Ask A Coach: Should I Take A Personality Test?

Oooh, now there’s a question – should you take a personality test? What if you failed?!? Let’s get one thing straight: you already have a personality, and if you complete an assessment of it, you may get some useful insights. And yes, there are books and websites that will claim they can help you ‘pass’ or ‘ace’ personality ‘tests’. Which is understandable, yet something of a pity. Why?

Well, if you think you need to ‘play’ a psychometric instrument, say if you’re being assessed as a job candidate, to what you think the employer is looking for, there’s a risk that one or both of you could end up unhappy.

Trying to fit in once you’ve landed the job could be tiring at best and miserable at worst. Your employer may wonder what happened to you (a personality transplant?) between the assessment and starting employment.

I have observed that personality types can be disproportionately represented in some organisations, particularly if that/those type/types is/are prevalent at the top. And I think it’s fair to say that many organisations – often despite best efforts to the contrary – hire in their own image. That can be a risky strategy; with greater diversity comes more strength in depth, provided that diversity is respected.

Lucy Ash has been investigating these tools and assessments (practitioners prefer these terms to ‘tests’) and you can read her article for the BBC here.

I think she presents a balanced viewpoint: there are pros and cons to these things.
There’s also a podcast here.

Opponents of psychometric instruments and assessments question aspects such as: cultural bias, theoretical foundations, statistical validity and misuse. For example, the publishers of one of the most popular tools, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator®, or MBTI, do not recommend its use for recruitment, as it sorts preferences, rather than measures capabilities. Yet I have heard of it being used in this way, to check whether someone’s ‘face will fit’ – pity. There are plenty of other assessments – psychometric and more practical – that can test for competencies.

I’ve found psychometric tools can be really useful when:

  • Someone wants to pause for thought and assess the career path they’re on;
  • Someone wants to learn more about themselves, when they’re at their best (and their worst);
  • A team wants to work together more effectively. This last can be very powerful – provided that all the team members sign up to the idea.

But for me the real acid test comes when the insights gained are productively applied.

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