There was a period in my life when, in moments of boredom and procrastination, I frequented the ‘quiz’ page on BuzzFeed. All my friends needed to stop what they were doing because I wanted—no, needed—to know what character on Parks and Recreation they were. When the result of any of the plethora of quizzes told me something I believed to be true, I was astonished, blown away by how truly and mythically accurate the result was. However, when the answer displeased me, I brushed it off my shoulder. “It’s just a BuzzFeed quiz,” I would tell myself.
After leaving Boston College, my classmates and I will graduate from the online pop psychology quizzes on BuzzFeed and Zimbio to the personality tests groomed by professional psychologists during our job search. Used for self-discovery and hiring, tests like the Myers Briggs and Gallup StrengthsFinder identify people by using finite categories and traits. These tests take colorful human beings and limit them to one shade. Though the point of personality tests is to highlight one’s strongest traits, their results are often used against candidates. In the hiring process, personality tests provide employers with a pigeonholed view of their possible employee.
Fundamentally, the system of personality tests—even for the purposes of self-discovery—is flawed. People overestimate the power of such assessments while simultaneously ignoring important details.
When taking the types of tests employers dole out in order to target desirable traits in workers, I imagine there is a way to present an idealized version of oneself. One may not find it difficult to answer questions in the way they imagine an ideal employee would like them to. Similarly—based on the idea that human beings have a skewed perception of themselves—people may present themselves in the way they desire to be, as opposed to how they truly are. In these instances, personality tests aren’t revealing the true nature of the possible employee; instead, they are easily manipulated and misleading.
It is undeniable that different conditions can make or break leaders. One of the popular employment tests is the Caliper Profile, which measures traits that are essential to the job at hand, including leadership ability. If leadership is being considered, situation cannot be ignored. But how can a personality test measure how a possible employee will fit into the situation they are to be placed in? Questions regarding the current state of the company—whether it is prospering or struggling, a startup or set in its ways, or looking to expand or downsize—are just as important to consider as whether or not the prospect is a positive person.
Perhaps the most dangerous side effect of personality quizzes—for professional or personal purposes—is overestimation of the end results. Tests like the Gallup StrengthsFinder identify the participant’s top 5 traits out of 34 total traits, thus whittling one’s being down to five words and the minimal existence around them. Reading the results of the Myers Briggs can convince someone that the personality type described by his/her four letter result is who they are, not an idea of what the average INFJ person looks like.
That, I contend, is ridiculous. We are not the results of a personality test. We are so much more.
Yet, many proponents in favor of said assessments make several valid arguments. The most solid of opinions asserts that by using purposefully deceptive questions, the tests are revealing a person’s true character and there is an elimination of bias. Denial of quiz results are immanent, but perhaps it is out of denial or the previously mentioned lack of self-awareness that humanity is plagued. These tests may be pointing out weaknesses in people that many dismiss instead of using them to better themselves. Acknowledging faults is no simple task, but it is something that does wonders when accomplished. Additionally, without knowing who is taking the quiz—no specification of gender, race, origin, religion, class, etc.—there is an elimination of biases present in many levels of the hiring process.
The elimination of bias is essential to the concept of personality tests. However, with the elimination of one bias, there is the introduction of another. These tests take a person with a family, life, and habits that shape them and define them by a few structured phrases. What should be preventing pigeonholing is essentially pigeonholing people nonetheless.
I took the Myers Briggs in high school and again this summer and got two different results. While the variance occurred in only two of the four categories, I was shocked to see that both definitions of the type struck as true with both my family and myself. Each result was accurate in some ways and fell short in others. The variance could be attributed to a variety of factors, such as my mood while taking the test or the whole new array of life experiences I’ve accumulated.
When taking a personality test for employment purposes, however, you only get one chance. There is no regard to a possibility of the effects of mood and experience at the time. Mixing and matching results isn’t possible when they are interpreted by someone with whom the test taker has had minimal interaction with.
People change over time, and with it, their personality changes. It’s true that the strong traits a person possesses rarely change in over time, but the strength and prevalence of such traits may vary. Without consideration for maturation, situation, and manipulation, these tests fail to capture people as accurately as they claim to. People are far too unique to be placed into molds or have their traits measured on a scale, but that doesn’t mean psychologists will stop searching for a way to do so.
Maybe the concept isn’t as flawed as I make it out to be, but rather there are missteps in its execution. At least companies are making the effort to look at the personality behind the numbers presented to them on resumes. However, those who don’t exemplify the exact personality types—such as extroversion—may not be able to claim as many opportunities because of something they cannot change. In my opinion, interviews, trial periods, and references all stand as better ways to judge someone’s true personality. These will also allow employers to observe qualities such as trust and loyalty, things which are immeasurable.
The use of personality tests works wonders in identifying ways to motivate employees in their work and understand the motivation behind their actions. They should not be used as a major player in the hiring process but as a way to manage. People need to stop trying to describe themselves in two paragraphs or less. People are more unique than any one test can reveal.