I’ve long been sceptical of using personality tests for hiring.
Having never been asked to complete one while applying for a job, I assumed they were somewhat similar to the quizzes in Seventeen magazine I spent the better part of my adolescence taking.
Those quizzes, it seemed, were only useful for diagnosing people on the extremes — those who were destined to become the next Shakira or those who were permanent wallflowers. Every single assessment I took labelled me “average,” and yet with each new issue came the hope that the editorial team would be able to discern something novel and exciting about me.
Eventually, I stopped taking those quizzes, resigning myself to the belief that I was, alas, exactly like everyone else.
Then, a few weeks ago, I spoke with a consultant at CPP, the organisation that publishes the Myers-Briggs personality test, about a newer tool, the CPI 260. It’s designed to assess leadership potential in the workplace.
On some level, I thought the whole idea sounded vaguely ridiculous. But the Seventeen-subscribing brace-face in me was dying to know: Could this be it — the test that would finally tell me who I really was and could potentially become? Would it drastically alter the course of my career?
I registered to take it online.
How the assessment works
The CPI 260 is typically used either when there’s a performance issue with an employee or a manager wants to help an employee develop into a more senior role at the company. Individuals can also purchase the test themselves when they’re working with a career coach.
Companies including the Red Cross, AIM Investment Services, and Delta Associates have used the assessment for talent development.
The test consists of 260 true/false items and takes approximately 40 minutes to complete online. In order to register for the assessment and purchase the three reports analysing your personality, you need to work with a practitioner who is certified by CPP to interpret the results. All three reports together cost $US136.85. (CPP waived my fee.)
The questions are strange, to say the least. There’s one asking whether you’d enjoy listening to an opera singer and another asking whether you’d like to be a race car driver.
When I initially spoke with Sherrie Haynie, the CPP consultant, about the CPI 260, she told me the questions were designed so that you can’t tell exactly what they’re assessing. Some measure your ability to self-manage; some measure your penchant for teamwork; some measure how honest you’re being on the rest of the assessment.
And even though you’re the one taking the test, Haynie said the questions are opaque enough that the results better resemble what other people would say about you than what you’d say about yourself.
Once you complete the test, CPI generates three reports, one of which compares your traits and competencies to the general population and one that compares you to successful C-suite executives. Clients have the option to purchase all three reports or just one. CPP sent me all three, and Haynie and I arranged a phone call to discuss the results.
From my perspective, the assessment nailed it. Reading through the report, I felt exposed, as if everyone I’d ever worked with had gathered to discuss their impressions of my performance and these reports were summaries of their conversation.
Right away, things got slightly meta. One report showed that I scored low on measures of communality, which means that I tend to see myself as different from other people. In other words, the test picked up on the reason I was taking the test in the first place — to finally have some scientific evidence of my individuality.
As for whether seeing yourself as unique is an asset in a leadership role, the report said someone with my communality score (43/100) “may be careless, easily distracted.” That didn’t sound good.
Yet Haynie told me it’s a positive thing: “You question the masses.”
That sounded awesome — like I could someday be the next Steve Jobs.
But the coaching report told a different story. Haynie cautioned that a) the coaching report is typically only used with people who have already held leadership positions for a while, which I haven’t; and b) areas for “development” just mean you didn’t hit the exact score that’s expected of successful leaders. You could have been really close.
Still, I was curious to find out how I stacked up against high-level execs. In the first few pages, I discovered I was lower than most successful leaders in self-awareness. Apparently, that means others may see me as “overly conventional and unlikely to challenge the status quo” — pretty much the opposite of questioning the masses.
Loathe as I am to admit it, this is true. I’ve been told by coworkers in the past that I don’t contribute enough in meetings — that I should speak up if I disagree with someone else’s idea. It’s incredibly hard for me to do.
Similarly, the test determined that I am “likely less willing than other leaders to make decisions and demands on others.” That assessment is also, based on my experience, true, though not something I would ever volunteer — especially not in an interview for a job or a more senior position.
Most of my skills, apparently, lay in team-building and teamwork. The report suggested that other people see me as outgoing; that I can demonstrate compassion without getting overly caught up in other people’s problems; and that I’m more open than usual to other people’s ideas.
These were interesting findings. At one point, I considered a career as a clinical psychologist, and I make a point of trying to be sympathetic and a good listener in my personal life.
What the results mean
Haynie said most people who take the CPI 260 are shocked at how well the reports describe them, and I could see why. I’ll admit, it was slightly disturbing to see the most salient elements of my professional persona reproduced on the pages of the reports.
But the point isn’t to make you feel that your personality is simple enough to be boiled down to a few charts and graphs. The idea is for the assessment to serve as a kind of reflective therapist, who listens to what you say about yourself, and figures out what you aren’t saying about yourself. Where are your weaknesses and limitations? Where have you consistently struggled?
It’s as useful for the test-taker herself as it is for a manager or potential employer, because it sheds some light on aspects of your personality you might have lost touch with.
And as much as I’d feared that the assessment would label me “average” and unremarkable, in reality it left me feeling like I was a more complex person than I could have imagined. I walked away from my conversation with Haynie feeling inspired — not just to aim for the C-suite, but to continue learning more about myself and how I can best contribute to an organisation.
NOW WATCH: Ideas videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.