Anyone who follows hiring trends knows that personality measures are gaining popularity as a tool for helping organizations make better hiring decisions. The good news is that decades of research has shown that the use of these tools can have a variety of positive outcomes including reduction in turnover, increased productivity, and better fit between employees and their work environment. The bad news is that there are literally hundreds of different personality instruments out there, many of which are simply not suited for use within most hiring processes. Even worse is the fact that many consumers are unaware of the differences between these tools, and thus frequently end up using the wrong tool for the job. This does not mean that the majority of personality tools available are inherently “bad,” but it does mean that they must be used in a manner that suits their characteristics. There is no better example of the above situation than the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI. The MBTI is one of the most heavily used personality instruments available and has been applied in hundreds of different ways over the past few decades. While the MBTI may be perfectly suited for many of these applications, selecting employees is not one of them. A closer look at the origins and composition of MBTIs should help me clarify this point. What Is the Origin of the MBTI? Adventure Associates provides a good summary of the origins of the MBTI:
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a self-report instrument that helps to identify an individual’s strengths and personality preferences. The mother/daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers developed the MBTI. They based their lifelong work on Carl Jung’s theories about psychological type preferences. Jung’s book “Psychological Types,” published in 1921, studied ancient and modern cultures. The premise of his work was to discover how normal human beings take in information and how they make decisions. He also studied two core mental functions relating to how people get and expend their energy. After reading Jung’s work, Myers and Briggs devoted themselves to bringing the everyday applications of this work to the general public. Myers developed the pen and pencil test in the 1940s. They tested it on friends and family during World War II, hoping to resolve conflicts and help match people to appropriate work. It took over 20 years to fully develop the instrument. Myers and Briggs added a forth dimension to Jung’s scheme, focusing on how people deal with the outer world. They determined that each person has an external orientation towards orderliness and decisiveness (judgment) or towards new information and going with the flow (perception). MBTI is one of the most widely used personality instruments in the world. Its ease of use, high statistical validity, and reliability make it one the most respected personality instruments that exist. The test/retest measurement is very accurate; in 75% of cases, individuals will test the same in three of the four dimensions. Over 600 dissertations have been written on the MBTI and there are well over 1,000 articles and dozens of books. An average of two million people in the United States takes the MBTI each year and it has been translated into more than 30 languages.
The above information makes a very strong case for the fact that the MBTI is a legitimate personality measure. I have no argument with the facts presented above and tend to agree that the MBTI is well researched and useful in many situations. In order to evaluate its utility as an employee selection tool, however, one must look a bit more closely at the information the MBTI actually provides. What Does an MBTI Tell Us? The MBTI classifies individuals along four theoretically independent dimensions according to how they see the world. Each of these dimensions is a continuum with a letter anchoring the two endpoints. The dimensions and their endpoints include: 1. Energy
- Extraversion (E): Gets energy from people, activities, objects. Likes to interact.
- Introversion (I): Gets energy from ideas, emotions, impressions. Likes to concentrate.
- Sensing (S): Focuses on facts. Practical and proceeds step-by-step.
- Intuition (N): Focuses on possibilities. Theoretical and proceeds in leaps.
- Thinking (T): Makes decisions according to a logical system based on consistent principles. Believes in justice.
- Feeling (F): Makes decisions according to a value system based on a desire for harmony. Believes in compassion.
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- Judging (J): Proceeds towards goals in an organized way. Likes to make plans and come to decisions.
- Perceiving (P): Adapts to life in a spontaneous way. Likes to gather information and keep options open.
The result of the MBTI assessment process is that the test taker is provided with a four-letter description of who they are relative to their placement on the continuum created for each of the above dimensions. Thus, depending on her score on these four scales, the test taker falls into one of sixteen personality types (e.g. INTJ, ESFJ, ENFP, etc.). These four letters theoretically describe how the individual deals with the world and creates assumptions about how she will interact when dealing with others. For instance, someone who is an INTJ type may be classified as follows:
INTJ types, being original thinkers, have a vision of how to do something better and persevere in trying to persuade others that they are right. They do have good organizational ability, but they think they can improve everything. Indeed, unless the thinking or judging dimension is strong, there is a risk that the introverted intuitive (IN) person will be absolutely convinced he or she is right, even when wrong. Difficult problems fascinate them; routine jobs are considered a waste of time. INTJs make good scientists. They are not easily directed but will consider new facts and other opinions when carefully presented. They tend to be skeptical and critical, frequently not considering other peoples’ feelings as much as they should.”
Each of the 16 types has a variety of similar descriptions attached to it. These descriptions can be used for many different purposes. What Is The MBTI Good For? It is obvious from the above example that the MBTI helps provide a great deal of insight about an individual and the manner in which he or she may react in specific situations. This is very useful for helping people understand themselves and how they tend to view the world. It can also help people understand others with whom they interact and provide ideas to help promote more effective interactions. It is important to note, however, that the above information is more “clinical” in nature. That is, these are things that are best suited for coaching individuals, helping them to develop based on self understanding and providing a very detailed understanding of what drives themselves and others with whom they interact. The MBTI is immensely popular, having a large number of devotees. However, this popularity is not necessarily based on any specific utility that these tools provide but rather on the fact that people love to learn about themselves. The MBTI is very intuitive and the results are relatively easy for most folks to understand. The results offer a fun way for people to better understand themselves, and classifying others offers an explanation for why interactions with certain individuals often turn out as they do. Why the MBTI Isn’t a Good Tool for Employee Selection Despite its popular appeal, its pedigree, the thousands of research studies in which it has been used, and the insight it can provide, the MBTI is simply not suited for the majority of employee selection situations. Here’s why:
- It is a clinical tool. Proper use of the MBTI for making selection decisions requires expert interpretation and judgment. It is actually used quite successfully by some clinicians for the purpose of high-level executive selection. However, this type of selection process is often quite different from that used for other jobs. It is different because it utilizes a clinical model, in which experts who are trained in the use of the MBTI and a variety of other tools collect a large amount of data from a candidate and use their experience to complete an evaluation. This model is simply too labor intensive and expensive to be used in most hiring situations.
- It is cumbersome to use. Despite the ease of interpretation of the MBTI for individuals, it is very hard to use this tool across large groups. The idea of categorizing everyone with whom a perspective employee will interact and trying to stop and determine how they will fit with each person based on their type simply does not scale. The tool also does not function in the aggregate. That is, it does not support the creation of a type that can describe collectives, such as an organization or a group of people within that organization.
- It is hard to link directly to key job related behaviors. This is the litmus test for any personality measure that is to be used for the purpose of employee selection. The more closely a selection measure can be linked to specific elements of job performance, the more effective that measure will be. The inability to clearly link early personality measures to job performance criteria was identified as a serious shortcoming and effectively killed the use of these tools as selection measures for several decades. The past few decades have seen the evolution of a new breed of work-related personality tools that have been developed with the major components that describe performance at most modern jobs in mind. Unfortunately, the MBTI is not one of these, and this is the biggest reason why it should not be used in most employee selection situations.
- There are better tools out there for achieving the same results. There is a reason none of the major assessment providers are using MBTI tools for employee selection purposes. The reason is that there are a variety of tools that are better suited for the task of systematically measuring work-related aspects of an individual’s personality and comparing the results to specific job requirements.
The bottom line is that personality measures can have tremendous value for employee selection. But part of this value lies in making sure that you use the right tool for the job. This requires that organizations do their homework in evaluating potential tools and seek an expert opinion when unsure of the relevance any specific tool may have for their needs. The contents of this article represent my opinion on this subject. I do not claim to know everything and make an effort to remain open minded to ideas and suggestions that may help me learn. Please feel free to contact me with any personal opinions on this subject.