As many as 1.5 million people take the Myers-Briggs online personality test each year, and 88% of Fortune 500 companies say they use it in hiring. Personality tests became popular in 1988 after the US banned the use of polygraph tests in candidate screening. (Yes, you read that right. People had to get a lie detector test to get a job and feed their kids in the USA once.)
Since then, the popularity of personality tests has only grown. I, personally, am a huge fan of them as a tool for self-discovery, self-enlightenment, and to help one achieve happiness. No polygraph test ever did that, now did it?
When people mention personality tests these days, they immediately think of those cryptic four-letter acronyms that singles like to put on their Tinder profiles . When faced with abbreviations like ESFP, ENFJ, INTJ, ISTJ, and so on, the uninitiated might think they’ve hit upon a new set of TV channels.
Making matters worse, the 16 personality types, created by Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs and represented by those four-letter acronyms, are neither copyrighted nor trademarked, so many different test providers use the same designations despite using other testing criteria. This can result in some confusion for users who simply want to know themselves better. One popular test—and a test that I personally enjoy taking very much—is from 16personalities.com. They go a step further and append an additional letter to the end of the type to represent five independent spectrums to personality.
The theory behind personality tests gets pretty involved. I could literally write a whole book on it. But understanding the full theory behind these tests is not necessary to be able to use them to help understand the type of person you are most attracted to, or what type of job you would most likely be happy in. All you need to know is that there are a lot of tests, and that the ESFP designation on one site doesn’t necessarily mean the same as ESFP on another site. So, read the fine print!
I am a huge fan of personality testing for personal discovery. Here are just some of the ways I have found that doing personality testing can help people lead happier lives:
Far from its use as a screening tool for potential hires, a personality test can guide you in choosing a career path that you are happier with. Imaginative, bold types are unlikely to be happy as librarians. That doesn’t mean they can’t change, but it’s difficult. Every person is able to move into other spheres, but it requires a lot of energy.
An analogy I like using is that your personality type is pegged by a nail with a rubber band around it. You can stretch the rubber band to enter new areas, but it eventually goes back to the nail. Knowing your personality type is especially useful for students deciding what to study for what they’re going to “be” later in life. The many facets of human character match up to specific types of jobs.
People with opposing characteristics might be difficult to understand. Doing a personality test and discovering your type could open the door to knowing why you experience friction with certain types of people. People who are on the opposite end of one’s characteristics are often the ones who annoy us most. If one personality is very quiet and the other very loud, stress can ensue. Understanding that you both have different types won’t make the stressful situation disappear, but it does help. And it’s vital data to know before hitting that first date with a match on Tinder!
Imagine that you’re naturally introverted but were somehow coerced to pursue a career in classical piano and now must spend your life on the stage. You are miserable, but you do love music, and giving up your career now would be unthinkable seeing as you earn well and have worked so hard at it.
Part of the cause of your melancholy could be that you were never validated for the small things. Simply getting up on a stage in the face of that personality type is a victory! Simply standing and receiving applause is an enormous victory. You should be lauded and cheered for it.
So you didn’t raise your arms and accept the roses that were flung at you, and you didn’t run into the crowd and hug every person alive (pre-COVID, of course). Well, if you discover that you are an introvert, that’s okay.
Knowing your personality inclinations can improve your sense of victory for what you have already achieved.
Which personality tests are the best is a matter you should decide for yourself. It is easier than you might think. You simply take a test, look at the results, and ask yourself if they make sense to you. That’s the beauty of using these tests for personal benefit rather than for employee screening.
On a personal level, your choice and perception are the boss. Use the KISS principle—Keep It Simple, stupid. You’re not preparing for a thesis on Jungian theory. You’re just trying to figure out which way of life you think you might be happiest in! Approach personality testing with that degree of levity, and you’ll soon find the test that you prefer the most.
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