By Alyssa Gregory

What the Myers-Briggs Personality Test Can and Can’t Tell You

By Alyssa Gregory

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an assessment that is believed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions.  According to the Myers-Briggs test, there are 16 different types of personalities. The test consists of a series of questions, and your answers determine what type of personality you have and provides general assumptions about how your personality type is best suited for success in terms of careers, communication, etc.

The test is commonly used in many different business-oriented settings, including:

  • Leadership development
  • Team building
  • Screening and interviewing employees
  • Career selection
  • Personal development

Myers-Briggs has been used for decades, but it is commonly criticized as a “soft” tool that produces results that aren’t always relevant enough to be applied fully in business and career settings. But despite the criticism, the Myers-Briggs test offers a lot of value for small business owners and freelancers who want to learn more about themselves and identify potential opportunities for greater success, provided the results are taken with a grain of salt.

Here are some examples of what the Myers-Briggs personality test can and can’t tell you.

You May Discover…

Why You Behave in Certain Ways

Some personality types are better suited for some situations, and knowing where you fall on the scale can make it easier to understand where you’re most comfortable and why. If you’re an introverted-sensing personality type, for example, you may be more inclined to smaller, structured settings, while your extroverted-feeling colleagues may like big, loud gatherings. (Explore the 16 personality types for more on this.)

Renewed Confidence

Have you always felt as if you were a natural born leader, or that your free-thinking nature could be a tremendous asset in a team setting? Your personality type comes with many different observations and interpretations that can make you more confident in what you know are your strengths.

Areas Where You Can Improve

If the test shows that you tend to have a weakness in following structured directions, taking a leadership role or asking for help, you can gain an awareness of those elements and work to improve them over time.

It Won’t Tell You That…

You’re Passionate about Something

The test may tell you that you have a personality type that tends to be more scientific than creative, but perhaps you love a creative activity, such as painting. Your passion for something can change the interpretation of the results of your test.

Your Immediate Environment Plays an Unmeasured Role

If you take the test today and you’re under an unusual amount of stress, dealing with a negative situation and feeling a certain way, your results may be different from a day you take the test after you’ve gotten a great piece of news and are in an overall positive mood.

You Can Break the Rules

The Myers-Briggs test asks you to answer a list of questions in one of two ways, then interprets your results, but it’s interpretation, not science. If your stated personality type comes with recommendations that you choose not to adhere to or some you believe don’t apply to you, ignore them. You won’t necessarily be any more or less successful based on the data gathered from the test.

As long as you take the recommendations as only one part of the big picture, personality tests such as Myers-Briggs can give you a new insight that you can use to fine tune your business goals, activities and priorities. And they can teach you a lot about yourself.

How to Take the Test

There are a number of services that will allow you to take the Myers-Briggs test and then evaluate your answers for a fee, but you can also take a version of the test for free here: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes1.htm.

Have you taken a personality test? Do you think it helped you in your business or career?

  • Matt

    Even when implemented with the best of intentions, I think these tests are a sad replacement for proper management practices; in the worst cases, they represent a blunt attempt at implementing labeling theory in the workplace.

    I’ve taken these tests on different days and gotten different results. They are pseudoscience wrapped up in “organizational efficiency.”

    • Anonymous

      These aren’t replacements for anything. They are there to help you better understand yourself and other people. If you don’t find them to be useful that is on you.

      Also, I hope you kept your receipt for the $2 phrase, “labeling theory”. Nice try.

      • Labeling theory is a frequently discussed and studied concept in the world of sociology and criminology. So, a $2 phrase it is not. Nice try on having a snippy response, but your anonymous comment makes little sense and your comment about labeling theory is incorrect.

        • Kari1

          I’am not the original anoymous, but I’d like to pitch in to this debate 7 months after the fact.

          When have you ever heard Labeling Theory allude to anything related to Psychology Theory? If it is as you say sociology and “criminology” based. However you may think the two are related is irrelevant since labeling means to perceive someone as a certain kind of person, while CLEARLY the Myers-Briggs test has more reliable SCIENCE to back it up after years of testing. It is an instrument used to IDENTIFY YOURSELF as having certain kinds of traits in order to have productive relationships with other people. So don’t mix Theory in sociology and criminology with a practical instrument like the MBTI. Capiche wiseguy? (I’d like to see that wager on a $2 phrase raised $50 dollar “Phoney” phrase.)

  • Myers-Briggs is a fun and interesting way of looking at people, and from time to time it can be instructive or helpful. We’ve learned that over years and years of various efforts to make the MB tests more useful – books, websites, services, etc.

    Myers-Briggs has really not demonstrated the ability to produce consistently useful, instructive, or otherwise valuable information that can make material improvements in management, hiring, sales, or other important business activities that benefit from social/people engineering.

    Pseudoscience may be a strong word, because the test results and subsequent recommendations are barely presented as anything scientific at all.

    So, while the jury is still out on the value of Myers-Briggs, you could argue that despite decades of proponents trying to make this test a valuable and important thing it’s still mostly considered a fun and interesting way to gain some additional insight into people. I

    • SomeCoolName

      I agree that the Myers-Briggs is not super useful as a management tool, but it can give you insight into your own (and others’) personality including things like strengths and weaknesses.

      When I said in a previous comment that labeling theory is a $2 phrase I was not suggesting that it was not a real phrase. I was suggesting that the commenter sounded like he was writing a bad paper for sociology class.

      • Actually, I think Matt nailed it. He stated his case within a couple of sentences and followed up with reasoning based on experience. I see nothing wrong with that.

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  • luckysmack

    Over the years iv’e heard the same. We were required to take it in highschool. It was pretty close but wasn’t spot on (at least for me it wasn’t). I agree in that it’s more fun to use it as a way to look at yourself from someone else’s psychoanalysis of you. I looked briefly, has anyone else ever really made a more in depth test?

  • “with a grain of salt” is right. It should be used as nothing more than a novelty. It’s interesting to discover the origins of the test: http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4221 and that it has nothing to do with psychology or your ability in certain careers.

    A notable quote: “A number of studies have found that personality types said to be most appropriate for certain professions, notably nursing or teaching, turn out to be no more prevalent among that profession than among the general population.”

    • Vicki Brown

      Oh please.

  • Pim

    I took the test, but found several questions to try and push you in a direction with false dichotomies. For example, I pay strong attention to my feelings and often find that my feelings point me towards insights I missed consciously. So I take the time to experience them and my decisions are influenced by both emotion and reason. But the test tries to put me in either one of the boxes. So I ended up with feelings way over thinking, even though I strive towards rationality :)

    • Vicki Brown

      For this sort of question, the “trick” is to respond with which you do _first_ and which you use to back up that first response.

      Also: “even though I strive towards rationality”

      Never answer which thing you “strive for” (or think society, your family, or your work “demands” that you do) but which way, in your core being, is your true preference.

  • I took the Gallup “Strengths Finder 2.0” assessment which had a pretty accurate result.

    I think that as part of a guided program of self-assessment and team-building meetings it was definitely a useful process.

  • I just took the test at the link for the Myers Briggs test.

    I found the Myers Briggs test was way off, whereas the Strengths Finder seemed to very close. It’s what you do with that information though. The Strengths Finder book has some value but if you read in isolation your take away will be limited. You really need to work it with a facilitator in a team.

    The Myers Briggs questions were similar in a sense to the Strengths Finder questions, but in another sense they were very different.

    Strengths Finder requires you to answer on a 5 point scale on degree of agreement with two statements, whereas the linked test only took yes/no. Strengths Finder has a 20 second limit per question, and also poses scales that are challenging due to similarity (you might want to agree with both and have to position yourself somewhere particular on the scale).

  • While the concept of ‘grouping’ people by type often gets your typical ‘feel good’ types panties in a wad, and while there are always inaccuracies in these types of tests, it often helps to understand how they work.

    The majority of people are not ‘extremes’ of personality… for the most part a good stiff breeze will change their opinions or direction allowing most anyone willing to take authority drag them around by the nose. You know the types I mean — SHEEP!

    One of the biggest factors in the ‘results’ in terms of accuracy that people don’t pay much attention to is the skew percentage for each grouping… as a loose rule of thumb if your skew three or more categories is less than 20%, and NONE of them are over 30%, it is unlikely the results are going to be accurate … go ahead and voice your loyal “BAAAAH”… You take the same test every week and you’ll see variation.

    It is only with extremes of personality that these tests tend to show any accuracy. You score 25% or more skew on more than two categories with at least one over 50%… Well, you’ll find it pretty accurate.

    Take me… I always test out on these as INTJ, and running it this time the breakdown is 50%/19%/33%/27%…

    The descriptions for INTJ are pretty spot on for me:

    INTJ is the smallest of the groups — shrinks call us “two percenters” Good thing too since we’re a bunch of arrogant ****’s who tend to annoy the sheep — Not wolves since we’re not predacious, more like sheepdogs. (If you can find it, I highly recommend Dave Grossmans “On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs”)

    … or as Heraclitus would say “ah, but the one.”

    Basically, it’s spot on for people who are extremes of personality, and inaccurate for the indecisive fence-sitters and those with a “me too” attitude.

  • There are many more grouping in the Strengths Finder survey, around 40 or 50, and the survey collects your top five that you participate most in.

    I found the Strengths Finder very different from the Myers Briggs. Our team of 8 or so people found their surveys were generally accurate.

    I think the value is more about what you do with the information since we all probably know what we’re like to some extent. The book has some suggestions which does help self reflection but it’s best used in a team setting with a qualified facilitator.

  • Anonymous

    73. You have trouble accepting that you are in between INTJ and INTP and not an exact match.
    [x] yes [] no

  • EyeNTP

    Interesting how based on the reactions of many, I can immediately classify them within a certain type amongst the MBTI types that are consistant with the way they responded.

    Furthermore, the link to this test is not an official MBTI questionnaire but an interpretation of one and it does not provide you with an accurate observation as one that is administered by the CAPT would.

    If you take the time, and many of you won’t, to understand the theory behind MBTI, and of Carl Jung (the thinker behind the theory of MBTI) along with additional research you will find it life changing and consistent with what you observe in the world.

    As my fellow INTJ mentioned (I am an INTP, we are both rational thinkers) people with “balanced” (I like to call them molded averaged out nobody’s) personalities will have a harder time finding their true personality type since they’ve sold their own personality and been shaped and pushed around by the societal grooming machine but even then there is hope for you to discover your true cognitive make up.

    • Interesting, perhaps.

      But, widely accepted by scientists and academics? No.
      The similarities to Jung’s work doesn’t really strengthen any argument as to the usefulness or relevance of this psychometric approach.

      There are people who swear by it, but not many.

      It’s rather a cheap argument, in my view, to say that those who have a particular personality type will have a harder time finding their true personality type – that is, if you are implying that some people just aren’t ‘getting’ the exam :)

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