Professionally Speaking

Type Casting

How useful are personality assessment tests—really? Steve shares his thoughts.


Personalities, huh? When I first heard the topic for this column, I thought, “Oh, good! We’re going to get to talk about some industry personalities—you know, celebrities like Bill and Larry and Mark Minasi.” Nope, sorry. No dirt to dish. Instead, Greg has led us into the murky world of personality types. And when we get into personality types, we’ve walked right through the mirror into the world of psychology. I really don’t want to go there, but as long as I’m at the keyboard…

If you’re dying to know your personality type, there are a number of places to go. I’m not aware of anyone who does the full Myers-Briggs assessment free for individuals, but you might want to check with your local college guidance or career office—this may be a service offered to students or alumni. There are Web sites that provide the MBTI for a fee. One I’ve found is www.personality now.com. It sends you a kit with the written questionnaire, which you fill out and mail back. As of this writing, it costs $89 for individuals.

There’s a similar type of assessment called the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, available at www.advisorteam.com. It’s available for free at the Web site, although it’ll push you to purchase the full, 10-page Temperament Report. I’ve known large organizations that have used this evaluation instead of the MBTI, so I don’t think there’s a quality question here. (If you’re interested in evaluating your learning style, you can go to www.oswego.edu/~shindler/plsi/index.html— which is the Paragon Learning Styles Index, a free assessment.)

OK, once you know that you’re an introvert/artisan who intuitively judges or some other such combination of traits, what next? Well, one way of using the information is to find out what fields successful individuals with personality types like yours are in. I’m not saying that you should direct your life according to the test results. After all, these tests are trying to fit billions of people into just a few categories. But, because personality plays a major role in people’s success, you might want to investigate where other “left-handed, anti-progressive, highly opinionated artisan-extroverts” have found a home. I think most of the testing organizations have this sort of personality/occupation match up; if not, again, a local guidance or counseling office may be able to help.

One of the dangers of such testing and, in my opinion, a danger with psychology majors is that if you know someone else’s personality type, there’s the possibility that that person could be manipulated. (Hint: Ask a salesperson that you’re dealing with what his or her major was in college. If the answer is “psychology,” leave your wallet at home and don’t sign anything!) One of the paid testing sites I saw offers a discount for “romantic couples.” You know, I thought one of the joys of a relationship was discovering each other’s personalities, not getting tested for it. Whether valid or not, this type of information is a fuse for abuse.

I was surprised to hear from Greg that some organizations use these personality tests for candidate screening. The last time I went through “hiring manager” training, I was taught that testing could only be used to screen applicants if it tested performance directly related to the specific job. I haven’t done the research to know whether “personality-type” testing has been challenged in court, but if it hasn’t, I’m sure it soon will be. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, so I’m not trying to drum up business, but I would be interested to hear from any readers who had to undergo MBTI or similar testing before hiring. I really would like to understand the company’s rationale.

All of us carry too many labels these days. Are you a “techie?” Are you a “yuppie?” Are you a “Rosicrucian”? Our personalities are about the most defining aspects of us as individuals. Although self-discovery and a deeper understanding of your own uniqueness can be valuable exercises, I caution you against letting yourself be filed into a box, whether it’s a career box or a personality box. It’s your life—do what you want with it.

About the Author

Steve Crandall, MCSE, is a principal of ChangeOverTime, a technology consulting firm in Cleveland, Ohio, that specializes in small business and non-profit organizations. He's also assistant professor of Information Technology at Myers College and a contributing writer for Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine.

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