There are many aspects of human behavior that puzzle psychologists. One such aspect is how the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) remains so widely used in hiring and employment contexts, when decades of psychological research have shown that it is a poorly designed instrument that shows no particular ability to identify the right candidate for any job.
The (MBTI) is arguably the most popular personality test in the world. Over 500 million people have taken it, and it brings in $20 million annually for The Myers-Briggs Company. It was developed by in 1943 by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, after reading Personality Types by then-esteemed psychotherapist Carl Jung. Despite having no background in psychology, they set out to create a test to sort people into the eight personality types Jung had proposed. Tweaking Jung’s work, they devised a test that sorted people into sixteen personality types (which at some point picked up nicknames like “the Leader” or “the Diplomat”). Over the next few decades, Isabel became a tireless advocate for her test, finally selling it to the Educational Testing Service (ETS). When the ETS found no use for the test, Isabel arranged a sale to the Consulting Psychology Press, who began selling the test in 1975 under the name The Myers-Briggs Company. It rapidly gained use in corporate hiring and career counseling, and continues to this day.
Despite its popularity, the MBTI has a range of problems:
- The work of Carl Jung has now been largely discredited. Jung, like his mentor turned nemesis, Sigmund Freud, had occasional insight into human psychology, but in the modern era of quantitative research, his far-fetched notions of dream analysis and a “collective unconscious” are mostly appreciated by the astrology and “healing crystals” crowd.
- The MBTI fails basic principles of psychological assessments. Two critical features psychologists look for in meaningful assessments are reliability and validity. Does the assessment give the same person the same result (reliability), and do they tell you anything actually useful (validity)? The MBTI flunks both of these tests.
- Research has found that as many as 50% of the people who retake the MBTI a month later receive a different personality type. The MBTI scoring system divides people into strict bipolar categories (e.g., either a “Thinker” or a “Feeler”). That may create a simplified system that claims to assign ALL people to one of 16 personality “types”, but forces the complexity of human personality into these strict “types”. Inevitably, people at the boundaries of these strict “types” will not reliably answer questions exactly the same way, seemingly changing their “type”.
- The most concerning, however, is its validity as a work-relevant assessment. Research has found no link between the MBTI and either workplace performance or job fit. The Myers-Briggs Company doesn’t even deny this – it’s on their website! “The MBTI assessment is designed to be descriptive, not predictive. Organizations that wrongly use the MBTI assessment for hiring decisions are confusing preference with skill, and are doing themselves a disservice in their hiring process by screening out potentially qualified applicants.”
A Better Way
This isn’t to say personality assessments aren’t useful – many are! Psychologists came up with better personality tests decades ago, which do predict workplace success. The field of Personnel Psychology has come a long way since Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers dabbled in “personality types”. Cangrade’s own pre-hire assessment incorporates the latest psychological research, and utilizes data-driven machine learning to identify candidates with the skillset for your position, and the personality to excel. Read all about the science behind this powerful tool.