How personality tests create labels & limit opportunities.
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Personality tests are everywhere. There are websites that will help people identify what Star Wars or Harry Potter character they most resemble and countless other personality tests. Discovering that you are more of a Luke Skywalker or Hermione Granger can be fun and entertaining, but no employer is likely to make you take one of these to judge how suitable you are for a job.
Yet many job applicants are asked to take certain personality tests as part of a job application process. Some personality tests claim to be able determine how well an applicant might perform in a particular type of role within a company. Perhaps to sort out who might be better suited for sales, customer service, or even management. The problem with these tests is there is usually very little science that backs up the results. (Chen, 2018)
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
One of the most well known and widely used personality tests is the Myers-Briggs. This test, launched in 1944, has helped The Myers Briggs Company become a major player in an estimated two-billion-dollar personality testing industry. Myers-Briggs is used in companies big and small and in just about every industry. The main issue with this and most personality tests is they can lead to believing someone’s personality type is fixed (Hardy, 2020).
“Recent research shows that 90% of people want to make changes in their personalities…But non-scientific theories like Briggs’ can lead people to believe they literally can’t change, because their “core” attributes or “type” is inflexible. (These) type-based tests (can) create a label (and) create a fixed mindset,” according to Psychologist, Dr. Benjamin Hardy.
There are other well known and widely used personality tests that sort people into various categories yet have little scientific basis. Labeling people and putting them into categories can harm interest and opportunities in career fields that are outside the ones a personality test identifies. Personality tests like the DiSC or Myers-Briggs are often used to associate careers that are best suited for a type of personality (Gail, 2023). The individual results of these tests can vary from day to day as they rely on how an individual is feeling that particular day.
For example, if someone winds up being categorized as “INTJ” or Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, and Judging in the Myers-Briggs Test, careers as an attorney, translator, civil engineer, computer programmer, architect, economist, or an accountant will likely be suggested as well-suited careers. The problem is that when these personality tests are applied to career exploration, it can cause real harm by limiting the career options someone is presented with.
The Labeling Problem
Another problem with these types of tests is we can attach labels to ourselves and others. Have you ever been asked if you are an introvert, extrovert, or perhaps ambivert? These labels can have long lasting and damaging effects on people. Part of this is due to the misconceptions about what these terms mean. (Grant, 2023)
Introverts are often thought of as preferring to work alone, spending a lot of time by themselves, are reserved or quiet, and in some instances not thought of as leaders. Conversely, extroverts are generally perceived as being outgoing, loud, that they seek or enjoy attention, and are highly social. The lesser used term “ambivert” generally refers to a person who exhibits characteristics of introversion and extroversion.
Labeling ourselves or others as an introvert or extrovert is problematic. These terms oversimplify personalities, attitudes, and interests in a broad way. Take for example Barack Obama. Inc. Magazine listed Mr. Obama as one of the 23 most successful introverts in history. It is laughable to label Barack Obama as an introvert. He is far too complex a man who served as President of the United States for 8 years, gave hundreds if not thousands of speeches to enormous crowds, sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands of people.
This is not to say that former President Obama doesn’t enjoy spending time by himself, sitting with a good book and getting lost in thought. The problem with using labels like “introvert” or “extrovert” is that attaching them can create an unnecessary barrier to opportunity. It can also serve as an excuse.
Labels In The Workplace
Someone labeled as an introvert could be passed over for a managerial position because “they aren’t a people person.” An employee who is aggressive with co-workers could be given a pass by some because they are “just really extroverted.” Work groups can be divided by these oversimplified categorizations of attitudes, when in truth, everything is situational. There might be circumstances where you are the life of the party, and others when you want to just sit by yourself and read a book. Neither makes you an introvert or an extrovert.
The more we can get away from attaching personality types or labels to ourselves and to others is a step in the direction of embracing diversity and inclusion. Labels divide people into categories and when this happens, these groups have less of a connection to each other. There are very real, systemic issues that are deserving of our attention: ending discrimination, racial justice, sexism, and gender equality are just a few things that create real barriers.
When we can see ourselves and others as complex and complete individuals, we create space for people to show up authentically. When people can show up as their authentic self, we are well on our way to creating an inclusive and equitable place for us all.
Prior Career Content by Ken Meeker
- Access Denied – Advocating with Intent
- Reflecting with Mindfulness
- The Multi-Tasking Myth
- Standing Out – How to Craft an Attention-Grabbing Cover Letter
- 3 Things to Consider When Crafting Your Resume
- Career Exploration – 5 Important Things to do When Considering Careers
About The Author
Ken Meeker is a Certified Professional Coach, owner of Vitality Career Coaching LLC, and member of the NCDA. He specializes in executive and career coaching with a special emphasis on differently-abled individuals who want to return to work. He is a DEI consultant, Public Speaker, and advocates for inclusivity of marginalized groups. Ken is a 2021-2022 AFB Blind Leadership Development Program Fellow and will serve as a Mentor for the 2022-2023 program. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.com/in/kenmeekeraz, email@example.com or visit www.vitalitycareercoaching.com
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- 3D illustration of personality test with two words extrovert and introvert and a fountain pen.
- Personality Test form and pencil on a desk top.
- Human personality type concept ‘Introvert, Ambivert, Extrovert’ on a chalkboard easel.
- High angle view at a multi-ethnic group of business people smiling cheerfully while chatting during a promotion celebration.
- Author photo: A professional waist shot of Ken a white man with arms folded across his chest. He has short dark hair and eyeglasses.