often accused of being misused in the hiring process. Here’s what I don’t understand. How is it that an assessment, which was created to help women find satisfying careers in the World War II era and beyond, is not an acceptable tool for the hiring and management challenges we face today?
Deeply influenced by the inciting discrimination of WWII, as well as the real-life examples of the unexpected dissatisfaction of a patriotic commitment to illfit responsibilities, Isabel Myers saw the need for a practical application for type theory. She turned to Jung’s ideas about type and, with the help of her mother (and many others along the way), the Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI) was developed.
Isabel Myers set the pace for constantly studying, adapting, and improving the tool she created–a legacy that the Myers-Briggs Foundation has carried on to this day. In spite of that ongoing effort, there are many people who misunderstand and misuse the MBTI, opening it up to a lot of criticism and skepticism. Some organizations have responded to the misfortune by throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. But is that the best response? Or would it be better to take a closer look at what the MBTI can and cannot do and compare that with your organizational hiring needs and goals before deciding whether or not the assessment is of particular benefit to your company? For some, the answer will be to use it while incorporating productive solutions that can counter some of the weaknesses of the assessment. For others, setting it aside is the better choice. Either way, information, consideration, and evaluation is an absolute must. So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
What Myers-Briggs Type Indicator CAN’T Do
Give fool-proof, ironclad, perfect results.
At the end of the day, the MBTI is a personal reporting tool, much like an interview is, that assumes respondents are self-aware and honest in their answers. There are a couple of factors that can cause this assumption to go badly.
The transparency of questions is better or worse depending on the skills of the test maker, but even with well-worded questions job candidates can choose answers that they believe the potential employers want to hear and are most likely to produce the desirable outcome of job offers. Research on this issue says most candidates don’t manipulate assessment questions, but the possibility is there.
Criticism that the test can show different results when a person takes the test more than once has called the reliability of the instrument into question for some.
(I, myself, a definite INFJ, once tested as an INTJ.) The irony here is that the problem of reliability actually lies with the test taker.
We all have two natures, so to speak–our core nature and our developed nature. The core nature is the personality we were born with. The developed nature is the personality that incorporates modifications we have learned, for good or ill, based on the experiences we have had.
(My INTJ moment was after working closely with a significant number of NTs for an extended period of time. To do that productively, I learned to use fewer, more direct words that represented data rather than feelings. It showed up in the test.)
Solution: Incorporate the personality results into a candidate’s interview through personalized questions. These questions should include the candidate’s feedback on the accuracy of the description of their personality, as well as other questions, which allow you to ascertain the likelihood of accurate results.
Predict or guarantee job performance.
According the the Myers-Briggs Foundation, a person’s 4-letter code indicates his or her preferences, not ability or character. It is not an aptitude assessment. Verifying particular skills or abilities that predict success at a particular job must be achieved in another portion of the hiring process. People have free will. As every red-blooded American who has ever cheered, “Rudy…Rudy…Rudy” knows, any person who is willing to invest the blood, sweat, and tears to do something they are not wired to do can eventually reach some level of accomplishment. This does not mean, however, that putting someone in that position is a good choice–for them or for your organization.
Some job assessments are able to make the claim of predictive validity, because they have met a certain set of regulations. While this label provides a free pass of approval from the EEOC, it does not grant the hiring decision guarantee some might like to think it does. The success or failure of an employee has so many variables attached: knowledge, skill, ability, previous training, character, company culture, interpersonal dynamics, personal life issues, etc. Assessments with predictive validity measure the first three items on that list at best.
Solution: Pair a personality assessment like the Myers-Briggs with a method of measuring job aptitude–this could be an assessment, a scenario, a test project, or a combination of these–to identify the candidates who possess both the ability and the enjoyment of the work you need done.
Make your hiring decision for you.
I’ve hinted at this already, but now I’ll just come right out and say it. The MBTI assessment was never intended to be used as an exclusive method of making a hiring decision for you. Nothing can. Although employee assessments can provide great insights into a candidate’s perspectives, motivations, values, work styles, knowledge, and skills, none should ever give the final verdict on which candidate is right for the job. Hiring decisions will always require a lot of thought, scrutiny, evaluation, and calculated risk. The goal should not be to find the perfect tool that does all of this for you. Rather, you should find several hiring tools that will help you gather key information to assist you in making the best decision you can.
Solution: Take some time to consider what you are specifically trying to achieve in each step of your hiring process. If it makes sense within your context, use the Myers-Briggs as a piece of a much more extensive and purposeful hiring process.
The truth is, there are no assessments in existence that could live up to the expectations listed above. But that does not mean that assessments are useless or without merit in the hiring process. Let’s take a look at what the Myers-Briggs assessment CAN do.
What Myers-Briggs Type Indicator CAN Do
Help you anticipate what will be necessary for success.
Personality assessments can help you understand what a potential employee will need from you as they fulfill their role. Let’s say your salespeople need to meet a higher bar of success. Which ones will be motivated by financial incentives, social recognition, or true stories of positive impact on clients? Which of your managers will drive toward stability vs. those who will drive toward innovation? Will the promotion you are considering for a high-performing employee be the next chapter of growth and success for your organization? Or will it be detrimental to both the employee and the team? These are real-life questions business managers must answer on a regular basis. It is possible to answer these questions with time, experience, and familiarity with each individual involved. Personality profiles just help you get there faster, which is good for you, your team, and the bottom line.
But wait. Isn’t this a management question? Yes. It is. It is also a pre-hire question. For example, if you know your organization is in a stage of the growth cycle that requires some stability, hiring a manager who is innately innovative could have significantly adverse effects. However, if stagnation is the issue that must be solved successfully, that professional, thoughtful, dependable candidate–though likeable–might be a real mistake. These are pre-hire considerations.
Help the team work together more effectively.
Understanding some basics of personality type almost always improves teamwork and communication. How early is too early to begin this consideration? Being able to prepare a new hire’s manager for getting off to the right start on day one can be invaluable. After all, an NF manager (ENFJ, INFJ, ENFP, or INFP) will naturally speak in more abstract terms and will make decisions through the filter of harmony within the group. If a new hire is an SP (ESFP, ESTP, ISFP, ISTP), who will expect concrete communication and will make pragmatic decisions, things could get off to a rocky start very quickly. Now multiply this times the number of people on a particular team–two, six, ten–and you can see just one of the many reasons high-performing teams are so difficult to build.
Meet all of today’s requirements for psychological tests.
Some of the silliest criticism of the MBTI assessment is that it is old and therefore must be outdated. Human and organizational development practitioner, Linda V. Berens (Ph.D.), states:
“Temperament theory has been around for over 25 centuries in one form or another. Not only the early philosophers but modern scientists recognize that every living being has a temperament, often described in terms such as easygoing, high strung, calm, etc.”
Myers-Briggs, along with many other employee assessments–including those with predictive validity–are based at least in some part on this theory. Yes, many things have changed over the years, but people are still people and temperament theory is still a good method of predicting human behavior.
Additionally, the MBTI assessment that we have today is not the original. It has been modified and improved over the years. According to the Consulting Psychologists Press (CPP), the Myers-Briggs assessment has proven its worth and meets all the requirements for psychological tests, just as many other accepted pre-hire assessments have done.
Help your organization diversify rather than discriminate.
The root fear of many critics of using personality assessments in the hiring process is discrimination. Preferring to surround ourselves with people just like us comes quite naturally. It’s second nature. But in doing so, we often miss the different and helpful perspectives of others. To go back to my own personal experience, it is the NTs in my life who don’t accept my gut feeling, but require me to prove it with real data. The SJs in my life constantly point out the intuitive assumptions I am using in my decision making. And the SPs are always pace-setting for me with their adaptability and willingness to fail fast, learn, and improve the next time.
We need diversity in our organizations. Personality assessments can actually help us accomplish that goal rather than hinder it. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the Myers-Briggs type theory is that every type has value.
Clearly, the Myers-Briggs assessment is no money-back guarantee solution for choosing who to hire. Despite all of its possibilities, the starting point lies with the participant and is dependent on him or her to openly, honestly, and accurately report core nature preferences. Everything else flows out of this starting point. Because of this caveat, the Myers-Briggs assessment should never be used as an exclusive and ironclad pre-hire mechanism that allows potential employers to sort candidates like cattle. But that does not mean the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater.
More important than training, experience, and perhaps even ability is the premise that working with nature is more productive than working against it. Just as an international airplane flight is likely to arrive ahead of schedule with a headwind and behind schedule with a tailwind, so a person who is “wired” to enjoy a particular type of work is likely to be more successful doing that work than one who prefers a different focus. This information has a rightful place in the hiring decision.
We want to hear from you! What benefits have you experienced with the use of Myers-Briggs in your hiring process? How do you manage the potential weaknesses of its use? Tell us in the comments.