As businesses strive to hire, retain and promote the best talent, many turn to personality assessments to help make decisions about job candidates and employees. These tests can provide valuable insights into an individual’s cognitive abilities and personality traits, which can be useful for matching individuals to roles and identifying potential leaders. However, there are also serious drawbacks to relying on these tests to drive decision making. 

When it comes to personality tests, many people immediately think of the Myers-Briggs assessment. The assessment is based on Carl Jung’s psychological theories of introversion/extroversion and functional information processing. What’s gotten lost in the popularity of the Myers-Briggs assessment is that Jung’s theories were just that — theoretical, with no proven scientific basis. Jung never even intended for his theories to be used to classify people by personality type, and with good reason: the Myers-Briggs assessment has been proven over and over to have no scientific validity whatsoever. People are often known to retake it and get completely different results. I can only assume they pick the one they like best before they put it in their LinkedIn profiles.

The same lack of validity plagues other popular assessments favored by employers, including the Clifton StrengthsFinder, the DiSC assessment and the Big Five test. I’ve worked with organizations that have used them all at one point or another and, while the results are always fascinating, I’ve yet to see the output of these assessments result in any process changes or contribute to any improvement in performance or results. 

Related
Scientists have measured the ‘Wild West’ mentality (Spoiler: it’s strong in Utah)

The complete absence of scientific validity aside, there are more reasons to limit or eliminate the use of such tests in the workplace:

They are expensive

There is a cost for taking the tests, costs for having certified facilitators explain the methodology and the results, costs for the required course material, and the cost of productivity loss while employees go through the process. With many companies aggressively looking to cut costs as the economy shifts, these expenses should be the first to go.

The results are based on self-reported information

It’s human nature to try to give responses that you think the boss will want to see. If you’re a natural introvert, you’re still likely to report yourself as being more extroverted than you are if you’re part of a high-energy sales team. Even if there is no outcome that is perceived as more desirable than another, we’re all likely to emphasize the things we like about ourselves while minimizing what we perceive to be our weaknesses. With such biased input, how much credit can we give to the results?

They create unnecessary bias

With the results of these assessments on file, managers and HR departments may use them as criteria when making hiring and promotion decisions. While I’m sure they mean well, is it really fair to determine someone’s leadership ability based on how introverted they are or what’s missing from their top five strengths? I don’t think so.

They create the risk for the brother of bias: Stereotyping

Lumping people into a handful of buckets that supposedly define them can create an in-group/out-group dynamic within an organization. Those considered INTJ “Masterminds” by the Myers-Briggs assessment may develop a feeling of superiority over ESFJ “Providers.” Leaders may decide that they’ll develop a high-performing team if they choose those with strategic thinking and execution skills, foregoing the equally important but “softer” strengths of relationship building and influencing.

I’ve always found it ironic that organizations so often claim to champion the uniqueness of each employee while simultaneously spending time and resources attempting to reduce them to a neatly-labeled “type.”

Nevertheless, personality assessments remain popular for two reasons: It’s very comforting for people to be able to put labels on each other, and everyone loves to learn about themselves, even if the results are ambiguous and meaningless (the popularity of BuzzFeed quizzes proves this).

My advice to organizations that use these tools is to save their time and money. Making the effort to get to know people as individuals is the only way to learn enough about them to make good decisions, promote the right candidates and build the strongest teams. No labeling required.

Heather Webb is the owner and lead consultant at Webb Consulting Group, a management consulting and executive coaching firm in Woods Cross, Utah.