Thursday, September 16, 2004

Employers and Personality Tests

File this under "Coincidence? You decide" --

Yesterday I blogged on the complex relationship between personality and behavior -- specifically networking. Various sociologists have found that people can be capable networkers when their careers depend on it, no matter what their personality types.

Today I grabbed my favorite magazine and there was an article by Malcolm Gladwell (of Tipping Point fame, well beloved by fans of social network analysis) about the very same (generalized) topic.

Unfortunately, Gladwell's article is not online. So go find a copy of The New Yorker, September 20, 2004, and turn to page 42 to see "Personality Plus: Employers love personality tests. But what do they really reveal?"

In a tiny nutshell: Gladwell argues that our behavior at any time is contingent on the specifics of the situation. So any personality test that attempts to measure general traits like introverted vs extroverted can at best measure a narrow slice of a person's full range of behavior, based on whatever situation the subject assumes while taking the test. (For example, if I am thinking about business, I will answer extroverted, but if I am thinking about going home for the holidays, I will answer introverted.)

Along the way, Gladwell tells lots of enlightening anecdotes, including the history behind Myers-Briggs. That story just about demolished my faith in the objectivity of MBTI. Taking his article to its logical conclusion, Gladwell ends with an account of his experience in an "Assessment Center," where companies can subject candidate employees to an entire day acting out their potential new jobs. Gladwell tried a day as Terry Turner, head of the robotics division of Global Solutions. Though his communication skills were rated outstanding, his managerial skills were less so, and he didn't get the job.

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