New jobs always begin with new hopes. You put on your best outfit, show up 10 minutes early, and smile brightly when chatting around the coffee machine. You try, that is, to be the best version of yourself, to conceal the chinks in your armor (at least as long as you can). Increasingly, however, employers are taking extra effort to break down new employees’ facades, to learn about people’s “real” personalities early on. The problem, though, is that they’re doing it by requiring new hires to take a psychological test on the Internet.
For the past decade, around 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies (and 89 of the Fortune 100) have used a psychometric test called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator — a version of which is available for free online — to study the personalities of entering employees. The Myers-Briggs uses a series of yes-no questions to break down personalities along four dichotomies: Introversion (I) vs. Extroversion (E); Sensing (S) vs. Intuitive (N); Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F); and Perceiving (P) vs. Judging (J). These dichotomies generate a four-letter combination that (supposedly) represents one’s psychological “type” (an idea that traces its origins to Carl Jung). Corporate managers, for example, are often ISTJs, while writers and artists are often ENFPs. Each person fits only one of the 16 possible types and is supposedly that type from cradle to grave.
Companies typically pay outside consultants between $150 and $200 per head to administer Myers-Briggs workshops. For instance, Kelsey Connard, a consultant at KPMG (one of the largest consulting firms in the world), recently administered the Myers-Briggs to a group of new hires at Verizon. She had participants take the test online and then, without knowing their results, try to guess their types. About four out of five got it completely right.
The problem lies in that, as a scientific measure of personality, the Myers-Briggs is mostly vacuous. As critics have pointed out, if dichotomous types were real, we would expect the test results to show clear divisions between, for example, introverts and extroverts. In reality, however, Myers-Briggs takers fit a bell curve whose mean falls exactly in the middle between I and E. Without that sharp divide, however, the line appears arbitrary, especially for those test-takers near the mean. In addition, psychologists have pointed out that, although the test assumes that one’s type is immutable, as many as 50 percent of people get different results if they retake the test as soon as five weeks later.
And finally, the test is highly susceptible to what psychologists call the “Forer Effect” — that is, our natural tendency to rate personality tests as highly accurate when they tell us nice things about ourselves.
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