There seems to be a publishing cycle, where every year a new slew of articles are released to damn personality tests, such as the Myers-Briggs. Lifehacker published one recently, and a book was released at the end of summer about the mother-daughter duo who created the assessment tool, which can be paired with a book released a decade ago discussing personality tests more broadly.
A few years back, I was thinking about my career, and I happened to take the test. According to it, I’m a INTP, the Logician, an introverted big-thinker who is logical but adaptive. A year later, I took the test again and I drifted into ENTJ territory; apparently in that time I became more extroverted and more rigid in my planning.
This, of course, is the biggest issue with these personality tests. They tend to overly rely on generalizations of fluid behaviours and attitudes. People rarely have stable traits over time, and the test tends to loosely clump these together in attempt to create a meaningful picture. In this, the Myers-Briggs is nether reliable nor valid from a scientific point of view. As the Lifehacker article points out, along with many others, it’s dangerous when you base decisions on the conclusions drawn from these tests for things like dealing with others or hiring employees. The best thing you can do, the article claims, is to use it as a fun conversation starter and nothing more.
But I find value in the tests for another reason.
Humans are drawn to stories. We like crafting narratives to explain events and give meaning to our lives. While we would want our stories to align with true accounts of history or phenomena (a book I recently bought argues that it’s not possible), we can still find value in stories that are not, strictly speaking, true (I’m appealing to a coherence-model of truth, rather than a correspondence-model of truth; I never thought I’d drag that grad course back up in conversation again…). We can find value in a story even if we are agnostic towards it being literally true or corresponding to a fact “out there” in the world.
When it comes to my career, one problem I have is that I have a hard time knowing how to sell myself. When you are crafting your resume or CV, or when you are interviewing for a position, you are trying to create an appealing story of yourself. You are painting a picture of the kind of person you are that aligns with the demands of the job or the needs of the employer. Sometimes, it’s hard to create a compelling story for yourself. You don’t know what to include, what to leave out, and what needs some mild spin. You have to decide how to play-up key points and downplay unsavory details. How you choose to connect the dots can make a large impact on what others will think of you as a candidate. You don’t want to be dishonest, but sometimes the “truth” is very compelling.
One critical area that the Myers-Briggs can offer value is providing inspiration for how to tell that story. It creates neat little packages that arranges details in interesting ways. It allows you to take the generalizations and apply them to your own experiences. It’s the same trick astrology uses – if you make a statement sufficiently ambiguous, you can find confirming evidence to support it. Using this to your advantage, you can create a compelling backstory for yourself while also prompting you to fill in the details with good stories.
And if something does fit? Leave it out and move on.
As long as you don’t pigeonhole yourself, you can tell a story about you that shows how valuable, interesting, and desirable you are to others. The Myers-Briggs can offer some themes and typologies to help sell the best version of you. Just don’t believe everything you read.
Post-Script: After I drafted this post last week, Seth Godin posted some thoughts about changing your story. If I’m randomly coming up with ideas that coheres with advice from Seth, I count myself in good company.