Like people, not all personality tests are similar

By John Langhorne / Guest Column

Recently, the Wall Street Journal had an article with the title “Myers-Briggs Is a Crock.” Reading it, I could hardly control my chuckling.

According to the article, 89 of the Fortune 100, as well as more than 250 federal agencies, use the personality test for employee selection. For years I have been railing against this massive fraud against my profession.

Early in the history of the Community Leadership Program, someone decided to have a clinical psychologist give and interpret this “test.” I spoke against it frequently and quietly excused myself from this portion of the programs. Later I learned this person was paid to do this (totally against CLP volunteer principles).

Let this be one of Langhorne’s Laws: Never trust what psychiatrists or clinical psychologists say about anything that pertains to the workplace. They are experts in mental illness. I know this because I was involved in research on child mental illness and in trying to improve the productivity of mental health delivery systems in Iowa for 10 years.

Now to the test itself. In critiquing this fraud, it is difficult to know where to begin. First, it is based on the Neo-Freudian work of Carl Jung, whose archetype theory was discredited, including by himself, almost as soon as it was developed.

Second, the test was developed many years later in 1945 by a woman and her daughter. Neither had any backgrounds in psychology, statistics or test construction.

Third, if you retake the test, your so-called “personality profile” will change and it is easy to game the test because it is so transparent. Finally, and most tellingly, it does not predict performance in the workplace.

Are you willing to trust your hiring decisions to a 93-item test or are you willing to create a more thoughtful method of hiring people? Hiring people is an exercise in trying to predict personality, which is the sum total of a person’s emotional, cognitive and behavioral characteristics.

I am extroverted in some situations and introverted in others. But my basic pattern is introversion. This pattern partially explains why I enjoy writing, it being a solitary endeavor, and I am definitely not socially incompetent. Social incompetence and introversion are not synonyms.

In my 30-plus years of consulting I have only known a handful of persons who could reliably hire fine employees. One was a mechanic/manager who only hired people who grew up on farms. People who grow up on farms know how to work, learn very early and have parents who are great role models for this behavior. Unfortunately for employers, the population is very small and declining.

The Big Five personality system includes openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Each of these factors is bipolar. These five factors were developed from a complex meta-analysis of 14 different empirically derived personality tests.

One interesting finding is these five factors have almost no predictive value of the workplace performance. There is however some good news – conscientiousness has some low correlations with work performance.

In the past couple years psychologist Angela Duckworth has drilled into an aspect of conscientiousness and found a single characteristic she labeled ‘grit’ – the long-term commitment to a strategic goal. She subsequently developed a short test and has shown that grit is a good predictor of workplace performance across a large number of organizations. For more information, visit

Most colleagues defend the Myers-Briggs, rationalizing that it introduces young people to the idea that people are not at all like them. This defense is nonsense.

There are at least a dozen available personality tests based on the Big 5 empirical research. Two of the first five that come up are Myers-Briggs and scientology.

It counts what people like, not what is truth.

John Langhorne is owner and principal of Langhorne Associates, His most recent book, “Beyond IQ: Practical Steps to Find the Best You,” is available digitally at Amazon.