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Home > Blog > Who Are You and Who Knows You Best?
Out of Our Minds
Tuesday, September 21, 2004 4:19 PM
Who Are You and Who Knows You Best?
Anita Sharpe on Life

Whenever I've made terrific hires, it's because I listened to my gut. I will always hire someone I instinctively feel good about over the A+ candidate who gives off unsettling vibes. (Conversely, whenever I have used my brain to override my gut, the result has always been less than ideal.)

So I'm intrigued by people who rely on psychological tests to find their perfect candidates. Many of my friends have sworn by them for years; the latest twist: venture capitalists are using them to decide whether to back management teams.

I've taken more than my share of these tests produced by a variety of different companies over the years and the results are always some variation of my Myers-Briggs profile from 20 years ago (ENFP.) Sure, they seem to capture broad-stroke personality traits, but I still wonder if any test would ever make me second-guess my gut.


10 comments

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Anna - 11/4/2004 5:00:22 PM
This original post reminds me of why I constantly struggle, in my ongoing effort to find a job, to demonstrate during the interview why I am determined to get back into newspapering. Not because I’m expert at writing and editing or because the career placement test I took in high school spit out a “journalism� result, because neither is true. I want to be a journalist because when I first started in the business, it jibed with who I was, and it has become a part of me, even away from “work.� I find myself thinking, after each interview, “Do I really want to work for editors who seem more interested in my slightly-less-than-perfect skills than my absolute passion for this line of work and conviction of its importance in our society?�
David - 11/3/2004 9:09:08 AM
'Sure, they seem to capture broad-stroke personality traits, but I still wonder if any test would ever make me second-guess my gut.'

Funny thing is Anita, I too fit into the ENFP grouping and one of the features of the ENFP has been described as ' an exceptional ability to to intuitively understand a person after a very short period of time'. So there you have your objective testing validating the 'gut-instinct' ability. Disparity disappeared ...poof
anita - 9/25/2004 10:44:46 AM
Todd, I do think you missed my point. Here's an example of what I'm talking about:

Years ago I hired a writer who had limited, small-town newspaper experience and had graduated from a no-name college. But I sensed both a strong writing talent in several of his clips and a strong team spirit (the latter being hard to objectively measure but very important when you have a small staff.) I hired him and he went on to have a great career in journalism.

Are you suggesting that the legal system should have prevented me from hiring him and insisted that I only talk to candidates who graduated at the top of their class from Harvard and had five years of experience at the New York Times?

If we ever get to that point, where all hiring is made by an objective scoring system and instinct or gut plays no role, it will be a sad world, indeed.
Jeff - 9/25/2004 9:47:11 AM
Todd both makes and misses the point. (He sounds like someone who has been burned by/is frustrated with people in your business. As I have.) He misses your point which I believe is that there are some qualities that don't show through in the resume, for better and for worse. I sense that he is also making the point, and a good one, that most 'recruiters' are in reality VERY poor judges of talent. The fact that they remain in business regardless of this, only means that employers are equally poor in judging the quality of the services they buy. Most employers just want to be able to say/feel that their new hires were screened by 'experts', therefore they got the cream of the crop. A sad joke to be sure.
Todd - 9/25/2004 12:07:13 AM
Your 'gut' is the reason our legal system has very strict rules of evidence. How unfortunate that the people who encounter you when you have power over their lives don't have those protections.
David Seruyange - 9/22/2004 2:51:52 PM
I've always been fascinated by personality tests. As I've encountered them over the years I've learned that they try to quantify the abstractions that Jung made about personality and temperament long ago.

The best book I've read recently on the subject is Personality Type by Lenore Thompson. She destructs certain myths about 'type' and explains that although we all possess what are called 'functions' of each type, we express them in dominant, secondary, tertiary and hidden ways.

It gives a lot of the granularity missing for people who are inclined to say 'I don't fit into that box.'

Anyhow, it would be rather short sighted to hire based on such tests. I see them at their best as _descriptive_ rather than _predictive_.

Perhaps an intelligent recruiter or hiring person can use such a descriptor to identify potential areas of conflict, strength, and weakness. But unless they had a good understanding of how things worked, I doubt it would be more useful than a regular interview. And most recruiters aren't the most analytical people, anyway.

David the INTP
http://www.intp.org/intprofile.html
Jeffrey - 9/22/2004 11:17:13 AM
Assessments are probably most helpful when they are one of many factors considered in making decisions and not used as the sole determinant for hiring unless you have conclusive evidence that a job's success is linked to specific skills and that your assessment can consistently and accurately measure those capabilities in potential hires. Apply for a job with Gallup and you'll see that's exactly what they've done.
genevieve - 9/21/2004 9:20:52 PM
There is a lot to be said for the good old gut if you are a good listener and experienced recruiter.

As long as it doesn't mean you only employ the same kind of people all the time -
but I suppose you use a panel to overcome that Anita? as a mix sometimes gives you a good shot in the arm when you need it. (Heard a simply horrible chief librarian talking yesterday and her staff are horrible too. I'm still reeling.)

I think that is the only reason less confident HR people might use personality tests, because the management textbook tells them they need a new kind of person and in order to find them they must assess everyone else first...&c. (Not gonna save the access staff at the State Library I'm afraid, they are doomed.)

And amen, Jory, to people being better suited to their job in the first place too.
Genevieve
Jory Des Jardins - 9/21/2004 7:48:08 PM
Funny you write about this. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about personality tests in this week's (or last week's) New Yorker. Believe it or not the Meyers-Briggs test was a concept popularized by a woman who wanted to capture the differences between her daughter and future son-in-law. It amazes me how popular it has become.

I work in the Executive Development industry and EVERYBODY knows what type they are. Still, I wonder what good it does. For example, I'm an INTJ--the 'I' meaning introvert, and yet my job requires me to be an 'E' or extrovert. I like to think I'm a damn good extrovert. Outside of work situations I am an extrovert, but when it comes to work I'm an introvert. That's Gladwell's other point: Nobody is their M-B personality type ALL of the time. We are all on a continuum.

I'm fascinated by personality tests, but I'd be more interested in how to calibrate jobs by personality type. We'd all be MUCH better suited for our work.

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