Personality Inventories Epilogue

The last article about the Personality Inventories went viral on the social media and I had interaction with several people about it only to realize that most of them are intrigued, but lot of  misunderstandings still prevail. There are several reasons for misunderstandings and apprehensions about the personality inventories including misuse of these inventories by some large corporates and it has been even ridiculed by Dilbert’s famous illustrations such as this or this. A lot of these misunderstandings, misinterpretations arise because usually, the HR or concerned recruiters need to have a single measure, or worse still single dichotomy solving the hiring problem. So these inventories tend to get used inappropriately in the corporate world often.

Do read the original Personality Inventories article before you read this epilogue. In all of those good inventories that I discussed earlier, the learning is layered and complex. In such cases, it is difficult and inappropriate to flatten complex understanding, nuances & inherent ambiguity of the learning to a single dichotomy. It is crucial to operate from a space of complex learning, keeping in mind the nuances, accessibility to the other aspect of the trait and malleability of the personality; and flattening all that is dangerous!

I am trying to elaborate a bit more on some of the aspects of personality inventories that I have discussed earlier. Though I am citing specific examples, this should be more or less applicable to other psychometric assessments as well.

Are these inventories meaningful and useful?

Short answer – YES! Long answer, definitely yes only if you know how to use them. For example, popular MBTI is often criticized harshly. There is a video that says that MBTI is totally meaningless and CPP has refuted all those claims to assert that MBTI is meaningful. Recently, there was a thought-provoking discussion on Linkedin MBTI group discussing its reliability and validity. Research Psychologist Lynn Patra wonderfully explained that behavioural preferences measures fall under a bell curve (with 1 hump, not 2) with most people clustering near the center. She also has a lengthy and more scientifically accurate Quora reply to a similar question. The ones criticizing it seriously usually accept MBTI’s usefulness for what it is (quite good for most of us), but usually criticize it for more specific aspects such as shadow functions and so on; something that shallow, casual readers or critics of MBTI won’t even understand.  Put simply, I would say that MBTI is definitely meaningful and useful when interpreted and used correctly for its intended usage; and recruitment is not one of them!

Here is one funny illustration showing how some people might go overboard with MBTI –

Going Overboard with MBTI (PC: MBTI Pinrest)
Going Overboard with MBTI (PC: MBTI Pinrest)

By the way, among other applications MBTI is also used in many MBA-HR and MA-Industrial Psychology courses here in India. Another personality temperament theory True Colors developed by Don Lowry is considered as a refined version of MBTI. It was originally created to categorize four basic learning styles using the colors Blue, Orange, Gold and Green to identify the strengths and challenges of these core personality types. Everyone’s personality consists of a combination of all four colours, with the dominant two colours representing the core of a person’s personality temperament. Combined with Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory (LSI), True Colors is used in many trainings and workshops. There are many reasons why MBTI became widely accepted and it continues to remain so after several decades.

It is also important to understand that MBTI is just the most popular commercially available, licensed inventory. There are several unlicensed (free-to-use), non-commercial versions of this assessment based on the type theory available easily. Many of them clearly mention that type is a preference and not ability.  Moreover, depending on the score, one may have some strength, definite strength or considerable strength in one preference and reciprocal strength & weakness in its complementary preference. For example, high score on introversion indicates considerable weakness in extroversion. (Hogan, PSI). Thus, it acts more like a trait in this case.

As for 16PF, as I had discussed at length in Personality Inventories article – it is based on Cattell’s solid foundation in physical sciences and it is used in clinical settings as well. Moreover, the frequent updates ensure that it stays meaningful and relevant. Similarly, The Big Five by Goldberg has evolved based on earlier theories and it is considered as on one of the most recent, relevant and correct model of personality in these days. While The Big Five by Goldberg remains open and free to use as NEO test, The Five Factor Model by Costa & McCrae remains commercial in its various flavours (self-report, interpreted etc.). As long as you use reasonably good, study-based inventory, it would be meaningful and useful.

Using unlicensed  Personality Inventories instead of commercial, licensed  Personality Inventories

This is a bit tricky issue to deal with. While licensed, commercial inventories are well-studied and supported by their publishers, they also tend to be expensive, especially when they need to be used for a large group of people. However, one should keep in mind that such commercial publishers also publish official reliability and validity data for their inventories; whereas such data may not be available for  the inventories freely available on the Internet.

Having said that, there are some excellent alternatives available for MBTI for free. While MBTI report (such as Q-Form) remains exceptionally thorough and insightful, I have seen that the free report of 16personalities.com is also excellent. If you have a good understanding of the type theory, Hogan’s PSI that I linked above is quite good as well.

As for 16PF, I have used and administered paper-pencil test and it is quite good. I haven’t yet used official test and I am yet to come across excellent free report for the 16PF. On the other hand, many of the free Big Five tests are good. Their report quality varies though and these reports are best discussed with a knowledgeable psychometrician or concerned certified product professional.

Using Multiple Personality Inventories

I do recommend using multiple inventories to have converging understanding of one’s personality.  You should not trust a single instrument as being comprehensive or completely accurate on any dimension/trait of the personality. You can trust inferences that are validated by multiple sources. When you observe corroborating data from multiple sources (or converging insights) then you could be sure that the pattern you are seeing is truly evident and data-based.

For example, if you’re an extrovert on MBTI, the extroversion trait should reflect in Five factor or 16PF as well.

Of course, it goes without saying that one shouldn’t overdo using multiple personality inventories as well. Moreover, they can be used effectively for insights, not for deciding hire or reject while recruiting the candidates.

MCMI, MMPI Personality Inventories

Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI) or  Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) are used in clinical settings by a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. You shouldn’t consider any one of these unless specified by a qualified clinical psychologist or psychiatrist.

More Questions?

Add a comment here if you have more questions and I will try to answer them or point you to a more appropriate resource for explanation.