Thank you, HBO Max, CNN Films, and the creators of ‘Persona’ for addressing why poorly developed tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) should not be used in high-stakes settings. For years, many organizational psychologists have warned against measures such as the MBTI. To quote an international expert in personality research and testing, “its (MBTI) only value is in making money for consultants.” We appreciate you for informing a broader audience that the MBTI was not developed for selection purposes and there is little evidence that it predicts relevant organizational criteria… however, we and many other psychologists believe you got a lot wrong about personality testing and your sensationalist approach neglected the utility of measuring personality and behavioral characteristics.
Using the MBTI as the Brush to Paint all Personality Testing is Limited
Not all personality and behavior assessments are created equal, nor are they all intended for making decisions about job applicants or employees. Unfortunately, the opinions of your contributors portrayed all personality assessments as subjugating and discriminatory. Worse, you presented these opinions and views as undeniable evidence. You subtly mentioned the Big Five personality traits, but largely neglected to differentiate between the Big Five and other established facets of personality and the MBTI.
While we can empathize with the case studies presented, “Persona” failed to highlight the merits of science-based and non-discriminatory methods of personality assessment, and did not differentiate such tools from those that are neither psychometrically sound nor legally defensible. As psychologists, we recognize there are serious issues with the use of poorly developed and/or administered assessments; however, we painstakingly warn about such instruments and spend years developing valid and reliable tools and evaluating their utility and fairness. We also recognize that no single test or assessment is a “magic bullet”; we strive to ensure that assessment processes are managed with care by trained and competent professionals.
You Failed to Discuss the Large Body of Research Supporting the Use of Personality Assessment, especially when Paired with Cognitive Ability Tests
While cognitive ability generally accounts for the greatest amount of variance in task performance, decades of scientific research and practitioner case studies illustrate that selection processes inclusive of personality assessment tend to explain more variability in work performance than do cognitive ability measures alone.
Moreover, research consistently shows that personality tests paired with tests of cognitive ability predict performance better than the traditional employment interview paired with cognitive ability tests. This is especially evident when the criteria rely more heavily on personality characteristics than cognitive ability. For example, personality accounts for variance in organizational citizenship behavior, counterproductive work behavior, leadership, motivation, career success, teamwork, job satisfaction, and turnover.
Your Claims that Personality Assessments are “Ableist, Racist, Sexist, and Classist” are Largely Unfounded
Research generally shows little meaningful difference on personality scales on the basis of gender, age, educational level, or race. Psychometrically sound personality instruments developed for selection purposes can actually enhance fairness in the employment process.
Most litigation against assessment deals with tests of cognitive ability (e.g., Albermarle Paper Co. v. Moody) as they often adversely impact Black applicants. For example, the Wonderlic Intelligence test is controversial in the NFL draft, as it has been shown to have a disparate impact on minorities. Similarly, physical ability testing has often led to legal action as it can adversely impact female job applicants (e.g., EEOC v. Dial Corp). Because cognitive ability is such an important predictor of job success, employers often pair cognitive ability tests with personality or behavioral measures to reduce the potential of adverse impact and avoid litigation.
Litigation involving personality assessment is generally related to a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (e.g., Karraker v. Rent-a-Center). These cases almost always involve the use of a personality test that was not designed for selection but instead for diagnosing psychopathy (e.g., Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Instrument). Such tests are considered pre-employment medical examinations and adversely impact those with mental illness. Personality tests designed for selection purposes measure the range of “normal personality” and are not considered pre-employment medical examinations.
You Neglected to Provide Solutions or Speak to Alternatives
All methods used to evaluate and select a job candidate are considered “tests” under the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures. (Yes, that includes resumes and interviews too.) Obviously, one’s gender, race, and any disabilities are revealed during the interview process and are subject to biases and discrimination. Likewise, the background information included in a resume (e.g., name, school, address) is subject to biases and discrimination. Common procedures such as criminal background and credit checks are also more likely to cause adverse impact than a personality assessment.
So what should employers use to evaluate and select job candidates? Should the hiring manager pull names from a fishbowl and hire the first person they draw? As organizational psychologists, we know there are better ways to make employment decisions and advocate the use of a whole-person approach to minimize the potential for bias in any sole assessment method.
Employers should use multiple procedures to evaluate whether the applicant:
- Can do the job (e.g., knowledge, skills, abilities, education, experience).Is suitable to meet the demands of the job (e.g., personal/interpersonal characteristics. cognitive ability, thinking styles).
- Fits the culture (e.g., attitudes, values, motivations, work styles).
Considering the cost of a bad hire can be as much as 213% of their annual salary, the use of personality and behavioral testing for even small improvements in hiring decisions can save organizations millions of dollars and minimize risks to corporate reputation. Among other benefits, ability, personality, and behavioral testing has helped employers:
- Reduce counterproductive work behavior.
- Minimize ethical or legal exposure.
- Improve sales and customer retention.
- Reduce shrinkage and theft.
- Improve annual employee retention rates.
- Reduce safety incidents and injury
Effective assessments help employers make costly decisions, but also consider how many candidates have been spared from a job where they just did not fit. Rejected candidates may be initially disappointed but in the long run, if the process helps keep them from the 85% of employees who are not engaged in the workplace, assessments are doing them a favor as well.
At Psynet Group, we recognize the utility of the five-factor model of personality as a means of summarizing a diverse body of personality literature; however, we also recognize the limitations of using five broad personality factors. Our approach is to use a host of narrower facets of personality and other employment-relevant behavioral characteristics.
Our proprietary online assessment platform, Psybil®, allows us to measure attributes such as critical thinking ability and thinking styles, professional motivations and drivers, approach to risk, conflict management style, leadership style, self-awareness, and situational agility.
Psynet Group can customize assessment batteries and reports to meet client needs, and we offer expert interviews to round out assessment results. We complement our expertise as psychologists with assessment data to help clients make smarter hiring decisions, evaluate fit within the context of teams and organizational structure, and support professional development.
Curious about the ROI our clients have achieved using our assessments? Get in touch with us to learn more.
About the Author: Brandon Young, PhD is a senior consultant at Psynet Group.