Fortune magazine has recently reaffirmed what a lot of people have been saying for a long time about personality tests like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). When I hear someone talking about “the beguiling nature of the horoscope-like summaries of personality,” it warms my heart. Yes, I am a PTC (personality test curmudgeon). Says Fortune:
One other thing, and this matters especially for anybody who thinks personality tests can guide them to a perfect career. According to official Myers-Briggs documents published by its exclusive European distributor, the test can “give you an insight into what kinds of work you might enjoy and be successful doing.” So if you are, like me, classified as INTJ (your dominant traits are being introverted, intuitive, and having a preference for thinking and judging), the best-fit occupations include management consultant, IT professional, and engineer.
Would a change to one of these careers make me more fulfilled? Unlikely, according to psychologist David Pittenger, because there is “no evidence to show a positive relation between MBTI type and success within an occupation … nor is there any data to suggest that specific types are more satisfied within specific occupations than are other types.” Pittenger advises “extreme caution in [the MBTI test's] application as a counselling tool.” Then why is the MBTI so popular? Its success, he argues, is primarily due to “the beguiling nature of the horoscope-like summaries of personality and steady marketing.”
When I cite the avalanche of critical studies to career counsellors, coaches, and trainers who administer Myers-Briggs tests, they often point out that the test is not designed to match people to ideal careers. Yet many of them ignore the evidence and keep on handing them out, typically because they are still believers in it as a guide to personality types, but sometimes — I suspect — because it gives their advice a veneer of legitimacy.
I am especially concerned that people take these tests and then make major life decisions based on the simplistic self-portraits that result from them. Why? Because they are not only “beguiling” but, demonstrably, unreliable:
The interesting — and somewhat alarming — fact about the MBTI is that, despite its popularity, it has been subject to sustained criticism by professional psychologists for over three decades. One problem is that it displays what statisticians call low “test-retest reliability.” So if you retake the test after only a five-week gap, there’s around a 50% chance that you will fall into a different personality category compared to the first time you took the test.
That’s not the kind of track record I’m interested in building my life on. I prefer the older, slower method of listening carefully to the people who know me well. It’s not sexy, you can’t buy it, and its answers aren’t always clear, but its relational nature matches it more closely to what we’re trying to figure out: the incredibly complex, layered mass of predilections, gifts, and experiences that make up our shifting-but-centered personalities.
You can read the whole Fortune article here.