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In 1923, Katharine Briggs discovered the work of psychologist Carl Jung and became inspired by his theories on personality. Further fueled by her son-in-law Clarence Myers’ unique viewpoints Briggs set out to connect Jung’s theories to a wider audience. She would spend the next twenty years developing personality test questions, and in 1962, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) tool was born.
Fast forward to today, and almost 2 million people take the Myers-Briggs test each year, according to Psycom. In social contexts, exchanging Myers-Briggs personality types is just as common as sharing horoscopes.
Knowing whether you’re more introverted, extroverted, logical, or intuitive can certainly be personally beneficial. After all, who doesn’t want to understand themselves more deeply? However, is it important for employers to know this in the workplace? Should employers base their hiring decisions on whether you score as “practical and serious” or “open-minded and adaptable?”
The unpopular reality is that the Myers-Briggs test lacks any scientific foundation, which is why most psychologists and experts discourage its use. Despite this, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment is still used by employers of more than 88% of companies in 115 countries, according to the test’s website.
Continue reading to learn why the MBTI should be used as a playful quiz, not as a measure of workplace performance or hiring.
- 50% of those who retook the test five weeks later received a different personality result.
- Personality traits are not fixed, according to the American Psychological Association.
- No evidence has been found that links personality type with poor job performance.
- The MBTI omits “emotional stability,” which is one of the most critical determinants of personality.
How the Myers-Briggs Types Work
The objective of the Myers-Briggs personality test is for the test taker to discover their strengths and weaknesses in certain areas of behavior and emotion. After answering nearly 100 questions, test takers are placed into one of 16 categories of personality types. The type you score as can guide personal relationships, situations, and hobbies that best suit those traits, essentially differentiating introverts and extroverts.
Test takers are judged in four areas:
- Extraversion (E) / Introversion (I)
- Sensing (S) / Intuition (N)
- Thinking (T) / Feeling (F)
- Judging (J) / Perceiving (P)
Based on how heavily a person’s responses lean toward being one or the other in each of these four categories determines your four-letter personality type. For example, a person who answers a majority of extroversion questions positively will likely receive an “E” in their result. After completing the test, answers are scored and a personality type is revealed, each with a different meaning and prediction.
The 16 Myers-Briggs Personality Types
- ISTJ (The Inspector): This person is realistic, practical, and serious. They tend to be quieter, value traditions, and enjoy being home.
- ISTP (The Crafter): This is a quiet observer. Highly adaptable, this personality type is interested in causes and effects and getting to the root of problems.
- ISFJ (The Protector): This personality type is loyal, accurate, considerate, and very concerned with the feelings of others. They strive to create harmony.
- ISFP (The Artist): While very friendly and loyal, this personality type likes to have their own space and do things on their terms. They strongly dislike conflict.
- INFJ (The Advocate): This person is conscientious, vision-oriented, and organized. They like to make new connections between ideas and people.
- INFP (The Mediator): An INFP personality type is very curious. They seek new ideas, like to understand others, and are adaptable and value-driven.
- INTJ (The Architect): This person has very high standards for themselves and others. When they commit to an idea or task, they follow through.
- INTP (The Thinker): Skeptical, critical, and analytical about things that interest them, this type likes contemplating ideas more than interacting with others.
- ESTP (The Persuader): An ESTP is driven by the moment. Bored by concepts, they’d rather act immediately, even spontaneously, to solve a problem.
- ESTJ (The Director): This person focuses on results. This systematic type is a natural leader who is great at organizing tasks and people to get things done.
- ESFP (The Performer): This personality type is outgoing, flexible, and spontaneous. They make environments fun and are always ready to work with others.
- ESFJ (The Caregiver): This type of person is warmhearted and loyal. They notice what others need and seek to be appreciated for the care they provide.
- ENFP (The Champion): An ENFP is energetic and enthusiastic, seeing all of the possibilities in life. They’re confident and can easily pivot and improvise.
- ENFJ (The Giver): This person is highly attuned to the needs, emotions, and energies of others. Loyal, sociable, and empathetic, ENFJs inspire success in others.
- ENTP (The Debater): ENTPs are quick, alert, and outspoken. They solve problems and can read others well. Highly strategic, an ENTP revels in analyzing new challenges.
- ENTJ (The Commander): This type plans long-term and sets goals. They’re decisive, informed, and systematic. For this reason, they assume leadership roles quickly.
Why Personality Assessments Are Popular
“Acceptance by non-experts isn’t a marker of validity, it’s a sign of popularity.”Adam Grant
Simply put, people take personality tests to understand themselves and others better. We make choices and act in certain ways we don’t always understand. Personality tests promise to reveal the reasons behind our behaviors, allowing us to gain greater emotional intelligence, feel a sense of belonging, and have more compatible relationships. Plus, they’re a simple and digestible way to communicate our traits to others.
For companies, personality assessments can be a tool for hiring and retention efforts. This is because if leaders and managers know the personality types of their job candidates and employees, they’ll have greater insight into their strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge, in turn, enables them to make better hiring and management decisions. One 2017 study found that 32% of candidates applying for executive roles were asked to complete a personality test as part of their vetting process.
Problems With Basing Decisions on the MBTI Personality Types
“The MBTI is astrology for nerds. Say it with me again: personality types are a myth.”Adam Grant
Despite its popularity, there is little evidence that the MBTI personality test is psychologically valid. This is because the test is based on simple answers that don’t account for all of a person’s diverse personality traits. While the test and the system it relies upon are simple and easy to use, it presents several foundational problems listed below.
Problem #1: The Test Model Is Scientifically Ungrounded
While the Myers-Briggs personality test may help people better understand themselves, the troubling reality is that it doesn’t reflect our complex human psychology. Additionally, neither Katharine Briggs, her daughter Isabel Briggs, or her son-in-law Clarence had any formal psychological education when developing the test questions.
As Adam Grant, author and psychologist, explains, “In social science, we use four standards: are the categories reliable, valid, independent, and comprehensive? For the MBTI, the evidence says not very, no, no, and not really.”
Problem #2: The Test Questions Assert That Personality Is Binary
While valid personality models, like the Five Factor Model, promote that traits fall on a spectrum, the Myers-Briggs personality test operates under the assumption that someone is entirely one thing or entirely another thing. There is no in-between.
An example of this would be the introversion/extroversion category. With the MBTI, a person is scored as either a total extrovert or a total introvert. Yet, as Jung himself stated, “There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum. Those are only terms to designate a certain penchant, a certain tendency.”
Problem #3: The Test Questions Assume Personality Is Unchanging
As psychologist and lead researcher Sanjay Srivastava shares in an article with the APA, “One of the major theories of personality asserts that personality traits are largely set by genetics and, by consequence, changes in personality traits should slow as other functions of maturation slow.” As his research found, however, this isn’t true.
By studying 132,515 adults aged 21 to 60, Srivastava’s findings completely contradicted the assumption that traits are genetically permanent. Traits like conscientiousness and agreeableness increased as the participants aged. Conversely, traits like openness decreased over time.
The reality that personality traits constantly change is best demonstrated by one study that found that 50% of test takers who took the test again five weeks later received a different classification of personality.
Problem #4: The Result Can Present Real-Life Problems
Understanding why the Myers-Briggs test is faulty is one piece of the puzzle. The other piece is understanding why faulty personality tests present real-life problems for people. Primarily, by prompting people to respond either “yes” or “no” and then assigning a particular personality “type” based on those binary responses cultivates harmful assumptions. Professionally, if a manager thinks you’re entirely one type of way, they may not hire you. Psychologically, it can wreak havoc on a person’s understanding of who they are.
Real Problems With Categorizing People
- Creates artificial boundaries: Boxing people into a certain type creates invisible and false social boundaries.
- Ignores the natural fluidity of personality: Personality types presume permanence, potentially stunting people from practicing a growth mindset.
- Falsely defines or limits a person’s identity: Often, people embrace or avoid life decisions based on their categorical type. This can lead to missed opportunities and false limitations.
- Negates real scientific models of personality: Subscribing to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator could result in ignoring accurate personality testing models.
Top points challenging the validity of the Myers-Briggs Personality Test:
- The test’s creators were not psychologically trained.
- 50% of those who retake the test receive a new personality type assignment.
- According to the APA, personality traits are not fixed, as the Myers-Briggs test asserts.
- One study found no consistent evidence of one’s personality type affecting job performance.
- The MBTI is missing the factor of “emotional stability,” which is one of the major factors experts say determines personality.
The Big 5 Theory Is a Better Method for Personality Testing
The Five-Factor Model is widely accepted within the psychology community for being the most accurate for identifying one’s personality type. The Five-Factor Model (or “The Big Five Theory”) can be remembered by the acronyms OCEAN or CANOE, which stand for:
- Conscientiousness: This describes how impulsive or disciplined you might be.
- Agreeableness: This describes how agreeable and trusting you might be.
- Neuroticism: This describes how calm, anxious, and pessimistic you may be.
- Openness to Experience: This describes whether you prefer routine or spontaneity.
- Extraversion: This describes how reserved or how sociable you may be.
The main difference between this theory and others is that this model scores each trait on a sliding scale. For example, on the Myers-Briggs test, where a person answers either “yes” or “no,” the Big 5 Theory advocates that a person falls within a spectrum for each trait. One’s personality, therefore, is determined by the culmination of five separate ranging factors.
Take the Big 5 Theory test for free on Truity.com.
Final Thoughts on Using the Myers-Briggs Test in the Workplace
A personality assessment can be a great way to get a deeper glimpse into your personality type and those of others. If you’re an employee or entrepreneur, it can help build conflict resolution skills, strengthen relationships, and foster collaboration. If you’re a leader, having remote workers complete a personality test can be particularly insightful since these aren’t employees you see daily.
Given the unproven nature of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, however, employers should consider more valid ways of getting to know their employees.
Tips for learning your employees or candidates without using tests:
- Practice giving direct and honest feedback.
- Schedule one-on-one meetings with employees.
- Begin facilitating and encouraging open communication.
- Praise and recognize employees to highlight accomplishments.
- Know what strengths are needed for a job and hire people with them.
- Ask personality-revealing questions during an interview.
Learn how to build a team of A-Players right from the start by reading The Hiring Process: A 10-Step Guide For Finding A-Players.
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- MacCarthy, Libby. “Why Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type Is Meaningless.” PSYCOM, June 2020, https://www.psycom.net/myers-briggs-personality-type.
- “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) | Official Myers Briggs Personality Test.” https://www.themyersbriggs.com/en-US/Products-and-Services/Myers-Briggs. Accessed 13 Dec. 2022.
- “Myers-Briggs: Love It or Hate It? (Part 1).” YouTube, 6 Sept. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drV-AphkFeg.
- https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/documents/2017-talent-acquisition-benchmarking.pdf. Accessed 13 Dec. 2022.
- Adam Grant on Twitter: “The MBTI is astrology for nerds. Say it with me again: personality types are a myth, traits are on a continuum, and the major dimensions include extravert-introvert, agreeable-disagreeable, reactive-stable, open-traditional, conscientious-spontaneous. https://t.co/CZXnqZqTWN” / Twitter
- Grant, Adam. Say Goodbye to MBTI, the Fad That Won’t Die. 17 Sept. 2013, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20130917155206-69244073-say-goodbye-to-mbti-the-fad-that-won-t-die.
- “Personality Changes for the Better with Age.” Https://Www.Apa.Org, https://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug03/personality. Accessed 13 Dec. 2022.
- Pittenger, David. “Cautionary Comments Regarding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.” ResearchGate, vol. 57, no. 3, June 2005, pp. 210–21, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232494957_Cautionary_comments_regarding_the_Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator.
- “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) | Is It a Valid Personality Test?” YouTube, 9 Mar. 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkQiYiXxmjg.
- Gardner, William. “Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to Study Managers: A Literature Review and Research Agenda.” Sage Journals, vol. 22, no. 1, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/014920639602200103.
- Suls, Jerry, and Rene Martin. “The Daily Life of the Garden-Variety Neurotic: Reactivity.” Pub Med, vol. 73, no. 6, Dec. 2005, pp. 1485–509, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16274443/.