These four letters don’t determine your worth.
When I was younger, I came across the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test online and took it. I got a result and believed (mistakenly) that I was an INTJ, which is described as the “Architect” and that I question everything. While I do question everything, I had to (ironically) question the test because when I took it again a few years later, I was an ENTJ, which is described as the “Commander” and thus had the gifts of charisma and confidence.
Given that I do enjoy a challenge and that I am blunt (maybe to my detriment), maybe I was thinking that I could possibly be both? Could my entire personality just hinge on one letter in the test? Or maybe, just maybe, MBTI was basically horoscopes for people who were smart enough to overlook horoscopes but still too lazy to use a single brain cell in their heads?
Using the first result, I had started to, of course, question the validity of the test, given that it was administered online and that anyone could easily manipulate the outcomes of their own tests to get the result that they wanted. Thankfully, the media proved that I was right about the test being complete garbage.
Pseudoscience with extra steps, or how I learned how to hate Myers-Briggs
Many people who gatekeep jobs tend to have degrees in psychology. As a psychology student, you will end up reading about Carl Jung, one of the most well-known psychologists in the world. Carl Jung himself even said that the MBTI was based on “rough tendencies” as opposed to “strict classifications” in the 1940s. Jung himself even said that “every individual is an exception to the rule,” and this was before your parents (or in some cases, your grandparents) were even born. Since every field of study tends to advance in knowledge and prove previous theories right (or in this case, wrong), numerous studies have shown that the test was ineffective at proving how well you would do in a job. Therefore, why do people even use the test despite knowing that it is not only unscientific but doesn’t predict anything in the context of the workplace?
“But Jose, you’re not qualified to talk about this!” some might say. Thankfully for everyone, I interviewed an old friend of mine, Billy San Juan, who just happens to have a doctorate in psychology and also happens to be a fellow graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California. When I asked him why people who have studied Carl Jung and are well aware that the test is actually unscientific, yet still put stock into the test as if it actually did have scientific value, he had this to say: “The Myers-Briggs is a popular test for several reasons. Corporations love it because it’s minimal work to administer, minimal work to interpret, and it’s easily available. It also offers a very quick and easy interpretation. If you’re an administrator who needs to sift through dozens of resumes, it’s easy to look at four letters and match them to the four letters you want for the job. That being said, it also has very poor empirical validation. But with personality testing, like most anything else, you get what you pay for. Most corporations aren’t going to shell out the several hundreds of dollars for a more accurate personality assessment/battery, especially if there’s a chance they won’t hire the person they’ve invested the money into.”
Who would have thought it would all come down to money? Yes, every time you administer this unscientific test, you’re basically telling people you’re too cheap to do an actual (and scientific) assessment of a person and are resorting to those online tests that people actually take for fun.
“Horoscopes masquerading as science”
Remember the statement I made about people being smart enough to avoid horoscopes yet lazy enough to not use their brains? I had to wonder if MBTI continued to exist because of a lack of mental health resources, which is a very real problem in our world today. Billy was more than happy to oblige my inquiry about people using these tests because therapy costs more than weed (not that I’m saying to smoke weed instead of going to therapy, but this should tell you more about the state of our society than anything else). He disproved my theory on the very first sentence, but still took the time to critique MBTI:
“I don’t think it’s a lack of access to mental health resources,” he said. “I think people define themselves by the Myers Briggs because we love to know ourselves. The problem is that the results of the MBTI and other pop-psych tests is that the results are easily generalized. It’s basically a horoscope masquerading as science. There’s a phenomenon known as the ‘Barnum Effect’ which I think applies to MBTI types. The Barnum effect occurs when someone believes a description applies directly to them when in reality the description is applicable to everyone.”
Fun fact: you’re not the INTJ/ENTJ/whatever four-letter combination was spit out when you took the test that you necessarily think you are. Just like everything, people change. “Additionally, people read their profile and automatically think of evidence to support it. For example, if the test labels you as an extrovert, most people immediately begin to think of examples of their extroversion. The problem is a cognitive effect known as confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when we look for supporting evidence for something and dismiss/ignore/neglect evidence against it.”
Confirmation bias is a huge problem when people put stock into online testing. You can easily manipulate the results, and since a disturbingly large amount of people think it’s actually scientific, this leads to the whole problem with putting people into boxes. Guess what some of the most popular quotes are regarding thinking? Thinking outside the box and not labeling yourself (or others). Yet MBTI flies in the face of these common-sense quotes. Then again, I’m not expecting common sense to make sense (or even be common).
Myers-Briggs: does it hinder personal and professional development?
Billy’s opinion is that the idea of doing the MBTI could actually hinder one’s personal growth and development. “One of the problems with the Myers-Briggs, and other tests like the Enneagram of Personality, is that people will often lock themselves into the personality type they are given. Instead of learning to adapt to different situations and challenge one’s self for growth, it’s easier to just say ‘I’m an introvert’ or ‘I’m an intuitive.’ The MBTI and other poorly designed tests can give people an excuse not to grow.”
I have often said that rigid ways of thinking will doom everyone. Heck, the Jedi even said that only the Sith deal in absolutes. “Furthermore, a lot of people take these types of tests to validate what they already know about themselves. I like to think of it as the ‘Buzzfeed Quiz’ effect. You know what Disney Princess or Marvel Avenger you’re most like, but you want to take the test to see if it’s accurate. The problem is that so much of our personality is based on the situation. A person may be extroverted in one situation, but introverted in another. A person may be ‘Feeling’ when they choose where to go for dinner, but ‘Thinking’ when they are purchasing a car. A person may be ‘Judging’ at work but ‘Perceiving’ at home,” he said.
Hitting the nail on the head, people tend to change depending on the situation. I am very outspoken online but not so much in real life. I know when to be professional and when to be closer to my actual self. It’s almost as if the MBTI ignores that people aren’t static and robotic, yet the people who put actual stock into this test (mostly hiring managers/HR people), despite knowing how people and psychology work, still want to use this test.
Now that I know Myers-Briggs is unscientific and doesn’t account for a number of very real factors, what should I do?
When you see problems, you look for solutions to said problems. Thankfully, there are viable alternatives to MBTI that make sense from a scientific perspective (not to mention, a reality-based perspective). Sadly, they are also economically prohibitive because actual testing costs time and money, two things we are unwilling to part with unless we’re dragged kicking and screaming. On top of that, gatekeepers of jobs actually might have to do some work for once.
“There are many personality tests that provide nuanced psychological profiles on a variety of scales. These tests also include validity scales, which measure things like “malingering” (trying to appear worse than you are) other dishonesties. The MMPI-2 and the Big Five Personality Test are perhaps two of the most researched personality assessments in psychology. They measure a variety of factors, account for error, and account for intentional misleading. They also measure scores on a spectrum, with something called a ‘confidence interval.’ The confidence interval is a range where a true score may lie, based on unforeseen factors,” Billy said.
Remember what I said about not dealing in absolutes? These tests account for things that might actually go wrong during a psychology assessment (something MBTI doesn’t). As we mentioned before, it also costs time and money to determine psychological fit versus just getting someone into a job, which is why so many employers are tricked into using MBTI. “There are many other valid tests as well, but the problem is that they are more expensive to administer than the Myers-Briggs. After all, the process of empiricism and peer review costs money. Unless you specialize in personality testing for psychological reasons, such as the mental health field, you probably don’t have the testing kits or access to scoring systems,” Billy added.
Conclusion: Using Myers-Briggs as a hiring tool shows me you’re lazy and uneducated.
If you really want to get someone into a job, judge by their skills first and by personality second. That is the whole point of this op-ed/interview. In the long run, if you’re going to conduct a psych evaluation using something that has no scientific value, you’re setting yourself up to fail. What’s even worse is that you’re also shutting out people who might actually be qualified, and that’s before you have to go up against the hiring manager’s friends/relatives/in-laws.
Billy even took it a step further saying that one assessment wasn’t enough: “Furthermore, most psychological testing is conducted in “batteries,” or a series of assessments whose scores form an overall picture. The problem, as stated before, is that most companies don’t have the time to devote to conducting a psychological battery for every single applicant.”
If it isn’t necessary for the job, don’t even bother. It shows me you want to not only put barriers between someone and their ability to make a living but also want to perpetuate ignorance in society. If you have any questions or concerns, I’ll be out back dealing with the MBTI Office Space-style: