The Positive Truth of Personality Tests

The streaming service, HBO Max, is featuring a new documentary, Persona: The Dark Truth Behind Personality Tests, that explores the underside of personality tests and how some companies have potentially, through biased algorithms, turned them into a system for prejudiced digital gatekeeping on a massive scale.

While this 90-minute documentary is both provocative and timely, especially given last year’s global shift to remote work and recruiting, it neglects to investigate what these profiles were intended to do and what they do best. I’ve personally seen the insight and development that can come from taking a personality profile and understand why they’ve recently become so popular and widely used.

Persona: The Dark Truth Behind Personality Tests focuses primarily on the MBTI, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, a personality assessment I explore in a separate blog post, Pixar’s Soul Searching & Personality Profiles. The MBTI uses a series of questions to establish a person’s natural preferences, then uses the answers to build a profile “type” with a four-letter abbreviation, (e.g., ENTJ or ISFP).

Profile with Style

When I took it, the MBTI assessed my profile as an ENTJ, or “Extraverted Thinking with Intuition”. I know what you’re thinking – the singing sousaphone player is an extrovert? I too was shocked! Obviously, I’m an extrovert but the “thinking with intuition” or NT part was more of an “ah-ha” moment for me. My job is unique because I touch a wide variety of items in different parts of my company: While I handle more creative things like video production and writing, I also do detailed project management, and these two activities call for different preferences. The NT part of my profile agrees with the creative, conceptual stuff but the opposite profile, Sensing and Judging (or SJ), tends to be the more administrative, systematic, detail-oriented work. Even though I have an NT profile, I am also more SJ focused.

Just taking a moment to think about how I prefer to work and what comes naturally to me changed how I viewed the type of work that I prefer. It solidified the feelings I’ve had about my job into terms that I could talk to others about.

From a Good Team to a Great Team

Perhaps the most powerful insight into my personality profile came from the MBTI workshop that I attended with my team. We each had our profile letters printed on a piece of paper and were divided on opposite ends of the room into our types – introverts on one side of the room and extroverts on the other. There were lots of chuckles as we made our way to the appropriate side (at least on the extrovert side, I can’t speak for the introverts????.) It felt obvious which group each of us fell into, but it was such a clear visualization of how differently we all work. With the next three preferences, we divided the room again and I stood next to my teammates that preferred Thinking over Feeling or Judging over Perceiving. It showed me how I relate to each other person and just how differently our minds work.

An added bonus was that each of our profiles seemed appropriate for our jobs. It made more sense why we would gravitate towards our particular roles on the team. No one was surprised that the IT group was comprised mainly of introverts and the executive coaches in the room were all Sensing and Feeling. It was clear that a balanced team takes all different types of people, and this workshop made me see this with a newfound clarity and that this greater awareness improved my working relationships in immeasurable ways for years to come.

A New Generation

In large numbers, millennials in the workplace prefer work that is more meaningful and personal. Finding a job that fits one’s personal preferences is a huge priority for our generation. Personality profiles offer a great starting point for that development journey.

Note: The Persona documentary illuminated the pitfalls of recruiting algorithms and unconscious bias, but it didn’t address possible solutions. Luckily, we’ve got you covered! Check out these blog posts by my colleagues, Artificial Intelligence in Recruiting by Scott Simpson and Unconscious Bias – How to Keep our Brains from Making Bad Hiring Decisions by Jeff Peisach for tips on how to navigate these obstacles.

Persona: The Dark Truth Behind Personality Tests is streaming now on HBO Max.

Photo by David Pennington on Unsplash

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