Screening The Facts

I have been a certified Myers Briggs practitioner for many years.  I use the tool within organizations and with clients so when I saw a LinkedIn thread about the documentary “Persona: The Dark Truth Behind Personality Tests,” I watched it and I found it to be both profound and, at the same time, very misleading.

As a point of order, only a certified Myers-Briggs practitioner is authorized to purchase materials and facilitate assessments.  In the certification training, it is made quite clear that the instrument cannot be used for pre-employment assessments.  While some practitioners use the instrument to help individuals identify careers that they may enjoy or excel at, that would not be in a pre-employment situation and the assessment is never to be used as anything other than insight.

The documentary infers that Myers Briggs, and other “personality tests” lead to the elimination of minorities as viable employment candidates. In one of the cases described in the film, inability to work led to a young man’s suicide.

I then received an email from The President and CEO of The Myers Briggs Company, addressed to all certified practitioners.  He said, “… the documentary …  is both sensationalized and misleading. It confuses the MBTI assessment with recruiting and hiring tools as well as other assessments that are designed for selection purposes—uses for which the MBTI assessment is neither designed nor appropriate. In addition, the documentary and some of its recent media coverage surrounding it contain inaccuracies.” He then goes on to provide a link to an article that addresses several of the inaccuracies.

It is misleading because “personality tests” – and I use that term loosely, should never be used as a pre-employment test UNLESS the questions on the test have been devised specifically based on the job requirements AND the test has proven in extensive research to be valid, reliable and non-discriminatory and the documentary never connected the dots between Myers Briggs and its use as a pre-employment test because it should not happen.

The documentary is highly sensationalized

Like much today’s news, the documentary is provocative and ripe with hyperbole.  One theme in the documentary is that the originator of Myers Briggs built her own biases into the instrument. While that may have been true in the early 1900s as the instrument was evolving, it is not true now.

There is no statement that Myers Briggs was used in pre-employment assessments in any of the situations described in the film, yet the inference that it led to discrimination in employment is woven throughout the narrative.

The film talks about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator along with multiple other instruments. Some of those instruments were introduced as pre-employment “tests” measuring “fit” of the individual to the organization.  I cannot attest to whether or not pre-employment tests are valid, reliable, and non-discriminatory. What I can say is that the inference that Myers Briggs was the culprit is unfair and inaccurate.

There are many, many assessments available to organizations today as organizations continue to try to understand their workforce, productivity and culture.  Each has a specific purpose and appropriate use. There are “knock-offs” of Myers Briggs and there are other tools using a totally different construct.  Some require certification; many do not.  Some end up used as parlor games.

One reason I have used and supported this instrument for many years is that Myers Briggs doesn’t claim to be anything other than what it is: insight into things about yourself and your preferences that may or may not be helpful to know.  If the insight is helpful, great.  If not, there should be no downside.

The practice of using automation and assessments

Organizational HR teams have been automating the hiring process for twenty-five years. And software companies have recognized HR as suckers for any tool that claims to make hiring easier and more able to find qualified candidates. Automation of the hiring process and pre-hire assessments are huge industries.

But one thing HR folks know because it is drilled into our heads from HR infancy – pre-hire assessments must be valid and reliable.  That is, they must be proven to measure what success means in the specific job.  And they must be tested to ensure that they do not discriminate. And HR folks know they may have to provide documentation of those facts in a court of law.

The growing use of technology in employment decisions

Today, artificial intelligence is already being deployed with chatbots that can answer any question that is a matter of policy, freeing up HR professionals to handle more complex issues.  HR technology vendors are diving into the thick of artificial intelligence with software to capture facial expressions of job candidates who respond to interview questions.   It is growing exponentially.

Much is being written about the inherent bias in artificial intelligence as it evolves from…humans.  And we humans do have biases. We cannot trust that technology can cure the ills in our human bias. We have to be more cognizant about what technology can and cannot do.

Making employment decisions is serious business

I opened by saying that the documentary is misleading, but it is also profound.  It is profound in how it speaks to the idea that anyone who makes employment decisions that impact another person’s life and livelihood should take that responsibility very, very seriously.  That means making decisions about employees that are based upon clear expectations of the work to be completed. It means communicating those expectations well and often, offering feedback and support, and recognizing that any decision we make impacts the very life of that employee.

For organizations, that means creating systems and processes that comply with regulations, and that provide the best work opportunity for all employees based upon the job needs and expectations.

I feel tremendous empathy for those who, in the documentary, shared their employment challenges. Technology has closed the door to personal interaction in the hiring process, and the algorithm just to pass the first screening necessitates that any job seeker understands how the system works. That’s our world today, with just about everything.

Bias in the employment process is wrong, and organizations have the responsibility to clearly understand the legal and ethical implications of both human behavior and technology.

Myers Briggs is an excellent tool when used properly and it is unfortunate that this documentary may taint the assessment, undeservedly.


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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