BY ELLEN MCGARRITY DAILY ARTS WRITER
Published April 3, 2003
Personality assessments are no longer just used by psychologists anymore - they have now made their way into the hands of companies across the country. A look at one of the most popular of these tests, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, gives insight into why so many organizations are beginning to trust its results in their hiring processes.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one of the most widely used personality inventories in the United States. It attempts to link people's personalities with one of 16 types based on four key traits. In the 1940s, Katharine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, invented the test, drawing on ideas from Carl Jung. Jung divided people into eight different types, but Myers and Briggs expanded on those, resulting in the 16profiles used on the test today.
Personality in four dimensions
There are several versions of the MBTI out there, including an extended one, but generally, it consists of approximately 25 questions aimed at determining a person's styles and preferences in four dimensions. Below is an in depth look at each of those dimensions.
Dimension One: Extroversion vs. Introversion
While many people immediately think of either a loud, talkative, party-loving person or a quiet, anti-social, bookish person when confronted with these terms, there is more to this dimension than these stereotypical images. Extroversion and introversion really refer to where an individual gets his or her energy.
"The primary difference between introverts and extroverts is how they recharge their batteries. extroverts are energized by the outer world ... introverts, on the other hand, are energized by the internal world - by ideas, impressions, and emotions," as Marti Olsen Laney expressed in her book "The Introvert Advantage."
Only when extroverts have been around people enough, can they have enough energy to be on their own. Similarly, introverts, once revved up, can actually be quite talkative in social settings.
Dimension Two: Sensing vs. Intuition
Perhaps two better words for this dimension would be observation and introspection. David Keirsey, author of the bestseller "Please Understand Me," has a website that explains this dimension in depth. "(Sensors) see what is in front of them and are usually accurate at catching details ... they want facts and trust facts ... they focus on what is happening, or what has happened, rather than (what might be)," Keirsey's website reports.
In contrast, intuitive people are more skilled at picking up on the realities of relationships of those around them. They excel at very quickly realizing the wider implications of a complex explanation or description they read, often skipping right over the verbal into "just knowing things."
While sensors can tell you exactly how they came to a conclusion, intuitives have a hard time retracing the decision gathering process.
Dimension Three: Thinking vs. Feeling
When making a tough decision, do you let your heart lead the way or do you use logic to make the final say? This dimension can tell you if you are ruled more by your emotions or by your reason.
As Otto Kroeger and Janet M. Thuesen put it in their book "Type Talk," "(Thinkers), in the decision-making process, prefer to be very logical, detached, analytical and driven by objective values as (they) come to conclusions. This group strives for justice and clarity."
Whereas when feelers make decisions, they are driven by their interpersonal involvement with the people concerned and are more subjective.
Dimension Four: Judging vs. Perceiving
The judgers of the world are the people who are always on time - or, are early - to the meeting. They are those who are always neat and clean, and they are endlessly planning in detail the events of the upcoming year, month, day and even the next ten minutes.
Without the judgers, the world would be very unorganized. But the perceivers offer their own special talents too. Perceivers are wonderfully adept at dealing with the unexpected. Because they often don't have a set plan, spontaneity is what makes their worlds exciting. They don't mind if the game goes into overtime or if their friend shows up half an hour late. judgers and perceivers also differ in the speed at which they make decisions.
Judgers tend to make quick judgments and stay with their initial conclusions, while perceivers have a hard time even making a concrete decision as they think it is better to keep their options open.
What's important to remember about the dimensions is that they are each a continuum; no one is completely introverted or completely extroverted. In fact, many people fall somewhere in the middle. And this is where, in some critic's opinions, the test fails.
When a person falls in the middle on two or more dimensions, his type is uncertain and that individual may not relate to the type assigned to him by the test. That's why Myers and Briggs made the test to be a loose guide, not a definitive script, of what a person's personality is like.
'U' experts weigh in
Not everyone has the same opinion on the MBTI. Even in the University's psychology department, one would be hard pressed to find a consensus.
"Measures like these don't suggest that people are always this way or always that way," said Prof. Sam Sommers, who teaches Social Psychology. "While there may be some general differences in people's dispositions, the situations and contexts in which we find ourselves has a huge effect on how we behave. We're not limited by our personality type."
He believes, as most social psychologists stress, that a person's behavior changes based on the situation in which they find themselves. The MBTI, in contrast, tries to predict how a person will act across many situations, implying that an individual's personality is constant, not changing.
Prof. of organizational psychology Margaret Shih agreed with Sommer's observation.
"I think the test has some validity, but people's personalities can change over the course of their lifetime," said Shih.
In the personality department, Prof. Lilia Cortina is in favor of using the test. Cortina said the test has undergone a lot of scrutiny and has proven itself useful over the years. She stresses that as long as the test is valid and reliable, it can tell us a lot about an individual's personality.
coming to an employer near you?
Could a test like the MBTI really measure your personality? Could it help an employer place you in the best spot for your talents in a company? Or, what if you were turned away from a job because of your results on such a test?
Right Management Consultants is a national organization that is very familiar with personality assessments. Companies hire RMC to help them in their hiring process, guide struggling employees in a new direction and even get executives to learn what skills they will need to keep their organizations progressing.
Right uses the MBTI as well as other valid and reliable tests like the Birkman and the Strong as their main tool of aid.
"In many companies, some form of assessment is part of the hiring process," said Rita Amell, vice president of senior professional services at the RMC branch in Grand Rapids. "Hiring gurus say 50 percent should be based on interviewing, 25 percent on references and 25 percent on some objective form of assessment."
Because the tests could have such an impact on whether you get a job or not, many people are uneasy and skeptical about taking them. Still, Amell stressed that in most cases, the testing can only help you.
"It's the unknown," Amell said. "Some people are very unfamiliar with it. People are apprehensive that deep dark secrets will be revealed, but it helps the decision maker. Honestly, only a couple of times have I seen somebody decide to drop the individual because of an assessment."
In the cases where an applicant for a job is dropped, it is usually for good reason. Often the person's style clashes with the style of his would-be boss.
For instance, Amell described a client she had identified through personality testing as someone who needed a very structured work environment with strict deadlines. His would-be boss was a very flexible, unstructured man and the personality assessments showed that neither would work very well together. The applicant would have had to move across seven states for the job - for a job he probably wouldn't have liked.
"(The tests) are looking for if (an applicant) can fit with the culture, if they're going to be up to the needs of the job itself, certain styles or behaviors (for the job) - and the assessment can help confirm that for us," Amell said.
As of right now, personality testing is legal for companies to use as long as it is a test that is valid, reliable and is given by people certified in use of the test. However, in the last year, lawsuits have been filed concerning who owns the rights to the information revealed by the test and how it is utilized.
This is why Amell suggests to students, who will likely encounter this sort of testing in their job search after college, to always ask a potential employer how the information from their test will be used, and who will have access to it.
A good thing to remember about personality testing is that, as Amell described, "it is only a mirror." The tests reflect back to us our styles and preferences for living. They do not tell us that one type is better than another. So don't be afraid of whatever the tests reveal about your unique personality.
Whether you agree with their results or not, personality tests are something students going into the workplace will likely become familiar with. After becoming acquainted with the ins and outs of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, hopefully students will be more comfortable when they are faced with the tests and aware of how the results are being used.