Assessments, from heavily researched personality tests to the scores of instruments that measure “personal styles” in some manner, are praised by publishers and criticized by a variety of sources including academics. In addition, I’ve recently seen an article providing “tips” on how to take these types of tests. I will first admit that I am a firm supporter of testing if done correctly and used the right way in the right situations. I’ve taken scores of “assessments,” administered hundreds in a variety of settings, and completed graduate level education in psychological testing.
Myers-Briggs And Other “Style” Assessments
While I’ve always been sensitive to articles criticizing testing, I was recently piqued by an article challenging the Myers-Briggs (MBTI) assessment on three points:
- Low reliability, particularly “test-retest” reliability.
- The assessment “puts you in a box,” labeling as a particular set of letters, e.g., ENTJ
- The assessment purports to “guide to a perfect career.”
These criticisms have also been applied to the dozens of other “style-type” assessments that are essentially based on the same core dynamic of the ancient “four temperaments” and the personality theory of Alfred Jung. I believe these three criticisms are significantly missing the mark. A more valid criticism is the fact that there are dozens of different assessments claiming to be significantly different from one another when in reality they measure the same basic four elements.
Low Reliability Or Situational?
I’ll begin to address the low-reliability argument with a particular example. For several years, I worked with a particular version of an assessment that measured the four basic styles and during that time I completed the test personally at least twenty times. The results were always the same, within one or two points. My dominant style was always the same. Then, as part of an international training program in England, I administered the test to 200 plus participants and the staff of presenters I was supervising. I took the test again myself – and surprisingly came up with significantly different results. Contemplating this, and discussing it with a close colleague who was working with me on this project, we quickly realized that all of the circumstances were different. My task responsibilities for this particular program, even the physical setting, put me in a very different “role” – one perfectly represented by the style profile I’d just completed. The point is simple: personal “style” is to a major degree situational. My mother demonstrated a completely different style at home than she did at work. Scores of my workshop participants have reported their spouses or children scoring them differently than the role they perform at work.
Deeper Scores Not Labels
The second criticism represents the importance of any assessment being used correctly. Yes, the Myers-Briggs labels a person using a combination of the four elements. However, the criticism that this is an absolute, or black and white, category is false. Almost all these types of assessments calculate scores that indicate the strength of a particular style. Many will show a graphical plot that indicates the strengths of the scores. A colleague of mine recently completed the MBTI under my direction. His profile states that he is INTJ (Introverted-Intuition-Thinking-Judging). However, his detailed report reveals that, on two of these scales, his “preference” is only “slight,” less than five points on a 30 point scale. On another the “preference” is only “moderate,” seven points on the scale. Only one of the elements is “very clear,” 27 points on the 30 point scale. So a real understanding of my colleague’s profile is not that he is simply an INTJ – it is a much finer interpretation of what these scores really mean. This is why assessments should be administered and interpreted by a professional.
Not A “Guide To A Perfect Career”
From long before even my high school days decades ago, assessments intended to provide career information have been misunderstood. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding survives today. Even more unfortunately, it is often due, not to the design or purposes of the assessment itself, but to poor application by the organization or test administrator. When the printout of an assessment is simply handed out to students, like it was done for me, with no guidance or individual discussion, it heightens the danger of the “this is what it tells me to do” error. Whenever I sit down to discuss a “career” report based on the Myers-Briggs, or any other career interest type interpretation, I always issue a strong disclaimer that this information does not “tell you what to do.” The Myers-Briggs Career Report includes a strong clarification of this point of the first page of the report: “This report is only one source of information. When choosing a career or contemplating a career change, you must also consider your abilities and skills, your occupational and leisure interests, and your values and goals. You will also need information about specific tasks involved in different occupations, as well as current career opportunities.”
Although frustrating at times, I accept criticism of psychological assessments as part of a mostly valid process and too often the marketing driven process of competition. In reality, there are many versions of this type of assessments that claim to measure style with only a few questions and then state results too strongly. However, when the criticisms themselves are too simply stated or incorrect, it creates a risk that the valuable information provided by these instruments will not be available to career seekers who may be supported by the guidance.
This post was originally published on an earlier date.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a Work It Daily-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here.
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