Just What Is the Myers-Briggs Assessment Good For?

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CPP, Inc., is not too happy with you.

Well, maybe not you in particular. Rather, CPP — the exclusive publisher of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) — is unhappy with recruiters and HR departments who use the MBTI as a selection tool. According to Sherrie Haynie, a consultant for CPP who teaches MBTI certification programs, that’s not what the “test” is meant for at all.

“The MBTI is lumped into what we consider a battery of assessments or tests or tools, and it actually is a standalone tool that is unlike most other assessments that would be used by hiring managers for selection and recruitment,” Haynie says. “The design of the MBTI is strictly for development. It’s strictly for employee development, onboarding, manager development, leadership development, and team development.”

The MBTI does not evaluate candidates. It does not predict performance or cultural fit or any of the other criteria by which employers hire candidates.

“There are a lot of great tools out there for selection and recruitment, and their purpose is to actually identify characteristics that we can judge, characteristics that would be a good fit or not a good fit for a particular job,” Haynie explains. “Those kinds of tools evaluate particular skills or knowledge or abilities, but the MBTI was not designed to judge or evaluate skills or knowledge or abilities. It was designed to help people in a non-judgmental way identify what their blind spots are and what their strengths are, based on their innate personality characteristics.”

Still, a plethora of myths — or “folk tales,” as the CPP calls them — surround the MBTI. Many employers look to the assessment as a way of screening candidates, rather than developing them. This is why CPP has decided to create a series of infographics dispelling the common misconceptions people hold about the MBTI, one of which is available at the end of this post.

It’s difficult to account for all the reasons why the common perception of the MBTI is so far off from the assessment’s actual uses and purpose, but Haynie believes we can partially chalk it up to the ways in which many of us first learn about the MBTI. “It’s often introduced in MBA programs or Ph.D. programs, where participants or students receive a brief overview from someone who does not have direct experience utilizing the tool,” Haynie explains.

Because the MBTI is such a specific tool, designed for a specific purpose, CPP requires that all purchasers of the assessment go through rigorous certification processes. This helps CPP ensure the continued relevance and integrity of the MBTI itself, and it also deters misuse of the assessment. Still, Haynie says, CPP has seen a number of employers improperly use the MBTI as a selection tool.

“Unfortunately, what happens is someone who is not certified gets their hands on [the test] through an unethical avenue, and they may use the tool for screening,” Haynie says.

Used as a selection tool, the MBTI can be harmful to individuals.

“They’re being judged by a tool that wasn’t designed for that purpose,” Haynie says. This can lead to misguided hiring decisions: qualified, deserving candidates may lose out on positions in which they would exceed expectations, and companies may end up hiring the wrong kind of talent.

Employers should also note that using the MBTI as a selection tool can have dire legal consequences for them. “If a tool is designed for selection, it should meet a certain standard that is held up in a court of law,” Haynie says. “Whereas with the MBTI, we are very clear, that because it’s not a selection tool, you could be held liable as an employer if you use the tool in such a way.”

Proper Use of the MBTI

As Haynie says, the MBTI is a development tool, not a selection tool. Interested employers should use the MBTI to identify employee strengths and blind spots, so that they might help these employees further leverage their strengths and compensate for their blind spots.

“This tool helps an individual identify what some of their inborn characteristics are,” Haynie says. “It provides a unique opportunity to not judge, but rather acknowledge that, similar to cultural diversity, we also have personality diversity, and it gives us a common language to talk about our differences.”

When employers use the MBTI to identify employee strengths and weaknesses, they can use this knowledge to better help employees grow as workers. Haynie suggests using the MBTI when onboarding a new hire, so as to gain a better view of how the company can leverage the hire’s natural talents. Haynie also notes that the MBTI is useful for building more efficient teams and developing potential leaders. “We can learn to be a better team and be more effective together, if we can leverage each other’s strengths and help each other to overcome and compensate for our blind spots,” she says.

It is also important to note that the MBTI does not measure how much of a certain characteristic a person has. That is, the assessment does not evaluate how personable or creative or logical a candidate is. “The Myers-Briggs looks more at innate wiring and a preference for certain characteristics, like extroversion or introversion,” she says. Employers need other tools to measure and compare how much of the behavior people show.

While the MBTI identifies the preferences people have for certain characteristics or behaviors, it does not predict how people will act at work.  “That’s important and really critical for people to understand, because [an employee] might have a preference for introversion, for example, but at work, they have to stand up in front of large groups of people, and they have to learn to spend lots of time with colleagues and coworkers,” Haynie says. “If they understand this about themselves, it helps them to see that while they can absolutely perform and be very successful, it’s going to require more of their energy.”

The takeaway is that a candidate who tends toward introversion, for example, is not necessarily a candidate who cannot perform an extroverted role with aplomb. The MBTI does not tell us what people can or can’t do — it only tells us what people innately prefer to do.

“[The MBTI] in no way defines everything that there is to know about a person,” Haynie says. “There’s not one tool out there that is like a magic wand. You have to have a battery of tools, where each tool serves a different purpose, and the MBTI was designed just for the development purposes.”

MBTI Folk Tales + True Stories II

Read more in Personality Test

Matthew Kosinski is the former managing editor of Recruiter.com.