Under the Hood of the MBTI Online Assessment

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality assessment instrument can be beneficial when used for its designed purpose. It’s not designed to predict performance—in fact, the theory behind the instrument pre-supposes that someone of any personality type is capable of performing well in any profession.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality assessment instrument is used at the majority of the Fortune 100, as well as top universities, government agencies, and within the U.S. armed forces. As such, its use warrants intense scrutiny and constant re-evaluation. Organizations are right to ask whether or not it is the best tool for a particular job, or whether or not it delivers the intended value. In selecting personality assessments, HR and Training professionals should ask:

  1. What specific insight are we seeking?
  2. Has the instrument been validated to provide this insight?
  3. Will the instrument deliver this insight in a way that supports the objectives of the program?

What Insights Are You Seeking?

The MBTI can be beneficial when used for its designed purpose. Often, however, it’s used for things it wasn’t built for—one of the most glaring examples being selection in hiring. It’s not designed to predict performance, and, in fact, the theory behind the instrument pre-supposes that someone of any personality type is capable of performing well in any profession.

Where the wires get crossed is that the MBTI, while not predictive of performance, offers other insights that can be used by individuals as they select a career path. People have different proclivities and ways they like to do things that often have implications for their careers, and the MBTI provides some information about the context in which people’s future careers will be taking shape.

Let’s say, for instance, that you’re considering going into accounting. Your personality type doesn’t dictate whether or not you’ll be a good accountant, but it does bring insight into the kind of work environment you’ll thrive in, and the aspects of the job will give you the most satisfaction. For example, if your personality preferences indicate that you derive most of your satisfaction from making a positive impact on the world, you might want to consider pursuing your accounting career with a non-governmental organization (NGO) rather than a top five firm.

Likewise, if you’re putting together a team, the MBTI doesn’t really tell you about the talent or intelligence of candidates. However, the insights it offers into how we naturally prefer to do things, and how others prefer to do things differently shows us how we can work together to make the most of those differences, and can be useful for building an effective team.

Has It Been Validated to Provide The Insight You Seek?

The MBTI has been around for a long time, and a lot of research has been done on it over the years. Consequently, the instrument has seen several revisions, each of which has given us a better version. Critics often look at the literature that’s available on the older versions, and this is often the source of reports that have circulated about the instrument lacking reliability. However, information regarding the most current versions of the MBTI is, in fact, publicly available in technical supplements and manuals in terms of its measurement properties and validity evidence. In examining whether or not the MBTI is fit for purpose, there are a few things to take into account:

  • Test/retest agreement: The test/retest agreement for the MBTI ranges from 80 to 90 percent for individual preferences, meaning you are 80 to 90 percent likely to get the same result on the second administration on each of the four preference dichotomies—Introversion/Extraversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, Judging/Perceiving—as you do on the first administration.
  • Correlation with other top assessments: For the last 30 or so years, the most common approach to personality that has been taken in academic circles involves what is referred to as the Big Five or the five-factor model (FFM). This particular model was arrived at as researchers factor-analyzed all of the various ways people thought about personality, and identified five “clusters” that seemed to account for most measures of personality: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

While the Big Five often is positioned as a foil to the MBTI, the fact is that the two instruments correlate highly, as demonstrated by McCrae and Costa’s work. In fact, the only Big Five measure without an MBTI correlation is Neuroticism, which the MBTI does not measure. That they correlate as highly as they do means they’re measuring similar, but not identical, concepts. What’s interesting to note is that Isabel Briggs Myers and Jung had four of those five identified long before FFM, so, in fact, the MBTI was ahead in time in terms of measuring important personality constructs.

Does the Instrument Deliver Insight the Way We Need It to?

The MBTI uses a “dichotomous” measure that places an individual’s preferences clearly into one or the other category, rather than along a continuum, and HR and Training professionals need to determine whether or not this presentation supports their objectives. Presenting the results this way stems from a need to consistently match the results to the theory behind the concepts you’re measuring. The either/or format—you prefer Introversion or Extraversion, for example—is clearer to people who aren’t necessarily statisticians. If one of your objectives is to get people talking, the MBTI’s format presents results in way that enables people to easily digest and share insight they’ve gleaned from the assessment process, which can be beneficial in settings such as teambuilding, where you want people to be able to talk openly about what they’ve learned.

In some situations, the continuum-based approach of other instruments may be more appropriate. However, I often hear people describe their first experience with the MBTI as an “aha moment” in which they discover why they don’t get along with their boss, or why their wife, husband, or kids are driving them crazy. I believe this is because people are largely unaware of how they go about thinking about things, making decisions, and interacting with the world. We often assume everyone should be like us. Thankfully, not everyone is just like us—people have different preferences that shape different thinking and behaviors and consequently make the world a much more interesting place.

Rich Thompson, PhD, is divisional director of Research at CPP, Inc., the exclusive publisher of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator instrument. For more information, visit https://www.cpp.com/en/index.aspx