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MBTI® – ‘to select or not to select’ should not be the question!

15 June 2010

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    MBTI® – ‘to select or not to select’ should not be the question!
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Author: Kathy Knott We ran a story in the JvR Talk (volume 4, 2008) which addressed the problem of using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® assessment during Selection processes. We believe this may be the main cause of misuse of the assessment both locally and internationally, so we felt it may be useful to rerun parts of the 2008 article below. The MBTI is a well-known type-based measure of personality. It was developed by Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers, and is based on Carl Gustav Jung’s theory of Type. From the outset the intention was to develop an assessment that would be used, in the words of Isabel Myers, “to the benefit of people”. As the name suggests the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® assessment is considered an indicator of type and was developed to describe one’s preferences, for example, whether someone prefers Sensing over iNtuition or vice versa. Inherent in the process of identifying type, and as stipulated by the developers, is a verification process where the MBTI® practitioner’s ultimate goal is to assist the assessment taker in discovering their type using the MBTI® assessment as well as the theory of type. Type versus Traits Type-based instruments essentially try to sort people into categories, and the scores indicate the clarity with which the respondent indicated their preference when answering the questionnaire and not the quantity of the preference. On the other hand, psychological traits are consistent patterns of thought, behaviour, and attitudes that differ from one person to another. Trait-based scores are reported along a continuum with high and low scores indicating the quantity of a trait a person possesses. Scores from trait-based assessments are assumed to be normally distributed, with the majority of individuals scoring within one standard deviation of the mean. The scores obtained from a type-based instrument such as the MBTI® are nominal, and intended only to sort individuals into preference categories. The population distribution of psychological types is indicated using the Type Table, which is based on the frequency of occurrence of the sixteen types in a given population. Why the MBTI should not be used in selection In many organisations around the world psychometric instruments are often used as part of the decision making criteria when selecting new employees. Other criteria often include: the individual’s work history, experience levels, technical knowledge, interview ratings, etc. Psychometric results are often used to compare people based on factors relevant to the job and in doing so discriminate fairly. From the trait perspective, certain psychological traits are seen to be necessary or desirable in certain job settings, and often the applicant’s standing on a trait would be used to decide whether or not they would be appropriate for the specific job context. In accordance with type theory, individuals who report a particular type are not precluded from having or developing the skills associated with the opposite type. The type categorisation indicates a natural preference, or tendency, toward obtaining and using different types of information for decision-making purposes, which does not mean that individuals are unable to gather or use other types of information in effective decision-making or behaviour. In addition, the MBTI Manual states that: “Using the MBTI (tool) for purposes such as job selection and advancement is therefore inappropriate, as respondents can easily answer the items so as to appear to be the type favored for a particular job or position within an organization.” While people who report certain types may be drawn to particular environments, due to the nature of the environment, type preference does not determine whether or not an individual will succeed in that particular environment. Each type brings its own unique gifts, and these are to be celebrated, not used to discriminate. A great example of type diversity within an occupation is shared in Table 12.19 (p 302) of the MBTI Manual (3rd Edition). It shows how a librarian can be any one of the 16 Types on the Type Table and shows how their preferences may texture the way they go about doing their job. Given the psychometric properties of the MBTI® assessment there is a clear indication that it would be inappropriate to use the MBTI® assessment in the selection context given the type of information that is obtained. Using the MBTI® assessment in selection would open your practise or company up to legal risk.

If you have any questions in this regard, please forward them to Kathy@jvrafrica.co.za

For more information, please contact us on +27(0) 11 781 3705/6/7 or send an email to

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